Earlier this week Joule Unlimited secured $70 million in funding. The company happens to have algae facilities that turn carbon dioxide and sunlight into biodiesel and ethanol. Meanwhile Bio Architecture Lab was able to get seaweed to create chemicals and biofuels. Both processes use patented organisms to create the biofuel.
Joule Unlimited’s new funding will allow the company to continue building its facility in Hobbs, New Mexico. According to Technology Review the facility will allow the company to begin scaling up its production operations in five acre increments. Each acre is covered in SolarConverters that consist of “clear panels circulate brackish water and a nitrogen-based growth medium bubbling with carbon dioxide.” Joule’s genetically modified algae continuously converts sunlight and CO2 to fuel within that medium. Eventually the company hopes to have all 1,000 acres covered in SolarConverters producing biofuel.
Currently Joule’s algae have reached 60 percent of that 20,000 gallon goal. In order to continue moving towards that goal, the company is continuing to tweak the algae by “limit[ing] all biological processes that compete with fuel.” Once the genetically modified algae are perfected that could mean 20,000,000 gallons of biofuel total per year. The company has previously said that once the modified algae are perfected they should be able to produce 20,000 gallons of biofuel per acre.
According to Bio Architecture Lab (BAL) there process “first transform[s] seaweed into a renewable chemical intermediate, and from this intermediate, chemicals and fuels are produced through chemical synthesis or fermentation.” BAL considers seaweed to be a better feedstock that even algae because it doesn’t require the use of any land or fresh water. That’s important since fresh water is scarce in many parts of the world. Even areas that currently have abundant fresh water are expected to see water shortages in the future. Preserving land and fresh water for habitation and food crops only makes sense.
After the demise of GreenFuel in 2009, the viability of algae based fuels was questioned. Other algae based biofuel companies have continued forge ahead. According to OilPrice.com algae based biofuels have already been successfully tested in Navy ships and commercial airlines flights. Unfortunately, the cost of algae based biofuel is not currently competitive. Joule expects its process to be affordable once it is maximized and scaled up. BAL is working toward the same goal but is not as far along.
Algae and seaweed may someday provide all the fuel we need for our transportation and chemicals to replace other fossil fuel products like plastic. We won’t see that happen for years to come.Tags: algae, Bio Architecture Lab, biofuel, biomass, Joule Unlimited, seaweed, SolarConverters