The Lamp 2017

diesel automobiles without major overhauls to car engines. “While there is still a lot of research to do,” explains Vijay Swarup, vice president of research and development for EMRE, “the breakthrough does bring ExxonMobil and SGI a step closer to potentially turning algae into a scalable commercial product.” Leaving no stone unturned Algae research is just one of the opportunities explored by the company when it comes to biofuels. Although natural gas and oil will continue to supply a majority of the world’s energy needs for the foreseeable future, demand for renewables, including biofuels, will grow significantly, accounting for about 15 percent of world energy demand by 2040. To meet this anticipated demand, ExxonMobil is leaving no stone unturned. In addition to the partnership with SGI, ExxonMobil is working with other leading companies and academics (see page 30) to develop ways to convert cellulosic biomass resources, such as corncobs, switchgrass and wood chips, into low-emission diesel and jet fuels. In addition to their ability

to produce low-emission fuels, these feedstocks do not compete with food supplies or for fresh water sources. Fruitful partnerships ExxonMobil is exploring the potential of bio-refining cellulosic biomass feedstocks with the Renewable Energy Group (REG) using their proprietary fermentation technology. The goal of the program is to modify and improve REG’s patented microbe-based technology so it can be used to convert cellulosic non-food, biomass-sourced sugars into biodiesel. ExxonMobil is taking a different approach to converting cellulosic biomass into biofuels with the University of Wisconsin. The goal of this program is to discover novel catalytic routes to convert cellulosic biomass into renewable diesel and jet fuel. ExxonMobil’s biofuels research – whether focused on algae or cellulosic resources – is driven by a single goal: to build a portfolio of low-emission fuels that support tomorrow’s energy realities.

A researcher monitoring algae growth at the SGI laboratory in La Jolla, California

The rewards of “fat” algae To boost fat production, SGI and ExxonMobil scientists tweaked the part of the algae genome responsible for the assimilation of nitrogen, an essential nutrient. This genetic modification more than doubled its oil content, from 20 percent to 40 percent, with little or no impact to the algae’s growth cycle. When it comes to algae, the potential rewards are worth the challenges to be expected when developing an entirely new energy resource. The fuel offers several tangible benefits poised to strengthen the ongoing transition to low-emission energy resources. It emits fewer

greenhouse gases than most conventional energy sources. In 2012, ExxonMobil and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) concluded that on a life-cycle assessment basis, algae biofuels released half as many greenhouse gas emissions as petroleum-derived fuels. Compared to other biofuel feedstocks, algae yields are also more productive. An acre of palm-oil trees will produce about 650 gallons (2,460 liters) of palm oil in one year, compared to more than 2,000 gallons (7,570 liters) of oil from algae. Finally, once refined, algae-derived diesel is “engine-ready,” which means that if scaled to commercial levels, it could be pumped into

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Oxygenating algae samples to spur growth


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