Joule Unlimited Technologies today announced the issuance of its first two U.S. patents covering its fundamental method for producing ethanol at volumes and efficiencies far surpassing biomass-dependent processes.
The patents relate to methods for increasing the ethanol production capability of a photosynthetic microorganism. Unlike competing technologies that utilize microorganisms to produce ethanol by fermenting sugars from cellulose or other biomass materials, Joule's platform microorganism is engineered to produce and secrete ethanol in a continuous process, converting more than 90% of the CO2 it consumes directly to end product, with no reliance on biomass feedstocks.
U.S. Patent #7,981,647 and U.S. Patent #7,968,321, granted on July 19th and June 28th respectively, cover enzymatic mechanisms engineered into the cell by Joule to maximize its ethanol productivity. These innovations, together with Joule's advances in bioprocessing and solar capture and conversion, will help Joule achieve an ultimate target of 25,000 gallons per acre annually – a rate that is 10X greater than that of cellulosic ethanol and 100X greater than corn ethanol – while requiring no depletion of food crops, agricultural land or fresh water. In addition, by eliminating the need for biomass, Joule avoids the burden of fluctuating feedstock cost and supply, as well as the energy-intensive, multi-step conversion of biomass to product. At full-scale commercial production Joule expects to produce ethanol for as little as $0.60/gallon.
"The market for ethanol is strong and growing internationally, and our patented technology affords Joule an incredible opportunity to meet growing demand at productivities well beyond biomass-based approaches," said Bill Sims, President and CEO of Joule. "Rather than focus on incremental improvements along the supply chain, we have proven that a direct, continuous process from photons to fuel is the answer to highly-efficient, cost-competitive production that can scale without today’s feedstock constraints."
Joule is now producing ethanol at pilot scale, and has achieved nearly 50% of its ultimate productivity target in the lab. The company today holds a total of six U.S. patents and more than 70 applications pending, derived from four years of development across biology, processes and systems.