On Tuesday, Exxon plans to announce an investment of $600 million in producing liquid transportation fuels from algae — organisms in water that range from pond scum to seaweed. The biofuel effort involves a partnership with Synthetic Genomics, a biotechnology company founded by the genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter.
The agreement could plug a major gap in the strategy of Exxon, the world’s largest and richest publicly traded oil company, which has been criticized by environmental groups for dismissing concerns about global warming in the past and its reluctance to develop renewable fuels.
Algae also has another benefit, which could eventually help cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Like any plant, it needs carbon dioxide to grow. But Exxon and Synthetic Genomics hope to genetically engineer new strains of algae that can absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide — like that emitted by power plants, for example.
Exxon’s investment includes $300 million for in-house studies and “potentially more” than $300 million to Synthetic Genomics “if research and development milestones are successfully met,” Exxon said.