Previously mentioned here on Revmodo as one of nine future technologies capable of radically altering our world, Joule’s solar fuel is about to leave the lab and begin real world testing in Hobbs, New Mexico.

Joule Unlimited, which believes that its technology could eventually produce up to 100X more ethanol and biodiesel – using only non-food sources – than today’s alternative-fuel manufacturers are capable of, announced the commissioning of its first SunSprings demonstration plant on four acres of desert in southeastern New Mexico. It has already been testing its Liquid Fuel from the Sun system in a lab in Texas for two years, and this demo plant will be a jumping off point for the future development of scalable fuel production sites across the globe.

The technology utilizes a combination of genetically-engineered photosynthetic microorganisms, controlled sunlight, non-potable water, and waste CO2 to produce the fuel. According to Joule, these microorganisms act as living catalysts which continuously and directly secrete ethanol. This is unlike typical algae-based systems which first produce biomass that requires harvesting before the sugars can be converted into fuel.

“A short four years after we began lab operations, we are pleased to reach this important milestone in the company’s development,” said Noubar Afeyan, Founder and Chairman of Joule. “Based on several breakthrough innovations, Joule has produced a platform to sustainably produce liquid fuels at costs competitive with all existing alternatives. Now we are eager to show the promise of commercial production.”

The company believes it will eventually be able to produce 15,000 gallons of diesel and 25,000 gallons of ethanol per acre annually at a cost of around 1.28 per gallon, and it is aiming for at least 10,000 gallons per acre at the new demonstration facility. Once the new plant is online, commericial production and introduction of Joule Sunflow-E into the ethanol market will begin.

Is the future of fuel to be found in genetically-engineered microorganisms fed only sunlight and water? While it sounds like only a dream, Joule is out to prove that their technology will be providing a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly fuel in the coming years.

[via Technology Review]

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