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Summary:

Last year, genomics pioneer Craig Venter said if oil companies didn’t want to invest in his biofuels technology, then no problem: He would happily develop a solution without them. Looks like that won’t be necessary — ExxonMobil has just announced that it will invest more than […]

Last year, genomics pioneer Craig Venter said if oil companies didn’t want to invest in his biofuels technology, then no problem: He would happily develop a solution without them. Looks like that won’t be necessary — ExxonMobil has just announced that it will invest more than $600 million in a new photosynthetic algae biofuels program with Venter, including more than $300 million for his startup, Synthetic Genomics.

The investment announced this morning will support an estimated five to six years of research and development. Emil Jacobs, vice president of R&D for Exxon’s Research and Engineering Co., said in a call with reporters that it will likely take billions of dollars in additional investment to commercialize the technology for distribution in Exxon’s existing infrastructure. Within 5-10 years, Jacobs expects the project to be producing “large quantities” of transportation fuel.

But while the partnership and technology are in early stages, today’s investment represents a major milestone for algae biofuels, bringing the world’s largest publicly traded oil company and one of the most influential scientists of our time (Venter’s best known for mapping the human genome) together in what Venter calls “the largest single investment in really trying to produce biofuels.”

At this point, Venter explained in the call, Synthetic Genomics, or SGI, has successfully engineered algae to secrete hydrocarbons similar to what Jacobs described as “intermediary strains in a refinery.” The idea behind the new collaborative R&D program, which will be based in a greenhouse facility in San Diego, is to collect and test thousands of strains of algae to find the most efficient and economical strains for production of transportation fuels. While Venter’s team will focus primarily on microengineering, Exxon will help with the macroengineering for production systems and integration needed for commercialization.

Whereas other companies working on algae biofuel technology have been looking at “coproducts” — things like chemical feedstocks and fertilizer that can be derived from byproducts of the fuel-making process — Venter said that he’s working to sustain “continuous production of pure hydrocarbons” from algae, rather than total biomass. As a result, he said, the process looks a lot more like “biomanufacturing” than farming, and it will require much less land than other fuels derived from plants (as little as a 10th of what’s needed to produce a comparable amount of fuel from corn, according to Venter).

Synthetic Genomics is already backed by high-profile venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, along with other private investors, as well as strategic investor oil giant BP. It’s a long road to commercial scale production, however. As Venter put it this morning, Exxon and SGI have “lots of options and no final answers.”

  1. [...] web mail feel to in-house email (OStatic) Has another UMPC maker left the market? (jkOnTheRun) Algae’s big break: Exxon, Craig Venter launch $600M+ algae fuel effort (Earth2Tech) Mac users left out of the Microsoft Office 2010 launch party [...]

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  2. The major automakers have committed to introducing hydrogen cars by 2015. Could any of the algae fuel research described in this article be used to produce hydrogen for fuel cells?

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  3. [...] develop algae-based biofuels. Mr. Venter is known for pioneering work on the human genome. From the article on earth2tech it appears that the goal of this project is to create genetically engineered algae capable of [...]

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  4. [...] reported by Earth2Tech, Emil Jacobs, vice president of R&D for Exxon’s Research and Engineering Co., said in a call [...]

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  5. [...] reported by Earth2Tech, Emil Jacobs, vice president of R&D for Exxon’s Research and Engineering Co., said in a call [...]

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  6. algaepreneur Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    Algae is renewable, does not affect the food channel and consumes CO2. To learn more about the fast-track commercialization of the algae production industry, you may want to check out this website:

    http://www.nationalalgaeassociation.com

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  7. [...] reported by Earth2Tech, Emil Jacobs, vice president of R&D for Exxon’s Research and Engineering Co., said in a call [...]

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  8. [...] pouring millions of dollars into the technology. Today ExxonMobil and startup Synthetic Genomics announced one of the biggest deals yet: more than $600 million for a five to six-year algae biofuels development program, including more [...]

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  9. [...] reported by Earth2Tech, Emil Jacobs, vice president of R&D for Exxon’s Research and Engineering Co., said in a call [...]

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  10. [...] Interestingly enough, Joule hasn’t yet worked out its favored business model yet, and is waiting for the market to decide. The company could either build its SolarFuel-producing plants itself and sell the fuel (probably not such a good plan in a capital-constrained economy), or sell the technology to fuel developers who will produce their own fuel. The company has engineered its organism to produce the fuel as efficiently as possible, not unlike the work that Synthetic Genomic’s founder Craig Venter has done. [...]

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  11. [...] been the blockbuster topic of the summer. Major deals have recently been done by heavyweights like Exxon, and Synthetic Genomics, Sapphire Energy and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investments, and more funding is in the pipeline [...]

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  12. [...] Exxon isn’t the only big oil firm that’s placing a significant bet on algae fuel. Today BP announced a new joint development agreement with Martek Biosciences to work on making microbial oils for biofuels, with an initial investment of up to $10 million. Martek has been working with algae for over two decades (largely producing dietary supplements derived from micro algae) and the companies plan to “establish proof of concept for large-scale, cost effective microbial biodiesel production through fermentation,” over the course of several years. [...]

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  13. [...] these economic times. The company is also competing with other synthetic biology makers like LS9, Synthetic Genomics and Gevo. [...]

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  14. [...] the world of big oil balance sheets, Exxon’s decision to invest $600 million into an algae fuel deal with startup Synthetic Genomic… is kind of like oil finally agreeing to take algae out on a date. While it’s definitely a [...]

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  15. [...] Posted September 4th, 2009 at 12:00 am in Biofuels In the world of big oil balance sheets, Exxon’s decision to invest $600 million into an algae fuel deal with startup Synthetic Genomics is kind of like oil finally agreeing to take algae out on a date. While it’s definitely a first [...]

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  16. [...] from the flurry of venture-capital deals, big oil company investments, and attention from politicians on startups creating biofuels from algae, it might seem like the [...]

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  17. [...] investors to fund smaller projects or switch to another less-capital-intensive strategy, such as finding a corporate partner (like Synthetic Genomics) or making components, instead of whole systems (like [...]

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  18. [...] investors to fund smaller projects or switch to another less-capital-intensive strategy, such as finding a corporate partner (like Synthetic Genomics) or making components, instead of whole systems (like [...]

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  19. [...] and new smart charging technologies were unveiled. Meanwhile, Big Oil was going nuts for algae, with Exxon, Chevron and BP all making major investments in algae-based fuels. Biofuels in general seem to be [...]

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  20. [...] to make many partnerships or investments with green tech innovators. Other oil companies like Exxon have made high-profile partnerships with companies like Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics to work on algae fuel. Chevron has its [...]

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  21. [...] “That’s the real bugaboo for everybody,” said Venter. To address that hurdle, last July Synthetic Genomics announced that it was partnering with ExxonMobil on a $600 million algae [...]

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  22. [...] lately of supporting these companies with long times to commercialization (Range Fuels, Coskata, Synthetic Genomics). And previous investor interest in biofuels seems to have trended toward support of electric [...]

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  23. We are involved in commercializing viable algae fuel production, on a large scale, but, doing so highly efficiently, and inexpensively. Removing the environment energy yoke would be great, however, until steeply discounted energy prices emerge, we will only have a partial solution. It appears doable.
    Sannerwind@gmail.com

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  24. [...] so Synthetic Genomics commercial biofuel could be getting pretty close to actual production. Venter said last year that the startup had successfully engineered algae to secrete hydrocarbons similar to [...]

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