July 14, 2009

Exxon to explore algae-based fuels

Oil giant Exxon Mobil, which once disdained alternative energy exploration, announced it will explore biofuels development.

Exxon, based in Irving, Texas, said Tuesday it plans to invest $600 million in producing liquid transportation fuels from algae in partnership with biotechnology company Synthetic Genomics, The New York Times reported.

The agreement could address what environmentalists say is a critical gap in Exxon's energy strategy, which critics say has been dismissive of global warming and renewable fuels, the Times said.

We literally looked at every option we could think of, with several key parameters in mind, said Emil Jacobs, Exxon's vice president for research and development in the company's research and engineering unit. Scale was the first. For transportation fuels, if you can't see whether you can scale a technology up, then you have to question whether you need to be involved at all.

The company spent several years exploring various fuel alternatives, Jacobs said, noting any large-scale commercial plants to produce algae-based fuels would be between five to 10 years off.