ExxonMobil To Invest $600 Million In Algae Biofuel

Max Boath - Contributing Writer
Posted on Thursday 16th July 2009

Algae is growing, in ponds and in popularity. Exxon Mobile, the largest worldwide petroleum trader, announced July 14 that it is turning its focus to a more sustainable fuel industry: algae biofuel. Investigation is still in its early stages, but algae’s incredible production efficiency may prove more effective than other biofuels in reducing greenhouse gas.

Exxon Mobile will be teaming up with private company Synthetic Genomics, Inc. (SGI) to develop the algae biofuel. Exxon plans to spend over $600 million in research and development, which will focus not solely on how to convert algae into fuel but also on how to produce it in vast quantity. Creating biofuel from crops raises concerns about food shortages, but algae do not require arable land to grow on, nor does it need fresh water. Algae can grow in anything from desert to ocean to wastewater. Because it consumes vast amounts of carbon dioxide, algae could help to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Algae can be a significant solution to our climate crisis, and potentially could become the only fuel source we need.

But to generate all of our fuel from algae would require a lot of space. With generous estimates, it would take an area the size of Maryland to grow enough algae to fuel the United States; more realistic predictions calculate the area as large as Georgia. Such an allocation might be practical, though: by feeding algae copious amounts of carbon dioxide, organic material, and sunlight, scientists can boost oil yield to 40 percent—much higher than other biofuel yields. And since algal fuels are not detrimental to the environment, large eutrophication areas such as in the Gulf of Mexico can be used advantageously.

Scientists at SGI and Exxon Mobile are working to make the algae biofuel compatible with today’s automobile engines, but it will be another few steps before algae becomes the economic fuel of choice. The National Algae Association is working with over 25 algae growers and scientists to lower algae production costs, as the fuel is currently not very cost efficient, according to the Environmental News Network. However, with countries like Australia, China, India, Israel, and Spain all in the algal fuel race, you might be filling up your tank from your local lake sooner than you think.

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