It seems impossible, but biofuel startup Joule Biotechnologies claims that it has successfully produced fuel out of thin air--sort of. The company's mysterious engineered microbes require just sunlight and CO2 to squirt out ethanol, diesel, or other hydrocarbons.
Joule's Helioculture process uses photosynthetic microbes placed in a non-freshwater solution. The organisms capture sunlight and produce "Joule liquid energy," which is similar to biofuel but isn't derived from biomass.
Unlike similar algae fuel solutions, Joule's process doesn't require feedstock or fresh water and can be conducted on non-arable land. The process also produces a whopping 20,000 gallons per acre, compared to 400 gallons per acre for corn ethanol. According to Joule, this is all possible because of the discovery of genes inside its proprietary microbes that allow for the direct synthesis of alkane and olfin molecules--the chemicals involved in the composition of diesel fuel. From there, it's easy to generate ethanol and other types of fuel.
Sound too good to be true? Some people think so, but Joule claims that it has already generated fuel using its process in the lab. Next up: testing out the process in a pilot plant by 2011. At the very least, we don't expect Joule to run out of money any time soon--the startup was founded by Flagship Ventures CEO Noubar Afeyan, and it has raised an undisclosed amount of money from the firm.
[Via Gas 2.0]