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Podesta joins biotech firm with patent promising liquid fuels from solar energy

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, January 18, 2011 13:15 EDT
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An upstart firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts said Tuesday that a high-ranking official from both the Clinton and Obama administrations would be joining their board of directors, helping them further a project that may hold the key to saving industrialized society from a long-predicted energy crunch.

The company, Joule Unlimited, was granted a patent in Sept. for their first in a series of microscopic organisms — genetically altered versions of the E. coli bacteria — that use sunlight and water in a process similar to photosynthesis to convert captured CO2 into usable crude oil.

They called it “Liquid Fuel From The Sun,” which uses their “proprietary organism” to devour waste and defecate custom hydrocarbons. Joule ultimately hoped such technology could fill the gap in human energy needs as fossil fuel production declines worldwide.

It was apparently so promising that John Podesta — the current president of the Center for American Progress who served as President Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff and helped oversee President Obama’s transition into power — has joined Joule’s board of directors.

“I have seen and heard many proposals by renewable energy companies, and can unequivocally say that Joule has a technology and a system unlike any other, with industrial viability and a clear path to market within the next several years,” Podesta said in a prepared statement.

“Unlike biofuel processes that require costly intermediates such as sugar, algal or agricultural biomass, Joule is the first to achieve and patent a direct, single-step, continuous process for the production of hydrocarbon fuels requiring no raw material feedstocks – setting the stage for fossil fuel replacement at unprecedented efficiencies and costs as low as $30 per barrel equivalent,” the company said in a media advisory.

Their first modified E. coli bacteria, which produced diesel fuel, allegedly outputs more energy than it takes in. This would ultimately lead to “unlimited supplies of ethanol and hydrocarbons without the high production costs or environmental consequences,” according to Bill Sims, Joule’s president and CEO.

“The result is the world’s first platform for converting sunlight and waste CO2 directly into diesel, requiring no costly intermediates, no use of agricultural land or fresh water, and no downstream processing.”

The firm similarly announced last year a breakthrough in algae fuel production, which relies of specialized plant life to grow hydrocarbons. Joule were also deeply involved in raising funds for renewable energy production facilities around the US.

Joule was founded in 2007 by Flagship Ventures, a privately held investment group that looks for the best ideas in the worlds of information, energy production and specialized technologies.

Joule also counts George Church among their co-founders: he’s the Harvard Medical School geneticist who helped launch the Human Genome Project.

“There is no technology or opportunity more exciting than what we’re driving at Joule,” the company’s president said. “The call for alternative energy sources has never been greater, and Joule’s unique system will make an impact where other approaches have fallen short”.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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