Editor’s Note: As of September 2021 Synthetic Genomics is now operating under the name Viridos, Inc.
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One of ExxonMobil’s top targets is algae. ExxonMobil has been working with biotech firm Synthetic Genomics, Inc. (SGI) to create algae that’s both fat-filled and abundant.
Their work currently is focused on a cluster of manmade ponds in Calipatria, in Southern California’s Imperial Valley. These contained ponds can each grow billions upon billions of algae cells.
“With ExxonMobil, we’re aiming to have the technical ability to produce 10,000 barrels of algae-based biofuel a day by 2025,” says Rob Brown, who leads SGI’s algal research.
“Eventually, we want to power something the size of UPS or FedEx’s global fleet with renewable diesel.”
Fuel From Waste
While algae holds tremendous potential, ExxonMobil’s scientists and research partners are also looking into advanced biofuels from another unusual source: plant waste products like grass clippings, corn stalks and forest trimmings.
Building on processes that unlock the sugars embedded in the tough plant material, ExxonMobil and its partner, Renewable Energy Group (REG), have developed bacteria to transform those sugars into fuel. With techniques similar to those used on algae, REG has produced strains of harmless E. coli that eat the sugars released from cellulose and spit out engine-ready biodiesel.
Producing diesel fuel from plant waste in this way would be a great benefit for society. It could transform plant waste into a revenue-earning resource for farmers, foresters and others. And it could cut greenhouse gas emissions from the vehicles that use it — trucks, trains, boats, cars and even planes — by more than 50 percent.