Thursday, July 16, 2009

Biofuel from Algae - Exxon Invests Big

The oil giant Exxon Mobil, whose chief executive once mocked alternative energy by referring to ethanol as “moonshine,” is about to venture into biofuels.

On Tuesday, Exxon plans to announce an investment of $600 million in producing liquid transportation fuels from algae — organisms in water that range from pond scum to seaweed. The biofuel effort involves a partnership with Synthetic Genomics, a biotechnology company founded by the genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter.

The agreement could plug a major gap in the strategy of Exxon, the world’s largest and richest publicly traded oil company, which has been criticized by environmental groups for dismissing concerns about global warming in the past and its reluctance to develop renewable fuels.

This was reported today in the NY Times [July 14 2009]

While many organisations around the world are researching this topic, and making biodiesel or similar products on a small scale has already been done, scaling up to the size required, and having repeatability of algae production on a large scale are all a lot more difficult.

No one suggests this will happen tomorrow, but the fact that Exxon has invested, and at a considerable amount of $$, might seem to indicate that the algae to biodiesel pathway may be one of the favoured methods that could replace out of the ground oil especially for transport fuels.

Algae to biodiesel and then use would appear to offer a reasonably low carbon impact pathway, potentially less than fossil fuel burning.

We are looking at a 5-10 year timeline probably, unless someone else gazumps them..........and that could happen given the effort now going into algae to fuel research and development programs in both industry and academia.

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