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Transportation fuel derived from sunlight, waste CO2 working with Audi

Massachusetts-based biofuel startup Joule is partnering with German automaker Audi A.G. to commercialize their transportation fuel derived from sunlight and waste carbon dioxide.

Joule developed a renewable fuel platform called Helioculture which uses proprietary, engineered photosynthetic microorganisms to produce diesel, ethanol and commodity chemicals.

The partnership will focus on producing the sustainable transportation fuels, Sunflow-E and Sunflow-D using this platform. The two fuel types are meant to be replacements for ethanol and diesel, respectively.

According to Joule’s press release, unlike the costly, multi-step production of biofuels from agricultural feedstocks, Joule’s Helioculture platform directly and continuously converts sunlight and waste CO2 into fuels, including ethanol and hydrocarbons that serve as the essential chemical building blocks for diesel.

The company’s own SolarConverter system manages the process with productivities that are expected to be up to 100 times greater than those of biomass-dependent methods.

Audi will be Joule’s exclusive partner in the automotive sector after the latter elected to work with Joule to develop the two fuels, consistent with the automaker’s plans for carbon-neutral mobility.

“This project is the culmination of advances not only in our core technology, but in building a commercial-ready system and engineering a scalable process that are now pilot-tested and prepared for deployment,” said William J. Sims, president and chief executive of Joule.

“Joule and the fuels it is developing can ultimately enable sustainable mobility, as its highly-efficient process consumes waste CO2 emissions, avoids depletion of natural resources and doesn’t require agricultural feedstock or arable land. It is the ideal sustainable fuel platform for Audi to support,” said Reiner Mangold, head of environmental product at Audi.

The companies will conduct fuel testing and validation of Sunflow-E and Sunflow-D and lifecycle analysis and support for Joule’s SunSprings demonstration facility in Hobbs, New Mexico.

Joule announced the commissioning of the SunSprings facility just last week. It will be the first scalable platform for their solar fuel production.

SunSprings will begin with production of Sunflow-E to compete in the ethanol market with an initial target productivity of 10,000 gallons per acre a year. As the technology advances, productivity should move up to 25,000 gallons at costs as low as $1.28/gallon without subsidies.

Concurrent with the announcement of the SunSprings plant, was the launch of Joule Fuels which will use Joule’s technology to capitalize on the $1 trillion fuels market. Joules fuels will oversee plant deployment and partnerships with the immediate goal of commissioning multiple plants worldwide.

“Joule’s production platform is well suited to many regions around the world, where improving local energy security and environmental performance are critical goals,” said Peter Erich, president of Joule Fuels.

After commercializing Sunflow-E, Joules will focus on Sunflow-D for the global diesel market. Sunflow-D can be blended with conventional diesel in concentrations of 50 percent or greater. Now in development, Joules sees an ultimate productivity target of 15,000 gallons/acre/year at costs as low as $50/barrel without subsidies. – K.R. Jalbuena

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