ExxonMobil, Synthetic Genomics ink new pact for algae biofuels

May 17, 2013 |

Screen Shot 2013-05-17 at 7.31.00 AMOil’s #1 and Craig Venter re-up on algae fuels R&D effort

In California, Synthetic Genomics announced a new co-funded research agreement with ExxonMobil to develop algae biofuels. The new agreement is a basic science research program that focuses on developing algal strains with significantly improved production characteristics by employing synthetic genomic science and technology. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.

“We look forward to working with ExxonMobil to undertake this in-depth focus on the basic science research to better understand and enhance algae.” said J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., SGI’s founder and chief executive officer.  “The new agreement gives us an opportunity to really focus on improving algal strains using our core synthetic biology technologies to develop biofuels.”

The 25-year March

In June 2009, SGI and ExxonMobil announced a research and development alliance focused on naturally occurring and conventionally modified algae strains. Over the nearly four years working together the companies gained considerable knowledge about the challenges in developing economical and scalable algae biofuels. SGI also made significant strides in understanding algae genetics, growth characteristics, and enhancements to algae to improve algal biomass and lipid productivities.

Earlier this year, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson told PBS, “We’ve come to understand some limits of that technology, or limits as we understand it today, which doesn’t mean it’s limited forever. The venture is “probably further” than 25 years away from successfully developing fuels.”

The last public update on ExxonMobil’s algae efforts was here.

The  New Pact

The new agreement focuses on SGI’s core strengths in synthetic biology and will allow the company to further explore this promising area of research to develop improved algal strains. The agreement places greater emphasis on basic scientific research to develop strains which reproduce quickly, produce a high proportion of lipids and effectively withstand environmental and operational conditions.

SGI continues to invest in large-scale cultivation and product recovery facilities which will assist the company longer term in the scale-up and commercialization of improved algal strains for food, chemicals and fuel.  SGI currently has two facilities—a smaller scale research greenhouse and laboratory near the SGI campus in La Jolla, CA, and a larger-scale development and commercial production facility with closed photobioreactors, open ponds and product recovery unit operations in Imperial Valley, CA.

SGI and other new crops

SGI is also developing sustainable crops such as castor and sweet sorghum and agricultural products through AgraCast, a company co-founded with Plenus S.A. de C.V.

READ MORE: More on Synthetic Genomics, here.

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