ExxonMobil extends algae biofuels research using synthetic biology technologies

Small closed photobioreactors are a potential growth system. Image: Business Wire

After making significant progress in understanding algae genetics, growth characteristics and increasing oil production, Synthetic Genomics, Inc. and ExxonMobil said they would extended their joint research agreement into advanced algae biofuels.

The two companies have been researching and developing oil from algae for use as a renewable, lower-emission alternative to traditional transportation fuels since 2009. They are seeking to develop strains of algae that demonstrate significantly improved photosynthetic efficiency and oil production through selection and genetic engineering of higher-performance algae strains.

Further work will build on recent discoveries of biological pathways regulating lipid production and growth in advanced algal strains.

San Diego, California-based Synthetic Genomics’ core technology enables two connected genome-writing businesses: engineering advantaged cell platforms and printing biological components.

“Together with ExxonMobil, we have made significant strides to identify and enhance algal strains capable of high oil production while still maintaining desirable rates of growth,” said Oliver Fetzer, Ph.D., chief executive officer of Synthetic Genomics. “The extension of our agreement reflects the tremendous progress made to date, and the promise in using our core synthetic biology technologies to build cell production systems capable of reshaping industries.”

Vijay Swarup, vice-president for research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company, said that renewal of the agreement underscores the importance of the research and recognition of milestones the team has achieved together over the past few years. “We know this will be a long-term endeavor and are optimistic based on the results we have seen to date,” he said.

In a statement, ExxonMobil said it is engaged in a broad range of research on advanced biofuels, partnering with universities and other companies to explore new technologies and seek the best pathways toward scalable and cost-effective production of advanced biofuels.