Working on tomorrow’s biofuel

Science & technology

Synthetic Genomics (SGI) and ExxonMobil have worked together for a decade now, driven by a single goal: Create a pathway to refine algae oils into low-emission diesel that can power trucks, boats, even planes.

The statement is simple; executing it is not. Oil-rich algae are an ideal energy feedstock. Actually, turning small batches into fuel can be done in the lab. The challenge is scale and, specifically, developing industrial processes that can grow and produce enough algae-derived fuel to keep up with the world’s growing demand for reliable and cleaner energy.

The recent move to a dedicated algae farm in Calipatria, California, is a step in that direction. Work there will help scientists and engineers put together solutions that could eventually scale up the process. One noteworthy difference between this facility and the lab is how the algae strains are actually grown. They’ve graduated from being grown in flasks or bathtub-sized tanks and are now deployed in large ponds, some almost the size of an American football field.

Next on the horizon for SGI and ExxonMobil scientists and engineers is one number: 10,000. That’s because the two companies are working to have the technical ability to produce 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel a day as an important milestone on the path to global availability.

To meet this target SGI and ExxonMobil scientists are leveraging learnings from past achievements, including the development of a high-oil algae strain that produces more than double the fat content of conventional algae. That and future successes could help make algae biofuel an affordable, reliable and scalable energy source.

Tags:   algaealgae biofuelSGI
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