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Henry Ford, the father of the modern assembly line, predicted a future where fuel would be mass-produced from natural materials like fruit, weeds, or even sawdust—renewable alternatives to finite fossil fuels. Still, one energy technology being developed by Joule Unlimited, a company in Cambridge, Mass., might have surprised even him: a plant that sweats diesel.
While exact details are still closely guarded, Joule says the system—which won a spot on MIT’s Technology Review magazine’s top 10 most important emerging technologies of 2010—is the first of its kind. Unlike biofuels made from corn, say, it doesn’t require biomass, but rather turns sunlight directly into fuel. The only inputs required are sunlight and carbon dioxide, the company notes, making it cost-efficient and productive: one 10,000-acre facility could create an astonishing 150 million gallons in a year, it estimates. “Because our process is free of the land and resource constraints that hinder biofuels, we’re able to meet or beat the costs of fossil fuels,” a spokesperson said over email. “We expect to deliver diesel for as little as $30 per barrel.”
The future of clean green solar power may well hinge on scientists being able to unravel the mysteries of photosynthesis, the process by which green plants convert sunlight into electrochemical energy. To this end, researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC), Berkeley have recorded the first observation and characterization of a critical physical phenomenon behind photosynthesis known as quantum entanglement.