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.
This isn’t BP’s only foray into algae. The British oil giant was an early investor in Synthetic Genomics, Craig Venter’s firm that’s using genetics to tweak algae to produce fuel, and which recently scored a massive $600 million deal with Exxon.
The BP-Martek deal will have a broader focus than just algae fuel. Martek spokeswoman Cassandra France-Kelly tells us that “any microbial organism may be a solution” for the fuel, but algae is “a leading possibility.” France-Kelly says Martek has “one of the largest algae libraries in the world, so we certainly have the resources and expertise in algae.” In addition to providing the investment, BP plans to work on “integration within the biofuels value chain,” while Martek performs research and development.
In a release this morning, BP Biofuels CEO Philip New called the new partnership a combination of “the world’s leading know-how in microbial lipid production” with BP’s expertise in fuel markets and applications, as well as its “more recent experience in biofuels production and commercialization.”
Today’s 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 for its potential to work with existing infrastructure — such as pipelines and oil refineries — for fossil fuels. Check out our cheat sheet on some of the biggest algae fuel deals here.