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Page added on March 8, 2013

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Exxon at Least 25 Years Away From Making Fuel From Algae

Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM)’s $600 million foray into creating motor fuels from algae may not succeed for at least another 25 years because of technical hurdles, said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson.

So far, scientists haven’t been able to develop a strain of algae that reproduces quickly enough and behaves in a manner that would produce enough raw material to supply a refinery, Tillerson said in an interview taped for “Charlie Rose” on the PBS television network.

“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,” Tillerson said, according to a transcript of the interview. The venture is “probably further” than 25 years away from successfully developing fuels.

Exxon, the world’s biggest maker of gasoline and diesel, has been studying the potential for algae-based fuels for 3 1/2 years in a joint venture with J. Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics Inc. When the project was announced in July 2009, Exxon predicted it could produce fuels in five to 10 years.

When the venture was announced, the companies said they would build a greenhouse near San Diego to test various algae strains. The goal was “to produce a new source of oil,” Emil Jacobs, Exxon’s vice president of research, said during a July 14, 2009, conference call.

Venter, best known for his role in the sequencing of the human genome in the 1990s and early 2000s, said during the same call that algae ponds would produce 10 times as much fuel as the ethanol fed by corn fields covering the same amount of space.

“What we’ve come to understand is the hurdle is pretty high and the hurdle seems to exist at the basic science level, which means it’s even more difficult to solve,” Tillerson said. “These are very challenging problems.


9 Comments on "Exxon at Least 25 Years Away From Making Fuel From Algae"

  1. Kenz300 on Fri, 8th Mar 2013 3:27 am 

    Exxon is promoting Exxon and oil………

    The oil companies, the coal companies and the Koch brothers have been on a rant the last few years to downplay any alternative fuel sources. They are defending their turf. They love it when oil prices spike. They make huge windfall profits.

  2. BillT on Fri, 8th Mar 2013 4:46 am 

    Lump algae oil in with fusion as a never gonna happen idea. Dreams of the techies that are just that. Odds are that the entire financial system is going to collapse in the near future, erasing such grand ideas. I hope the unemployed scientists and technicians have a tradeable skill to barter for their food.

  3. Norm on Fri, 8th Mar 2013 5:03 am 

    I find the algae-for-fuel one of the most intriguing. You don’t farm it in a pond, you farm it in clear, enclosed tubes. However the big negative I heard lately, is it wont pencil out because of the fertilizers that have to be provided, you will run out of the fertilizers if you supplied all that oil from algae. too bad.

  4. gregt on Fri, 8th Mar 2013 7:31 am 

    Rex Tillerson, what a piece of work. How can this guy even look at himself in the mirror when he gets up in the morning?


    If we all ate legumes, we could probably produce more energy in the form of methane, than algae will ever do for us, and we could even produce it in enclosed tubes. 🙂

  5. J-Gav on Fri, 8th Mar 2013 11:22 am 

    One of the algae ‘hurdles’ is that once they start profilerating you can’t get them to stop so they all die off. Uncooperative little devils…

  6. mike on Fri, 8th Mar 2013 1:32 pm 

    This is all getting so hilarious I am having trouble containing myself.

  7. Stephen on Fri, 8th Mar 2013 5:19 pm 

    Interesting as Solazyme is already far closer to making algae work. Solazyme is already selling their fuel to consumers in San Francisco, and their fuel has already been in use by the US Navy for a while, and was used in a real passenger flight on Continental Airlines (now United). Additionally, I already read that they plan soon to be selling it directly to refiners.

  8. Kenz300 on Sat, 9th Mar 2013 3:40 pm 

    Algae based biofuels are being sold to consumers in California.

  9. Eduardo on Sat, 9th Mar 2013 5:31 pm 

    Found Charlie Rose’s interview of Tillerson very enlightening. Two interesting observations came out of the interview in my opinion. One, how long it will take to make alternate energy sources making a significant conribution despite the fact that some of them will be growing at the rate of 700% by the year 2040 on account of the enormous scale of the energy base. He said it took coal 60 years to replace wood, and likewise oil to make a significant market penetration. He expects the same phenomena with Natural Gas.

    The second interesting point that he made is that as a result of efficiency as well as what he called “rational regulations”, the U.S. today is producing CO2 at the level of 1992.

    And finally the big surprise to some, the fact that Algae-based fuels are a far away dream.

    I suppose for environmentalists, the interview was a disappointment on account of the reality that it takes decades to effect change, and no matter how much money is thrown at the problem, the dynamics of the energy business can only change at a limitted rate of change — engineers know that, the dreamers don’t.

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