TEXAS & CALIFORNIA, June 28, 2017 - ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics Inc. have discovered an algae strain that more than doubled its oil content without inhibiting the strain’s growth. The strain produces a record amount of energy-rich fat, which can be processed into biodiesel. Traditionally a slow-growing substance, algae oil production volume has been where the fuel is lacking.
The discovery, using advanced cell engineering technologies, ups the algae’s oil content from 20 percent to more than 40 percent. The breakthrough could solve the issue of algae fuel’s cost efficiency, which has been the major stumbling block in bringing algae fuels to the public since its discovery during the oil crisis of the 1970s as part of the Carter Administration’s Aquatic Species Program.
“This key milestone in our advanced biofuels program confirms our belief that algae can be incredibly productive as a renewable energy source with a corresponding positive contribution to our environment,” said Vijay Swarup, vice president for research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company.
Supporters say the benefits of algae biofuel are above and beyond fuels that use traditional row crops as a feedstock. The fuel’s production yields a wide variety of byproducts, such as feedstock, pet food, fertilizer, and energy drinks. Furthermore, backers say its production is highly sustainable.
“The major inputs for phototropic algae production are sunlight and carbon dioxide, two resources that are abundant, sustainable and free,” said Oliver Fetzer, chief executive officer at Synthetic Genomics. “Discoveries made through our partnership with ExxonMobil demonstrate how advanced cell engineering capabilities at Synthetic Genomics can unlock biology to optimize how we use these resources and create solutions for many of today’s sustainability challenges.”
The biofuel could potentially fuel everything from automobiles to jet planes. While the discovery is a potential breakthrough in algae fuel technology, the commercial market is still many years away.
“Advancements as potentially important as this require significant time and effort, as is the case with any research and development project. Each phase of our algae research, or any other similar project in the area of advanced biofuels, requires testing and analysis to confirm that we’re proceeding down a path toward scale and commercial viability,” Swarup said.