Researchers hope to develop oil from algae for renewable, lower-emission alternative to traditional transportation fuels
ExxonMobil 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 b/d algae biofuel by 2025, according to a press release.
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.
“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 Company. “The new outdoor phase is a critical next step in determining a path toward large-scale, commercial production.”
This outdoor research follows the companies’ years of fundamental biological research into understanding and improving algae oil production.
“We are excited to take this next significant step as we journey together toward a renewable, scalable, and low-carbon biofuel,” said Oliver Fetzer, Ph.D., chief executive officer at Synthetic Genomics.
“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.”
Since 2009, ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics have been partners in researching and developing oil from algae to be used as a renewable, lower-emission alternative to traditional transportation fuels.
ExxonMobil is engaged in a wide range of research on advanced biofuels, partnering with universities, government laboratories, and other companies.
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.
Global demand for transportation-related energy is projected to increase by about 25 percent through 2040, and accelerating the reduction in emissions from the transportation sector will play a critical role in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.