Joule commissions first SunSprings plant to demonstrate commercial readiness for solar fuels

September 11, 2012 |

Launches subsidiary, Joule Fuels, led by oil and energy experts to advance global deployment of industry’s first direct solar-to-fuels platform.

In Massachusetts, Joule announced the commissioning of its first SunSprings demonstration plant in Hobbs, New Mexico, where the company will prove its scalable platform for solar fuel production – the first of its kind – using a fraction of the land and capital investment required for algae-derived or agricultural biofuels. Joule aims to show that its uniquely modular system can achieve replicable results whether installed across one or thousands of acres – opening the door to near-term deployment by eliminating scale-up costs and risks that have hamstrung biofuels for years.

Unlike sugar-based biofuel producers, Joule directly and continuously converts solar energy into liquid fuels, without costly raw materials, pretreatment or downstream processing. In contrast with algae-based approaches, Joule uses optimized microorganisms that act as living catalysts to produce fuel, rather than first producing biomass and later extracting lipids or sugars for subsequent multi-step conversion into fuel. The SunSprings plant is designed to demonstrate the complete Joule process with its advantages in cost, scale and efficiency, all at the multi-acre scale that directly translates to full scale through modular replication.

Launch of Joule Fuels

To support its progress towards commercialization, the company also announced today the launch of Joule Fuels, a global subsidiary formed to capitalize on the $1+ trillion fuels market with exclusive access to Joule’s revolutionary technology, IP and know-how. This hand-picked team of experts will oversee plant deployment and partnerships – from site selection and project development to plant construction and operations – 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. “We are actively seeking sites and partners to deploy Joule Fuels plants in these regions, enabling localized production of high-volume, cost-competitive fuels in a sustainable process. This includes unique opportunities for off-take partners and input providers, including industrial CO2 emitters who can meet sustainability goals by directly converting their emissions into clean, renewable fuels.”

Joule Fuels will initially commercialize Sunflow-E, with Sunflow-D for the global diesel market to follow. Unlike biodiesel, a low-concentration blendstock, Sunflow-D is comprised of diesel-range paraffinic alkanes and can therefore be blended with conventional diesel in concentrations of 50% or greater, displacing more oil. Moreover, Sunflow-D is inherently sulfur-free and has a very high cetane value. Sunflow-D is now in development with an ultimate productivity target of 15,000 gallons/acre/year at costs as low as $50/barrel without subsidies.

Reaction at Joule

“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 CEO of Joule. “For the first time, we are bringing the tremendous benefits of modular and linear scale to renewable fuel production, which has been notoriously hampered by batch processes, ponds and fermentation tanks that simply cannot scale without more land, more money and unpredictable results. In contrast, we’ve built a low-cost solution that emulates large-scale results and commercial-scale economics without the need for hundreds of acres or hundreds of millions of dollars. With just one module, we will show what’s possible with 100 modules or more – a low-risk, high-return equation with near-term commercial impact.”

“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,” he added.

SunSprings plant operations will begin with production of Joule Sunflow™-E to compete in the ethanol market, valued at approximately $64 billion. Because Sunflow-E is derived from sunlight and industrial waste CO2, Joule can uniquely meet market demand with no depletion of natural resources or impact on global food supply and pricing. Joule has already achieved productivity rates of 15,000 and 8,000 gallons/acre/year in the lab and outdoor production, respectively, well above the maximum productivities that biomass-dependent processes can achieve. Following demonstration, Joule will be equipped to deploy its modular platform across multiple sites around the world, targeting initial productivities of 10,000 gallons/acre/year. This includes an opportunity to build a commercial facility in Hobbs, where the company has access to 1,200 additional acres and the inputs that drive its process. As the technology continues to advance, Joule ultimately targets productivity of up to 25,000 gallons of Sunflow-E per acre annually, at costs as low as $1.28/gallon without subsidies.

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