ExxonMobil to invest $600m in US algae biofuels programme

14 July 2009 16:43  [Source: ICIS news]

ExxonMobil to use algaeHOUSTON (ICIS news)--ExxonMobil on Tuesday announced plans to invest $600m (€432m) to research and develop next-generation biofuels that will use algae as a feedstock.

The company said it would form an alliance with Synthetic Genomics (SGI), a California-based research firm specialised in the development of genomic-driven technologies.

According to SGI, algae in their natural state can efficiently use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into cellular oils and hydrocarbons, but not at the rates needed for large-scale production of biofuels.

However, SGI said it believes it can produce the technology needed to extract sufficient quantities of biofuels using synthetic genomics and genome engineering as a platform.

Under the programme, the company said it expects to receive $300m in funding from ExxonMobil.

Meanwhile, the oil company said it would spend another $300m in internal research.

“After considerable study, we have determined that the potential advantages and benefits of biofuel from algae could be significant,” said ExxonMobil’s vice president of research and development Emil Jacobs.

Growing algae does not rely on fresh water and arable land otherwise used for food production, Jacobs said, adding that sunlight and carbon dioxide used to grow algae could also provide greenhouse gas mitigation benefits.

Although Jacobs did not specifically mention corn, the potential benefits from algae he referred to are in stark contrast with claims made against the main US feedstock for ethanol.

The impact on water, land and food supplies is often cited by ethanol critics against the use of corn as a feedstock for biofuel production.

Ethanol foes also claim the corn-based biofuel provides no greenhouse gas benefits if compared with gasoline.

ExxonMobil did not lay out a timeline for the algae project, but the company said it expected the program to take significant work and years of research and development.

The challenge to create a viable biofuel will hinge on the ability to produce it in large volumes, SGI said.

“It will require significant advances in both science and engineering,” it said.

($1 = €0.72)

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Bookmark Simon Robinson’s Big Biofuels Blog for some independent thinking on biofuels


By: William Lemos
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