After $100 Million, Exxon Backs Off Algae as Fuel
Photo by Jonas B The next big biofuel? Exxon thinks not.
Once upon a time -- way back in 2009 -- Exxon Mobil announced they were putting a whole bunch of money into algae. Yep, they were going to turn the goopy seaweed-type stuff you find in the ocean and washed up on the shore into a biofuel that would replace fossil fuels.
And it still might happen, but after spending $100 million in research, Exxon folks have decided it won't be happening just now.
The thing about the advent of biofuels is obviously they've been proved to work, but it's kind of hard to justify farmers continuing to get subsidized to grow corn and other crops for fuel when there's a world food shortage. Filling up your tank with ethanol tends to be a less virtuous enterprise when people are starving, and increasing numbers of farmers grow the biofuel stock instead of food. That's where algae comes in.
Algae biofuel will totally be an Exxon thing. Maybe. Sometime.
Hence the Exxon plan. Back in 2009, the company pledged to invest $600 million in algae fuel research, alongside Synthetic Genomics Inc. (run by the guy who is best known for successfully mapping the human genome.)
While it sounds crazy (Algae could run planes, trains and automobiles? Next you'll say that pigs can do diving tricks and other impossible-sounding possible things could happen), algae could be a good biofuel source, one that could be processed in refineries and turned into oil if they can ever unlock the energy in it in a "financially viable" way, according to The Christian Science Monitor. When it is burnt, algae releases CO2 just like fossil fuels, but the CO2 released by algae gets eaten back up by algae so it's a theoretically cleaner theoretical fuel. Also, algae can be grown with little freshwater and in places that aren't good for growing the kinds of crops that could actually feed people, another win.