Last week, ExxonMobil announced that it will invest $300 million into in-house algae research and up to an additional $300 million in Synthetic Genomics, La Jolla, CA. The latter has been conducting algae-to-energy research for four years and has developed techniques for harvesting oils from algae. It also will be manipulating algal strains to increase lipid content.
“After considerable study, we have determined that the potential advantages and benefits of biofuel from algae could be significant. Among other advantages, readily available sunlight and carbon dioxide used to grow the photosynthetic algae could provide greenhouse gas mitigation benefits,” said Emil Jacobs, vice president of research and development, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. “Growing algae does not rely on fresh water and arable land otherwise used for food production. And lastly, algae have the potential to produce large volumes of oils that can be processed in existing refineries to manufacture fuels that are compatible with existing transportation technology and infrastructure.”
While ExxonMobil’s investment is in algae, corn and soybean producers and other types of crop producers can expect to see continued investment in the ethanol and biodiesel businesses by Big Oil in both research and commercial ventures.
As this blog has noted before, recent bankruptcies in the biofuels business have made it possible for oil companies to pick up assets at bargain prices.
It is difficult to predict how this will all turn out, but it is a good bet that the oil industry’s presence will likely transform the biofuels business.