WaterLink International - Geomares Publishing bv

Algae biofuels

Biofuel from algae could be a meaningful part of the solution in the future because of its potential as an economically viable, low emissions transportation fuel.

As part of the program, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company is teaming up with Synthetic Genomics (SGI) to develop, test, and produce biofuels from photosynthetic algae. Algae produce bio-oil that can be processed into biofuels similar in structure to today's gasoline and diesel fuels. This helps ensure the fuels are compatible with existing transportation technology and infrastructure.

This alliance brings together two distinctly different organisations, each with leadership and expertise in its field, to pursue a commercially viable solution to the significant energy challenges facing the world today.

Advantages of algae

ExxonMobil has been engaged in a long-term effort to examine the potential of next generation and renewable fuels. After considerable study, conclusions are that biofuels from photosynthetic algae have potential benefits and advantages.

Algae can be grown using land and water unsuitable for plant or food production, unlike some other first- and second-generation biofuel feedstocks.

Select species of algae produce bio-oils through the natural process of photosynthesis - requiring only sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

Growing algae consume carbon dioxide; this provides greenhouse gas mitigation benefits.

Bio-oil produced by photosynthetic algae and the resultant biofuel will have molecular structures that are similar to the petroleum and refined products we use today.

Algae have the potential to yield greater volumes of biofuel per acre of production than other biofuel sources. Algae could yield more than 2000 gallons of fuel per acre per year of production. Approximate yields for other fuel sources are far lower:

Palm - 650 gallons per acre per year

Sugar cane - 450 gallons per acre per year

Corn - 250 gallons per acre per year

Soy - 50 gallons per acre per year

Algae used to produce biofuels are highly productive. As a result, large quantities of algae can be grown quickly, and the process of testing different strains of algae for their fuel-making potential can proceed more rapidly than for other crops with longer life cycles.

If successful, bio-oils from photosynthetic algae could be used to manufacture a full range of fuels including gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel that meet the same specifications as today's products.

ExxonMobil's spending for this program could total more than USD1billion over the next 10 to 15 years if research, development and deployment milestones are successfully met.

Ongoing technology efforts

Since 2004 we have invested more than USD1.5 billion in activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency, and we will spend at least USD500 million on additional initiatives over the next few years. The algae biofuels program reflects our ongoing commitment to develop a diverse set of technologies to meet the world's growing energy and environmental needs.

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