Joule says its amassed over $110M for solar biofuel hybrid

Looks like investors are still willing to fund pre-commercial, risky, next-gen biofuel startups. On Tuesday, Joule — the startup behind the unusual hybrid solar-biofuel technology that launched a few years backannounced it has raised a third round of funding of $70 million, bringing its total funding to over $110 million. That’s a whole lot.
Joule says it has developed a technology that takes a solar concentrating converter filled with brackish water, nutrients and a “highly engineered synthetic organism,” and concentrates sunlight onto the mixture to produce a bio-based fuel. They call it their HelioCulture devices, and the company says it can produce ethanol or a hydrocarbon-based fuel that the company is calling a “SolarFuel.”
Based in Bedford, Mass., and founded in 2007, Joule was originally backed by Flagship Ventures, and on Tuesday Joule says Flagship has joined the latest round along with “new and prior undisclosed institutional and private sources.” So looks like they aren’t disclosing the other firms. Keep in mind Noubar Afeyan is both the founder and chairman of Joule and also the managing partner and CEO of Flagship Ventures.
Joule says it will be spending those funds on its first facility in Hobbs, N.M., which they say they plan to commission in the summer of 2012. The company now says the Hobbs facility will be able to “test and optimize” Joule’s tech “at incrementally larger scales,” potentially expanding to “1,000 acres for initial commercial production.”
The company told me last year it hoped to start producing its renewable diesel fuel at “high-capacity” starting in 2012 (this year). And Joule CEO Bill Sims told me back in 2009 he was hoping Joule would build a commercial-scale plant “in either late 2011 or early 2012.” So the company seems slightly behind schedule, though perhaps not too far behind.
In case you missed it, go read my article on how some investors are hoping to make money off of next-gen biofuels.