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ExxonMobil to Launch Algal Biofuel Program

ExxonMobil Corporation announced in a recent press release that they are pursuing biofuels made from photosynthetic algae. The Corporation is teaming with leading biotech company Synthetic Genomics Inc. to research and develop this new biofuel. ExxonMobil recognizes the world's growing energy requirements and sees a chance to advance and develop breakthrough biofuel technologies.

SGI, founded by the renowned Dr. J. Craig Venter, primarily focuses on developing genomic-driven solutions. ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company entered this research and development alliance with SGI to develop advanced biofuels that are compatible with current gasoline and diesel fuels, but made from photosynthetic algae. ExxonMobil announced that it expects to spend over $600 million on this program if research and development milestones are successfully met. This includes $300 million in internal costs and potentially over $300 million to SGI.

“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.”

Michael Dolan, senior vice president of ExxonMobil, commented on the demand for green solutions to our energy needs. “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,” Dolan said. “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 demonstrated a commitment to environmentally-friendly development, having invested over $1.5 billion over the last five years in programs to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Amongst these initiatives are technologies to improve automobile efficiency, such as improvements to tires that keep them inflated longer, implementing light-weight automobile plastics, developing improved lithium battery separator film for hybrid electric cars, and sponsoring research on solar energy, biofuels, and carbon capture and storage.

For this particular project, ExxonMobil will provide engineering and scientific expertise throughout the program, developing systems to boost algae production through the manufacturing of finished fuels.

“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 SGI CEO Dr. Venter. "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.”

Dr. Jacobs added, “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.”

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