ExxonMobil hopes to find oil in algae
Exxon Mobil Corporation has announced an alliance with a biotech company, Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI), to research and develop next generation biofuels from photosynthetic algae.
“This investment comes after several years of planning and study and is an important addition to ExxonMobil’s ongoing efforts to advance breakthrough technologies to help meet the world’s energy challenges,” said Dr. Emil Jacobs, vice president of research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company.
“Meeting the world’s growing energy demands will require a multitude of technologies and energy sources. We believe that biofuel produced by algae could be a meaningful part of the solution in the future if our efforts result in an economically viable, low net carbon emission transportation fuel.”
ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company has entered into a research and development alliance with SGI, a privately-held company focused on developing genomic-driven solutions and founded by genome pioneer, Dr. J. Craig Venter, to develop advanced biofuels from photosynthetic algae that are compatible with today’s gasoline and diesel fuels.
Under the program, if research and development milestones are successfully met, ExxonMobil expects to spend more than USD 600 million, which includes USD 300 million in internal costs and potentially more than USD 300 million to SGI.
“While significant work and years of research and development still must be completed, if successful, algae-based fuels could help meet the world’s growing demand for transportation fuel while reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Michael Dolan, senior vice president of ExxonMobil. “Our new algae biofuels program complements ExxonMobil’s ongoing efforts to reduce emissions in our operations and by consumers of our products, through both efficiency improvements and technology breakthroughs.”
ExxonMobil has invested more than USD 1.5 billion over the past five years on activities that improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Initiatives include technologies to improve automobile efficiency, such as tyre-liners that keep tires inflated longer, advanced fuel-economy engine oil and lightweight automobile plastics. As well, the company is researching enhanced engine efficiency, has developed an improved lithium battery separator film for hybrid electric cars, and sponsors breakthrough research into ways to improve solar energy, biofuels and carbon capture and storage.
“The real challenge to creating a viable next generation biofuel is the ability to produce it in large volumes which will require significant advances in both science and engineering,” said Venter, CEO of SGI. "The alliance between SGI and ExxonMobil will bring together the complementary capabilities and expertise of both companies to develop innovative solutions that could lead to the large scale production of biofuel from algae.”
ExxonMobil’s engineering and scientific expertise will be utilised throughout the program, from the development of systems to increase the scale of algae production through the manufacturing of finished fuels.
Added Jacobs: “After considerable study, we have determined that the potential advantages and benefits of biofuel from algae could be significant. Among other advantages, readily available sunlight and carbon dioxide used to grow the photosynthetic algae could provide greenhouse gas mitigation benefits. Growing algae does not rely on fresh water and arable land otherwise used for food production. And lastly, algae have the potential to produce large volumes of oils that can be processed in existing refineries to manufacture fuels that are compatible with existing transportation technology and infrastructure.”