Issue: Sep 2010


ECONOMIC CO2 CONVERSION TO DIESEL FUEL COMPONENT ADVANCES



by Bob Brooks

A unique process for making a synthetic diesel fuel component that is cost competitive with petroleum has been patented by Joule Unlimited, Cambridge, MA. The patent coves a system that employs solar energy + CO2 + genetically altered bacterium to directly produce sulfur-free ultra-clean alkane, a key component of diesel fuel, without harvesting or extraction from any bio raw material. A spokesperson for the firm clarifies that some degree of refining and blending is needed to meet requirements for marketable fuel in the diesel boiling range. Production of Joule’s alkane material does not use fresh water or land otherwise suited to crop production.

Joule has indicated it will begin pilot production in Leander, Texas (north of Austin) by the end of this year and projects yield of 15,000 gal/yr per acre of land at scale.

The Joule development is another step in the direction of converting CO2 emissions from large producers such as hydrocarbon fueled electric generating plants into motor fuel with the added benefit of U.S. reduction in petroleum imports.

It now appears that when the Joule pilot operation is under way it may be possible to refine the overall economics for large CO2 producers seeking to replace CO2 disposal cost with a profitable diesel fuel component. It may be seen as ironic that generating electricity with coal to fuel electric cars provides a by-product diesel fuel component.

Adding dimension to the issue are numerous ventures and ways to produce non-petroleum fuel and components that offset petroleum imports. One of these is the SunEco Energy system, Chino, CA, that has demonstrated pilot production yield of 33,000 gal/acre-ft/yr via a polyclonal photosynthetic and heterotrophic manipulation system cultivating over 30 natural algae species in ponds 6-8 ft. in depth.

SunEco reports that its algae oil refined into diesel fuel has been tested and approved by California’s Air Resources Board and extensively road tested by a trucking fleet operator. 

The firm is now struggling with financing its volume production operation which can result in diesel fuel competitive with current petroleum product. It is able to intake CO2 as an essential ingredient and while algae must be harvested and processed,
very high yields per acre apparently are an economic offset.

A very long list of other ventures are heavily invested in bio fuel development efforts the largest of which is a $600 million commitment by ExxonMobil Research & Engineering with Synthetic Genomics aimed at genetically modified algae oil production at very high yields. Even at many thousands of gallons of bio fuel yield per acre, the massive quantities of fuel used in the U.S. translates into huge land requirements hence the need for algae growth rates from genetic modification well beyond natural algae growth levels in order to compete with petroleum which effectively began growing millions of years ago.


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