On June 21, Exxon announced its plan to invest $600 million into the biofuel industry. In partnership with Synthetic Genomics, the oil giant will experiment with producing liquid transportation fuels from photosynthetic algae.
According to Dr. Emil Jacobs, vice president of research and development for ExxonMobil, this investment comes after several years of planning. He also touts the efforts as “breakthrough technologies” that will help “meet the world’s energy challenges.”
Environmental groups have criticized Exxon for ignoring concerns about global warming, and this investment in biofuels could be a more eco-friendly step forward for the company.
According to Exxon, it is possible that algae could yield more than 2,000 gallons of fuel per acre of production each year.
But it’s going to take a lot of work.
“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,” says Michael Dolan, senior vice president of ExxonMobil.
“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.”
Using algae as an alternative fuel source isn’t new to the industry. The U.S. Department of Energy studied this process for about 18 years, from 1978 to 1996, but the feds decided that algae oil could never compete economically with fossil fuels.
That was before the price of oil skyrocketed. Now, with abundant resources of the material and its compatibility with existing transportation technology and infrastructure, the process is now more economical.
According to ScienceDaily, another benefit of creating algae biodiesel is that there is no wastewater produced to cause pollution. Furthermore, there is a limitless amount of algae growing in oceans, lake and rivers around the world.