ExxonMobil initiated a partnership with private biotech company Synthetic Genomics Inc. back in 2009, part of a USD 600 million investment into researching and developing the next generation of algae-based biofuels. The world’s largest publicly traded energy company has now announced a new phase in the combined algae biofuel research program with outdoor testing of naturally occurring algae strains to begin in California.
Almost carbon neutral, Algae provides a climate-friendly alternative to traditional fossil fuels. With worldwide demand for transportation-related energy expected to jump 25% by 2040 – a reduction in transport sector related emissions is vital to reducing the impacts of climate change. “Our work with Synthetic Genomics on algae biofuels continues to be an important part of our broader research into lower-emission technologies to help reduce the risk of climate change,” said Vijay Swarup, vice president for Research and Development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering.
The outdoor fuel study will cultivate naturally occurring algae in several contained ponds in California. The company believes this will deliver a deeper understanding of fundamental engineering parameters including viscosity and flow, which cannot easily be replicated in a lab. “The new outdoor phase is a critical next step in determining a path toward large-scale, commercial production,” says Swarup. ExxonMobil anticipates 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel per day could be produced by 2025.
Oliver Fetzer, Ph.D., and chief executive officer, Synthetic Genomics, says “we are excited to take this next significant step as we journey together toward a renewable, scalable, and low-carbon biofuel.” He suggests the outdoor algal facility provides the perfect conduit between the laboratory and large-scale commercial deployment of the technology moving forward.
ExxonMobil is involved in a wide variety of research on advanced biofuels and emission-reducing technologies, and partners with universities, government laboratories, and other companies to advance their technical ability. The company claims it has spent about USD 8 billion to develop and deploy lower-emission energy solutions across all of its operations since 2000.