Partnering with outside minds to transform energy

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To meet the world’s ever-growing energy demand and reduce the risk of climate change, ExxonMobil is forging research partnerships across industries and academia. Two areas of focus include the development of low-emission biofuels and of cost-effective carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado, ExxonMobil Vice President of Research and Development Vijay Swarup said that these partnerships complement the company’s ambitious in-house research and development program. There he had the opportunity to speak with a handful of cross-industry partners, as well as participate in a Q&A with an audience of scientific, tech and academic leaders.

“So, how do we deliver energy while controlling emissions?” asked Swarup. “Right now, there’s a technology gap, and collaborations are critical to developing the solutions, from concept to scale, set to take on the dual challenge.”

With biotechnology company Synthetic Genomics, Inc. (SGI), ExxonMobil is looking to refine energy-rich algae into lower-emission biodiesel that could power trucks, boats, even planes. In Aspen, Swarup and SGI CEO Oliver Fetzer reflected on the partnership and its ongoing work to more efficiently convert algae into biodiesel. Their goal is to have the technical ability to produce 10,000 barrels per day of biofuel by 2025.

“Little companies like mine fight for survival on a monthly basis, so sitting around is not an option,” said Fetzer. “We’ve got to move really fast, and that drives innovation. Working together with ExxonMobil – that’s when it gets really fun.”

ExxonMobil also recently expanded its carbon capture and storage (CCS) research portfolio by partnering with technology company Global Thermostat. The collaboration will advance Global Thermostat’s CCS breakthrough, which involves pulling carbon dioxide molecules straight out of the air using chemical amines. Scaled up, this solution could also capture emissions released by power plants and other large industrial sources.

Outside of industry, ExxonMobil recently began working with the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Laboratory network, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Through the 10-year, $100 million agreement – among the largest between the DOE and the private sector – both parties will work to bring low-emission energy breakthroughs, including biofuels and CCS, to commercial scale.

“This challenge is too big for one lab or university to solve,” said Martin Keller, Director at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “That’s why we’re creating partnerships not just with other labs, but also with industry. We have to move forward as fast as we can, but we also have to get this right.”

In addition to the collaboration with the DOE’s National Laboratories, ExxonMobil has also partnered with more than 80 universities around the world, and five energy centers at Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of Texas and two national universities in Singapore.

“We have 27 projects since we started our partnership, from solar cells to developing new photocatalysts, so it’s been a win-win for us and ExxonMobil,” said Dr. Lynn Loo, Director, Princeton University Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.

Whether developing next-generation biofuels or scalable carbon capture solutions, the goal for each partnership remains the same: Scale promising research into commercial successes that sustainably meet the world’s growing demand for energy.

Tags:   Aspen Ideas FestivalCCSDOENRELSGI
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