ExxonMobil, Synthetic Genomics achieve major breakthrough in algae biofuel

ExxonMobil, Synthetic Genomics algae research advances to outdoor testing

3:22 PM, 6th March 2018
Algae has been regarded as a potential sustainable fuel option. (File photo)
Algae has been regarded as a potential sustainable fuel option. (File photo)

IRVING/ LA JOLLA, US: ExxonMobil Corporation and Synthetic Genomics Inc announced a new phase in their joint algae biofuel research program that could lead to the technical ability to produce 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel per day by 2025.

The new phase of research includes an outdoor field study that will grow naturally occurring algae in several contained ponds in California. The research will enable ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics to better understand fundamental engineering parameters including viscosity and flow, which cannot easily be replicated in a lab. The results of this work are important to understand how to scale the technology for potential commercial deployment.

Additional work will be required to advance larger-scale production. Both companies are continuing with fundamental research on algae biology in their laboratories as the field study advances. ExxonMobil anticipates that 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel per day could be produced by 2025 based on research conducted to date and emerging technical capability.

In 2017, ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics announced breakthrough research published in Nature Biotechnology that resulted in a modified algae strain that more than doubled oil content without significantly inhibiting growth, a key challenge along the path to commercial scalability.

ExxonMobil is also actively researching other emission-reducing technologies, including carbon capture and sequestration. In 2016, ExxonMobil announced its partnership with Connecticut-based FuelCell Energy Inc, to advance the use of carbonate fuel cells to economically capture carbon emissions from power plants while generating hydrogen and additional electricity.

“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. The new outdoor phase is a critical next step in determining a path toward large-scale, commercial production,” said Vijay Swarup, vice president for research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company.

“The progress we are making in the lab toward engineering highly efficient algae strains that convert sunlight and CO2 into renewable high energy density biofuel is exciting and warrants continued research about how our technology will scale. Our outdoor algal facility creates a perfect stepping stone from our labs to the greenhouse and to the outdoors to lay the foundation for a large-scale commercial deployment of our technology in the future,” added Oliver Fetzer, PhD, chief executive officer at Synthetic Genomics.

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