A Study Tapping Algae As Source Of Biofuel Underway

A greenhouse facility would be opened by Exxon Mobil Corporation to test whether large scale quantities of affordable fuel can be produced from algae.

It would invest US$ 600 million dollars over the next 5 to 6 years attempting to develop biofuel from algae.

Synthetic Genomics is a partner by Exxon to meet research goals, headed by entrepreneurial scientist Craig Venter, a private firm focusing on gene based research. Some strains of algae produce oil that can be converted into diesel and other fuels.

To make biofuel from algae, sunlight and a large source of carbon dioxide would be needed. Venter said, that thousands of natural strain of algae are being screened for quantities that would make commercial production economical, but the sheer number of requirements mean at some stage chosen strains will probably need genetic modification.

Beyond identifying a strain, separating the algae from water and hydrocarbons in a cost effective way is the next biggest challenge, processes already in existence to convert the product into a usable fuel, stressed Mike Harold, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Houston.

Exxon said that they could eventually tap their carbon dioxide from power plants, natural production and refineries for their research product purposes.

With the greenhouse facility, researchers would be given a chance to test laboratory theories in an environment with natural variables without jeopardizing safety and containment.