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Firm gets $40 million to commercialize biofuels

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An early production unit for converting waste carbon dioxide into fuel at Bedford, Mass.-based Joule\’s developmental production facility in Hobbs. (Courtesy Joule)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Joule Unlimited recently received another injection of $40 million in financing to further its effort to commercialize an alternative fuel production process currently under development at a facility in Hobbs.

“We are testing and optimizing our biocatalysts and system at incrementally larger scale, with the next stage being the 1-acre production unit,” company spokeswoman Felicia Krupps said in an email to the Journal.

“Ultimately, our work in Hobbs will inform and validate the design of our commercial units,” she said. “We intend to start construction of our first commercial-scale plant in late 2017, leveraging all that we learn in Hobbs.”

The latest round of financing brings to $200 million the amount of private equity and venture debt financing that Joule has secured. The latest round was led by existing investors, including Cambridge, Mass.-based Flagship Ventures, Joule said in its announcement.

Based in Bedford, Mass., and The Netherlands, Joule launched its Hobbs production facility in 2012 on state-owned land that is leased to the company.

Currently employing 24 people, the Hobbs facility covers about five acres and consists of a warehouse-like lab and biocatalyst production building, smaller administration building and assorted support structures.

The facility’s most distinctive component are the “production trains,” or fields where engineered biocatalysts — bacteria, basically — are mixed in modules with carbon dioxide, non-potable water and micronutrients.

Add in sunlight or solar energy, the mix goes through photosynthesis, which changes its molecular structure, to produce renewable fuels such as ethanol or hydrocarbons for diesel, jet fuel and gasoline.

Joule’s intellectual property portfolio reached 61 granted patents, validations and allowances by the end of 2014, with an additional 96 applications pending. In May, the company announced its ethanol fuel had passed third-party testing, paving the way for seeking government approval of the fuel’s commercialization.

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