Solar Power Creates Ethanol, Diesel, and Even Gasoline

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Joule Demonstration Plant

Solar energy has been used in a number of creative ways in the past. Joule has now developed, and is scaling up, a method of using solar power to convert waste CO2 into usable liquid fuels such as ethanol, diesel, or even gasoline. And the plants that do all this will also be powered by solar.

In addition to directly reducing CO2, Joule’s process completely eliminates the need to use feedstock. While there have been pushes to use crops such as agave to create ethanol, this has not yet happened and still relies on agricultural production and the risks and costs associated with it.

In its next step to bring this production method up to scale, Joule has entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Scatec Solar ASA, an independent solar power producer. In the MoU the parties have agreed to initiate a process to reach specific terms for a partnership, which will support the roll-out of Joule production plants featuring PV power.

Joule’s proprietary, reverse-combustion process allows significant reductions in overall carbon footprint by using solar energy to convert waste CO2 directly into infrastructure-ready fuels. By closing the carbon cycle, Joule’s fuels enable a more sustainable form of combustion. The use of solar power for plant operations is expected to reduce Joule’s system-level carbon footprint even further, netting more than a 90% improvement over conventional fuel production.

The terms of the MoU anticipate that Scatec Solar ASA will become the preferred supplier and operator of PV power installations for Joule plants, with an initial deployment goal of up to 25,000 acres and a power requirement of 2 GW. A deployment of this scale would generate up to 625 million gallons (~15 million barrels) of ethanol or 375 million gallons (~9 million barrels) of diesel per year, while consuming about 4 million tonnes of industrial waste CO2 annually in the process. This would equate to roughly 2% of annual ethanol production as of 2012.

“We have found an ideal strategic fit with Scatec Solar, who brings a turnkey solution for photovoltaic power along with a shared vision for sustainability,” said Paul Snaith, President and CEO of Joule. “With ever-increasing global attention on the consequences of climate change, we have an opportunity to produce transportation fuels with the lowest-known carbon footprint – using solar energy both as a feedstock and a power source. This relationship exemplifies our approach to building an ecosystem of like-minded partners with complementary expertise, which in turn will fast-track the availability of CO2-neutral fuels to a planet in urgent need of scalable solutions.”

“We continually seek to leverage our experience and know-how in developing new market applications for solar energy, and a partnership with Joule achieves just that,” said Raymond Carlsen, CEO of Scatec Solar ASA. “This is a first-of-its-kind opportunity to merge the strengths of solar power and solar fuel, and we are excited to be among the first international supporters of this groundbreaking, industry-changing production platform.”

Joule claims that the combination of optimized catalysts and system efficiencies is designed to result in highly competitive costs, and land productivities up to 100 times those of biomass-based fuel production. Joule is currently scaling its process for ethanol production at its demonstration plant in Hobbs, New Mexico. While this is still a very early-stage development, it represents great potential and shows how solar power can work with other technologies to provide solutions to a variety of issues.