So far, we’ve talked about a few different kinds of biofuels.  I’ve tried to cover the main bases, but there’s one more lurking around that sounds pretty awesome: a process called helioculture.

Basically, some guys over in Cambridge, Massachusetts at Joule Biotechnologies say they’ve come up with a way to make a gasoline-competitive fuel out of a slurry of brackish water, sunlight, carbon dioxide, and secret photosynthetic unnamed critters.  Helioculture

One of the neatest things about helioculture is the yield per acre.  Take a look at these comparisons of biofuel source and biofuel yield for every acre:

  • Corn: 439 gallons
  • Sugar beets: 532 gallons
  • Soybeans: 63 gallons
  • Canola: 77 gallons
  • Helioculture: 20,000 gallons

Pretty incredible, right?  Even better: the company’s founders say that it will be priced around $50 per barrel.  Better yet: the microorganisms secrete biofuel directly, so no refinement is needed.

But like so many great things, there’s got to be a catch, right?  I hope not, but since the technology is a couple years away from being commercially available, I don’t know.  One potential problem could be the CO2 needed for the process.  It has to be concentrated, and since helioculture needs to happen in sunny places, CO2 might need to be shipped in.  The bigger catch?  No one outside of Joule knows what the heck the little buggers making the fuel are.  And as such, no one outside of Joule really knows if they’re real.

Mystery Machine

I guess I'd be Velma...

Now, I would hope that these guys are for real, because this could be a very viable alternative to traditional fossil fuels.  They’ve got some good names on their team, so that’s a start.  I know it’s a little reminiscent of the air car (still haven’t heard back from those guys, by the way), but definitely sounds like something to watch.

Writing about this makes me feel a little bit like I’m part of some sort of conspiracy scandal.  Or maybe like a passenger on the Mystery Machine in Scooby Doo.

More likely, I’m probably just uneducated about the real capabilities of microbes and other organisms.  And since I’m an optimist, I’m choosing to believe this is all real and we can expect to see some super-cool biofuel from these guys next year!