Joule Unlimited, a startup based in Bedford, Massachusetts, has received $70 million to commercialize technology that uses microörganisms to turn sunlight and carbon dioxide into liquid fuel.
The company claims that its genetically engineered bacteria will eventually be able to produce ethanol for as little as $1.23 a gallon or diesel fuel for $1.19 a gallon, less than half the current cost of both fossil fuels and existing biofuels.
The new funding comes from undisclosed investors and will allow the company to expand from an existing pilot plant to its first small-scale production facility, in Hobbs, New Mexico.
Joule Unlimited has designed a device it calls the SolarConverter, in which thin, clear panels circulate brackish water and a nitrogen-based growth medium bubbling with carbon dioxide. Inside the converter, the engineered microörganisms use energy from the sun to convert the water and gas into ethanol or paraffinic hydrocarbons, the primary component of diesel fuel.