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Another Player on Synthetic Path to Biofuels

I’m not sure exactly why a simple announcement — with no accompanying “proof” — is getting so much play in the media, but a press release this week from the previously “stealth” Cambridge-based biofuels outfit Joule Biotechnologies Inc. has set off a flurry of of breathless blogging and mainstream news pickup.

Founded in 2007 by Flagship Ventures, the company has had scientific input from synthetic biology luminaries including Harvard’s George Church. In its announcement Monday, it revealed — sort of — its special recipe for converting sunlight and CO2 into a liquid fuel with the help of a secret genetically engineered organism.

The company’s “Helioculture” technology will mix brackish water, nutrients, and the organisms in flat “SolarConverter” panels, adding CO2 — which may be captured from a nearby coal power plant or other industrial polluter in an additional green benefit — to trigger production of an ethanol or other hydrocarbon equivalent. New CEO Bill Sims claims that Joule’s first product, called SolarEthanol, will be ready for commercial-scale development in 2010. The company aims to produce fuel at the equivalent cost of less than $50 a barrel of oil.

The Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital blog compares Joule’s claims, time frame, and apparent technology to those of Synthetic Genomics’ biofuels joint venture with Exxon, which I recently wrote about. I wonder what this means for LS9, which is also backed by Flagship Ventures and has had a stated goal of creating both clean fuels and industrial chemicals through “sustainable” biologically based engineering. LS9 recently signed a deal with Procter & Gamble, which takes care of the chemicals side — will they now back off on the biofuels path, or will the two companies both be given the funding to pursue alternate approaches?

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  1. […] summer, I blogged about Joule Biotechnologies high-profile quest to make “solar ethanol” and wondered how it […]

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