US ExxonMobil, firm build algae greenhouse in bid to grow oil

14 July 2010 19:43  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--US oil major ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics opened a greenhouse to raise algae as the next step in their plan to develop algae that can produce oil on a large scale, they said on Wednesday.

The greenhouse was at Synthetic Genomics's headquarters in La Jolla, California. Costs were not disclosed.

To produce oil, the algae need carbon dioxide, which would be supplied from tanks, said Craig Venter, chief executive of Synthetic Genomics. Ultimately, the gas could come from carbon sequestration.

The algae would also rely on saltwater, Venter said.

The companies will determine the best way to grow the algae, testing open ponds and closed photobioreactors, they said.

In addition, the companies would test which algae strains produce the most oil, the companies said. Those strains could be natural or engineered.

Other tests would determine the best way to harvest and recover the oil produced by the algae, the companies said.

The companies could take the next step in their algae programme next year, when they open an outdoor test site.

If the programme was successful, the algae oil could go into existing refineries, where it would be refined into fuel, said Emil Jacobs, vice president of research and development for ExxonMobil. The resulting fuel could flow through existing pipelines.

ExxonMobil announced the algae programme last year. Under it, ExxonMobil could spend more than $600m (€474m) in the next decade, $300m of which would go to Synthetic Genomics.

($1 = €0.79)

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By: Al Greenwood
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