The race to bring pond scum to fuel tanks has acquired high stakes in recent years, with venture capitalists, federal agencies and legacy oil companies pouring millions of dollars into the technology. Today ExxonMobil and startup Synthetic Genomics announced one of the biggest deals yet: more […]

The race to bring pond scum to fuel tanks has acquired high stakes in recent years, with venture capitalists, federal agencies and legacy oil companies 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 5-6-year algae biofuels development program, including more than $300 million to be invested into the startup.

While today’s project does not represent the largest algae deal to date (Algenol is building a plant in Mexico reportedly worth $850 million, as we’ve noted in the chart below), it is one of the biggest commitments so far from the oil industry — which has been placing a growing pile of chips on algae for its potential to work with existing infrastructure for fossil fuels (e.g., pipelines, oil refineries).

The numbers, of course, don’t tell the whole story. Look at GreenFuel Technologies, a startup that won big investments and a $92 million algae farm project in Spain, but ended up laying off staff and ultimately shutting down earlier this year. Activity in the nascent algae fuel sector also includes more than a few deals whose amounts have not been disclosed, but which may hold significance for the industry over time. For example, Synthetic Genomics received an early investment from BP (meant to support one of the first comprehensive genomic studies of microbial populations in various hydrocarbons, and ultimately lead to processes for making biofuels). While we can’t compare the size of that investment to the others in our chart, it may have gone a long way to help the company win today’s massive deal with ExxonMobil. And while Royal Dutch Shell and algae-to-fuel startup HR Biopetroleum have not been forthcoming with details about the financing for their 2-year-old joint venture, Cellana, having the heft of Shell’s budget and resources behind it could make Cellana a serious contender against smaller startups.

For the chart below, we looked to include the largest sources of funding flowing into the algae sector, including equity investments, government grants and contracts, joint ventures, strategic alliances and licensing deals:

Partners/Companies Project
Algenol Biofuels, Sonora Fields

Algenol has a licensing agreement with Sonora Fields (a wholly owned subsidiary of Mexican-owned BioFields) for a project in Mexico that will deliver a billion gallons of fuel a year. More »
Synthetic Genomics, ExxonMobil

ExxonMobil plans to invest more than $300 million in Synthetic Genomics as part of a larger $600 million collaborative R&D program for developing and commercializing transportation fuel from photosynthetic algae. More »
Sapphire Energy, venture capital

Sapphire has raised venture capital from high-profile investors including Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, ARCH Venture Partners and Venrock to help it squeeze green crude from algae for high-octane fuels. More »
Solazyme, venture capital

Solazyme’s latest round (Series C, $7M) brings the startup’s total funds to $76 million and will be used for commercialization of its technology: genetically engineered algal strains grown in fermentation tanks, fed sugar instead of sunlight, and using existing industrial equipment to extract the oil.
General Atomics, Department of Defense

General Atomics began leading a team of university and industrial partners in a 36-month program starting in January 2009 to “examine all aspects” of the algae-to-jet-fuel production process under the Defense Adanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. More »
SAIC, Department of Defense

SAIC won a defense contract earlier this year to develop a $3-a-gallon algae-derived fuel for military jets. The funds come under a biofuels program in DARPA More »
Center for Advanced Biofuel Systems, Department of Energy

The DOE will award $2 million to $5 million each year for five years to this St. Louis lab as part of the The Energy Frontier Research Center Awards program. More »
C2B2, Conoco Philips

The Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels (C2B2), part of the joint venture created by the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines and NREL, won sponsorship from Conoco to develop transportation fuels from biomass, starting with algae. More »
  1. [...] invests in biofuels (algaeà (FT). See also Earth2Tech (Heavy hitters in algae fuel deals) and Science News (Algae: biofuel of the [...]

  2. [...] details the big money going into algae biofuel R&D, including from oil companies and the US government. Yeah, there’s been some busts here, but [...]

  3. [...] Staff | Wednesday, July 15, 2009 | 10:11 AM PT | 0 comments Cheat sheet: Heavy hitters in algae fuel deal (Earth2Tech) 4 open-source mind-mapping apps to keep you focused (OStatic) 10 things to think about [...]

  4. Have these deals been substantiated (i.e. is there a paper trail) or are they just included in press releases (which tend to be speculation much of the time).

  5. [...] idea of using algae to produce fuel for vehicles has 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 [...]

  6. [...] deal comes as just the latest in a string of algae and biofuel plays by heavy hitters in the legacy energy industry. As we’ve written before, oil companies have been placing a growing pile of chips on algae [...]

  7. [...] and development. As a startup in this early stage with a ticking clock and competition from well-funded heavy hitters like Algenol Biofuels, Synthetic Genomics and Sapphire Energy — LiveFuels is definitely a [...]

  8. [...] the large oil firms, including both ExxonMobil and BP, have started to take algae fuel seriously (Exxon with one of the biggest algae fuel deals yet, including more than $600 million for an algae biofuels development program with Craig [...]

  9. There is so much hype about this pond-scum fuel. the fact of the matter is, companies are capitilizing on Obama’s program to create more “green jobs”. This type of technology is far-fetched and with the oil prices declining, biofuels would have their work cut out for them.

  10. [...] 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 world has fallen in love with the technology to power vehicles with pond [...]


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