Joule Unlimited: Biofuels Digest’s 2014 5-Minute Guide

March 13, 2014 |

Joule is advancing a production platform for Liquid Fuel from the Sun™, expected to eclipse the scale, productivity and cost efficiency of any known alternative to fossil fuel today. Its transformative Helioculture platform directly and continuously converts sunlight and waste CO2 to infrastructure-ready diesel, ethanol or commodity chemicals with no dependence on biomass feedstocks, downstream processing or precious natural resources.

This process can yield renewable fuels and chemicals in unprecedented volumes with a fraction of the land required by current methods, leapfrogging biomass-dependent approaches and eliminating the economic and environmental disadvantages of fossil fuels.


50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy: #17, 2013/14

The Situation

There’s been changeover in the leadership. Paul Snaith replaced Bill Sims as CEO, Dave Anton (ex-Codexis) in the new CTO. John Podesta and Simms have left the Joule board.

Last April, the company announced direct conversion of waste CO2 into the essential components of gasoline and jet fuel. The breakthrough gives Joule the opportunity to expand its Sunflow product line and help address global demand for true hydrocarbon fuel replacements.

In addition, the process uses waste CO2 as a feedstock, allowing industrial emitters to produce valuable fuels rather than discard emissions or employ costly measures for capture and sequestration.

The company reported: “Joule has engineered photosynthetic biocatalysts that convert waste CO2 into hydrocarbons through a patented, continuous process. Joule has been successfully scaling its process for making ethanol (Sunflow-E) while also developing long-chain hydrocarbons for diesel (Sunflow-D). With its latest breakthrough, Joule becomes the first company able to directly produce medium-chain hydrocarbons which are substantial components of gasoline (Sunflow-G) and jet fuel (Sunflow-J).

“Though many technological paths are being pursued to help supplant fossil fuels, the majority have followed the same direction – beginning with biomass feedstocks and facing the well-known challenges of cost and scale along the way. Joule’s solar technology is bypassing these challenges while converting a waste stream into cost-competitive hydrocarbon fuels, which will have far greater and faster impact than low-percentage blendstocks or transportation alternatives that require major infrastructure overhaul,” said then CEO Bill Sims.

Joule’s hydrocarbon fuels have the additional benefit of being inherently sulfur-free. For the diesel and gasoline markets, this gives refiners the ability to meet sulfur content requirements without raising production costs or fuel prices. As just announced on March 29, 2013, the US Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to further reduce the sulfur content of gasoline by more than 60% beginning in 2017.

Joule is now commercializing its first product, Sunflow-E, for global availability in early 2015. Construction of the company’s first commercial plants is planned to begin in 2014 in multiple locations worldwide.

To support its progress towards commercialization, the company has launched 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.

“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.

Major Investors

Flagship Ventures plus private and institutional investors

Type of Technology(ies)

A platform for the direct, continuous conversion of sunlight and waste CO2 to liquid fuels and chemicals.


Industrial waste CO2


Hydrocarbon diesel, ethanol and multiple chemicals conventionally derived from petroleum

Product Cost (if applicable – per US gallon): (Costs per US gallon for fuels, costs per pound for chemicals and/or biomaterials. If you do not manufacture or have long-term stable feedstock pricing, please use the latest December futures contract pricing for traded feedstocks, or $55/ton for untraded biomass – or provide notes on your own feedstock pricing assumptions).

Diesel = $0.48/gallon with subsidies ($1.19/gallon without subsidies)
Ethanol = $0.60/gallon with subsidies ($1.23/gallon without subsidies)

Past Milestones

• Built pilot plant and commenced production.
• Issuance of the company’s first 6 U.S. patents (and counting), with 70+ applications pending.
• Completed construction of demonstration plant and begin operations
• Completed construction on its first commercial-scale unit in Hobbs, New Mexico.

In 2012, Joule announced a global, exclusive partnership with  Audi, to accelerate the commercialization of its sustainable transportation fuels, Sunflow-E and Sunflow-D, for the global ethanol and diesel markets respectively.

Though financial terms were not disclosed, the partnership is mutually exclusive, and that Audi selected Joule as its exclusive partner in the development of biologically-derived diesel and ethanol, after extensive evaluations of Joule’s proprietary technology and commercial plans. The relationship will help spur production of Joule Sunflow-E and Sunflow-D, including fuel testing and validation, lifecycle analysis and support for Joule’s SunSprings demonstration facility located in Hobbs, New Mexico, which began operations this month. Joule will also benefit from Audi’s considerable expertise and global reach as well as from the strength of its brand. In turn, Audi will have a first mover advantage as Joule’s exclusive partner in the automotive sector.

Also in 2012, the company commissioned 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.

Future Milestones

• Continue technology/system optimization towards ethanol and diesel productivity targets
• Incrementally scale up to commercial production and deployment of facilities worldwide, with commercially available products less expensive than biofuels.

Business Model: 
The company intends to commercially develop diesel fuel and also bring products to market via strategic development partnerships. Joule will also provide SolarConverter hardware, technology and deployment know-how transfer and controlled access to production strains.

Competitive Edge(s):

• Proven conversion of sunlight and waste CO2 directly into infrastructure-ready


• Diesel (hydrocarbons), ethanol and value-added chemicals

• Directly produces fungible fuels vs. oils that require refining or chemical upgrading
• No dependence on costly biomass feedstocks or complex processing/logistics
• An integrated system up to 100X more efficient than biomass-dependent processes
• Productivity up to 15,000 gal diesel/acre/year and 25,000 gal ethanol/acre/year
• Costs (including capital) as low as $20/bble of diesel and $0.60/gal ethanol, including subsidies
• Fully modular system and scalable to billions of gallons with comparatively minimal land use
• Ecologically-sound process doesn’t require arable land or fresh water
• Strong IP position with 6 U.S. patents granted and 70+ applications filed
• World-class team of biologists, biochemists, engineers, industrial experts and executive leadership

Stage (Bench, pilot, demonstration, commercial)


Company Website

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Category: 5-Minute Guide

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