Joule Unlimited was originally formed as Joule Biotechnologies. The company is based in Massachusetts and has developed a process that uses algae (cyanobacteria) to produce a claimed 20,000 gallons of hydrocarbon-based fuel per acre per year, making it the most efficient biofuel production technology to date.
The company refers to its technology under the trademark Helioculture. Under Joule’s proprietary efforts, photosynthetic microorganisms can be grown in brackish (salty) or graywater (waste that does not include sewage but includes water from baths or laundering), producing up to 15,000 gallons of diesel of 25,000 gallons of ethanol (ethanol production requires the use of fresh water) per acre of land in a given year. This translates into fuel costs of roughly U.S. $50 dollars per barrel or $1.28 per gallon. These prices are even more impressive in that they are achieved without subsidies.
Joule Technology is unique in several ways:
- The algae do not require freshwater to grow
- Yields are the highest of any biofuel production technology
- The cost is well below that of traditional petroleum
- The process is scalable
- The algae need not be destroyed to obtain the fuel, which reduces nutrient needs and improves efficiency
- The process uses waste CO2
- It requires no biomass
The major benefit of algae is that they do not require biomass to do their work, but rather can directly convert CO2 to fuel. This means that less land area is require, overall, to produce the biofuel than if a traditional method needing corn or sugarcane was used. It also means that this technology can be used to capture waste CO2 from industrial settings and thereby reduce GHG emissions. Full lifecycle analysis is still needed to determine the level of GHG reductions, but it should be well below that of fossil fuels.
Joule has two production-level facilities. The first is a pilot plant in Texas that was designed to test the overall process in outdoor, non-laboratory conditions. The second facility is a demo plant in New Mexico that is being built to demonstrate the technology on a commercial scale and to exemplify the modular nature of the system. The demo plant was commissioned in 2012 and is currently under construction. A third facility dedicated to research is located in The Hague, Netherlands and the company headquarters can be found in Bedford, Massachusetts.