ExxonMobil's algae - the fuel of tomorrow's world?
Is algae the solution to future energy problems or another false dawn?
When I was growing up in the UK, the BBC used to broadcast a television programme called Tomorrow's World. Every week viewers would be treated to the latest gadgets, gizmos and technological breakthroughs that were destined to make all our lives so much easier .
I recall one such breakthrough being a machine that mashed up paper and made it into bricks which could then be burned as efficiently as coal on your fire.
The presenter assured everyone that these paper bricks would sound the death knell for coal and, alongside North Sea gas, would secure the country's future energy requirements. However, there was a rather large problem with this pioneering breakthrough - the paper bricks didn't actually burn.
Fast forward to 2009 and ArabianOilandGas.com recently reported that the US supermajor ExxonMobil was spending US$600 million teaming up with biotech company Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI), to research and develop next generation biofuels from photosynthetic algae.
Having done extensive research, well I read a couple of reports online, it seems that this isn't some elaborate hoax cooked up by ExxonMobil's PR department as a way of establishing some green credentials. Slime may well become the number one biofuel of the future.
A recent report conducted by a number of extremely large-brained boffins from the University of Virginia concluded: "As part of the photosynthesis process algae produce oil and can generate 15 times more oil per acre than other plants used for biofuels, such as corn and switchgrass. Algae can grow in salt water, freshwater or even contaminated water, at sea or in ponds, and on land not suitable for food production."
Almost sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Well if it is true then the $600 million ExxonMobil are spending is going to look like the investment of the century. If it's not then maybe those same boffins could take another look at the paper brick machine. There must be a rusty prototype in a bitter and twisted inventor's garage somewhere in the UK.
What do you think? Is ExxonMobil's $600 million gamble worth it? Please leave a comment or drop us an email.