The next phase of algae biofuels

When we made the announcement last year that we had teamed with Synthetic Genomics Inc. to research biofuels from algae, we raised a lot of eyebrows. Many applauded our investment. Some were skeptical about our commitment.

One year has passed, and I’m excited to say we’re entering the next phase of our program. Today, we announced the opening of a new state-of-the-art greenhouse facility at the SGI headquarters in La Jolla, Calif.  The greenhouse will be home to the next level of research and testing in our algae biofuels program.  SGI and ExxonMobil researchers are already using the facility to test whether large-scale quantities of affordable fuel can be produced from algae.

The greenhouse is an important component of the program. It gives researchers more realistic conditions for algae production, compared to an indoor lab. In the greenhouse, scientists will look at different growth systems for algae, such as open ponds and closed photobioreactors. They will also compare different types of algae, including both natural and engineered strains, and test them in varying light levels and temperature conditions to find the ones that are most productive. And, they will research other aspects of the algae fuel production process, including harvesting and bio-oil recovery operations. (Our algae brochure has an overview of the production process if you’re interested.)

Of course, this research won’t happen overnight. It could take as long as 10 years for algae biofuels to potentially reach the scale needed to make an impact on fuel supplies. In the meantime, we’ll continue to scale up our facilities and research – including a larger, outdoor test facility anticipated in 2011 – to test this promising alternative fuel source that could help meet our growing energy needs.

To learn more about the greenhouse and the progress we’ve made in the past year, check out our press release. You can also read a Dow Jones article about the greenhouse opening here.