It often surprises people to learn that a “Big Oil” company like ExxonMobil is investigating the promise of alternatives like biofuels. But we are.
Biofuels refer to any fuel that is derived from living organisms. Given their renewable nature, biofuels offer the potential to help expand energy supplies while reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Many people are familiar with the biofuel ethanol, which is produced from corn and is blended with the gasoline we pump into our tanks. However, more and more people have also come to see the shortcomings of corn ethanol – including its impact on land use and food supplies.
Many studies have also shown ethanol can actually result in higher overall greenhouse emissions and require greater quantities of water than gasoline.
As part of a wide-ranging biofuels-research portfolio, ExxonMobil is looking into second-generation biofuels that don’t compete with food production for land and water.
That includes research into algae as well as programs focused on converting alternative feedstocks like cellulosic biomass. For example, we are working with the Renewable Energy Group, Inc. to study the production of biodiesel by fermenting renewable cellulosic sugars from sources such as agricultural waste.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, cellulosic biomass has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 86 percent compared to petroleum-based fuels, if it can be produced on a large-scale basis.
ExxonMobil is also partnering with Synthetic Genomics, Inc. and leading universities and research institutions – including the Colorado School of Mines, Michigan State, Northwestern University, and the University of Wisconsin – to advance biofuel technology.
We recognize that advanced-biofuels research and development is a long-term endeavor. Although we have made progress, scientific breakthroughs are still needed so biofuels can be scaled up economically and produced in a way that brings environmental benefits.