Issue: Feb 2013


FUEL BASED ON MICROORGANISMS GAINS TRACTION AT USEPA



by Bob Brooks

Responding to a request for comment on motor fuels derived from microorganisms, a USEPA spokesman said, with reference to the Joule Unlimited development, that “I have to agree with you that it is an exciting emerging technology that has a lot of potential especially if the company is able to scale up the process to make it commercially viable” and “if they are successful, this fuel may eventually be a key player in our renewable fuel standards (RFS) program”.

USEPA’s position comes on the heels of recent announcement that the Audi division or VW, and Joule Unlimited, are now teamed in a joint effort to commercialize
the Joule system for making bio fuels derived from microorganisms . Initial product will be ethanol followed by diesel fuel that contains no aromatics, no sulfur, cuts vehicle and fuel source CO2 by 80%, does not use fresh water in any part of the process and does not use any biomass.

The initial production plant has been built near Hobbs, N. Mexico at a cost of
$70 million with total program cost to date of $110 million.. Start up is expected soon. Based on an earlier pilot plant in Leander, Texas, outputs when fully operational are projected to be 25,000 gallons per acre/yr of ethanol and 15,000 gal diesel fuel per acre/yr although lower production levels initially. Joule claims fuel cost including capital expense will be about $50 bbl when the operation is at best production level. Joule’s expected ethanol yield compares with the generally accepted value 440 gal/acre of corn/year (1.5 gal ethanol has equal energy per 1.0 gal gasoline), Joule reports that the plant near Hobbs will have production units that can be increased in number to very large systems with identical production capacity per unit.

An interesting aspect of the venture is the fact that all investment has come from private sources. No company stock is available.

At this point in time, some of the significant questions about Joule fuels
and its production system follow.

- Considering the remarkable technical properties of Joule microorganism based fuel, the question surfaces whether any of the large energy companies or new smaller developers of bio fuels are at or near the performance and properties of Joule’s fuel system.

- Asked for the status of its bio fuel developments for ExxonMobil, a spokesman
for Synthetic Genomics says “it will have more to say in the near future”
The cost of this project is said to be $600 million.

- Synthetic Genomics is also conducting research for BP which seeks to identify promising subsurface microbial bioconversion processes via R&D costing several hundred $million. BP recently cancelled an ethanol program in Florida that would have grown and processed energy grasses on 20,000 acres.

- Joule has made known it is staffing up to seek licensees wherever in the World
production makes sense. This in turn begs the question of whether off
shore licensees may seek to produce Joule type fuel where conditions are
favorable for sale to the U.S.? Existing large tanker ships are presumably
available for ocean shipments.

- Will off shore governments fast track production plans for Joule fuel?

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