Mass. company making diesel with sun, water, CO2

This Oct. 26, 2010 photograph provided by Joule Unlimited shows the company’s ethanol and diesel production testing facility in Leander, Texas, where arrays of bacteria gather sunlight and carbon dioxide and convert them to fuel. (AP Photo/Joule Unlimited, Felicia Spagnoli) NO SALES
This Oct. 26, 2010 photograph provided by Joule Unlimited shows the company’s ethanol and diesel production testing facility in Leander, Texas, where arrays of bacteria gather sunlight and carbon dioxide and convert them to fuel. (AP Photo/Joule Unlimited, Felicia Spagnoli) NO SALES (Felicia Spagnoli - AP)

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By JAY LINDSAY
The Associated Press
Sunday, February 27, 2011; 9:15 PM

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- A Massachusetts biotechnology company says it can produce the fuel that runs Jaguars and jet engines using the same ingredients that make grass grow.

Joule Unlimited has invented a genetically-engineered organism that it says simply secretes diesel fuel or ethanol wherever it finds sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based company says it can manipulate the organism to produce the renewable fuels on demand at unprecedented rates, and can do it in facilities large and small at costs comparable to the cheapest fossil fuels.

What can it mean? No less than "energy independence," Joule's web site tells the world, even if the world's not quite convinced.

"We make some lofty claims, all of which we believe, all which we've validated, all of which we've shown to investors," said Joule chief executive Bill Sims.

"If we're half right, this revolutionizes the world's largest industry, which is the oil and gas industry," he said. "And if we're right, there's no reason why this technology can't change the world."

The doing, though, isn't quite done, and there's skepticism Joule can live up to its promises.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory scientist Philip Pienkos said Joule's technology is exciting but unproven, and their claims of efficiency are undercut by difficulties they could have just collecting the fuel their organism is producing.

Timothy Donohue, director of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says Joule must demonstrate its technology on a broad scale.

Perhaps it can work, but "the four letter word that's the biggest stumbling block is whether it `will' work," Donohue said. "There are really good ideas that fail during scale up."

Sims said he knows "there's always skeptics for breakthrough technologies."

"And they can ride home on their horse and use their abacus to calculate their checkbook balance," he said.


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