ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics Inc. have entered a new phase in their joint algae biofuel research program that could lead to the technical ability to produce 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel per day by 2025.
The new phase of research includes an outdoor field study that will grow naturally occurring algae in several contained ponds in California.
The research will enable ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics to better understand fundamental engineering parameters including viscosity and flow, which cannot easily be replicated in a lab. The results of this work are important to understand how to scale the technology for potential commercial deployment, the companies said.
Additional work will be required to advance larger-scale production. Both companies are continuing with fundamental research on algae biology in their laboratories as the field study advances.
ExxonMobil anticipates that 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel per day could be produced by 2025 based on research conducted to date and emerging technical capability.
“The new outdoor phase is a critical next step in determining a path toward large-scale, commercial production,” Vijay Swarup, vice-president for research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company, said in a statement.
The outdoor research follows the companies’ years of fundamental biological research into understanding and improving algae oil production. Last year, the companies announced breakthrough research published in Nature Biotechnology that resulted in a modified algae strain that more than doubled oil content without significantly inhibiting growth, a key challenge along the path to commercial scalability.
“The progress we are making in the lab toward engineering highly efficient algae strains that convert sunlight and CO2 into renewable high energy density biofuel is exciting and warrants continued research about how our technology will scale. Our outdoor algal facility creates a perfect stepping stone from our labs to the greenhouse and to the outdoors to lay the foundation for a large scale commercial deployment of our technology in the future,” said Oliver Fetzer, chief executive officer at La Jolla, California-based Synthetic Genomics.