July 14, 2009

Exxon To Make Fuel From Algae

America's Exxon Mobil Corp has announced plans to invest possibly more than $600 million in a venture to develop liquid transportation biofuels from algae, despite their prior comments that they considered renewable energy as uneconomical.

In a statement, Exxon said it was forming a research and development alliance with Synthetic Genomics Inc., a privately held company focused on gene-based research and founded to commercialize genomic driven technologies.

A top Exxon research told the newspaper that the company has researched fuel alternatives for years.

Michael Dolan, senior vice president of Exxon said, "Algae-based fuels could help meet the world's growing demand for transportation fuel while reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

"We literally looked at every option we could think of, with several key parameters in mind," said Emil Jacobs, vice president for research and development at Exxon'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."

Although all parties are in agreement that they are at least five to ten years away from having a plausible commercial solution, companies such as Europe's largest oil company in market value, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, are also researching the possibility of making motor fuel from algae.

Biofuels derived from algae would have an edge on existing biofuels in that it would not be competing with food crops for land, which means it would be able to meet energy needs without raising the cost of food.

Being the largest of six oil supermajors, Exxon has previously expressed skepticism about green energy such as wind, biofuels and solar power, and has been a supporter of research that questioned the scientific basis of man-made climate change. Exxon chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson once even went as far as to derisively refer to ethanol as "moonshine.

Though is much to be excited about, environmentalists maintain a cautious skepticism.

"Research is great, but we need to see new products in the market," Greenpeace research director Kert Davies told the Times.

"We've always said that major oil companies have to be involved. But the question is whether companies are simply paying lip service to something or whether they are putting their weight and power behind it."

Proposals for Exxon to invest in renewable fuels were fended off at an investors meeting in May.


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