The oil and gas company and its partner Synthetic Genomics has advanced to testing naturally occurring algae strains in California. The test will inform how the project scales up the technology in the commercial phase.
The companies announced 6 March that their biofuels project has proceeded to the next stage: outdoor field tests of algae in contained ponds. The tests are meant to provide data to understand the ‘fundamental engineering parameters’ that will allow them to commercialise the technology. This data includes viscosity and flow which, according to them, cannot be easily replicated in a lab.
Synthetic Genomics and ExxonMobil have been working on the project together since 2009. Both companies will conduct additional lab studies at the same time as the field trials as the trails alone will not provide the information needed for efficient commercialisation.
ExxonMobil expects its third gen biofuel production capacity to reach 10,000 barrels a day by 2025. It says this figure is based on ‘research conducted to date and emerging technical capability’.
Oliver Fetzer, Ph.D., chief executive officer at Synthetic Genomics, said in a statement: “We are excited to take this next significant step as we journey together toward a renewable, scalable, and low-carbon biofuel.”
“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.”
Vijay Swarup, vice president for research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company, said that the outdoor phase of the research was critical to commercialising their algae technology. He also highlighted that the project is part of ExxonMobil’s “broader research into lower-emission technologies to help reduce the risk of climate change.”
ExxonMobil is the largest publicly traded oil company in the world, producing 2.3 million barrels of oil and refining 4.2 million in 2016.
In 2017, the researchers from the companies published a study in Nature Biotechnology detailing a strain of algae capable of producing double the amount of oil than that of regular strains without affecting growth.