Production of advanced biofuels made from algae could grow rapidly in the late 2020s, according to Synthetic Genomics, the biotech company that has formed a partnership with ExxonMobil to develop the fuel. The two companies said last week that by 2025 they were aiming to set up one or more demonstration plants to produce 10,000 barrels a day of diesel and jet fuel from genetically modified algae. Synthetic Genomics argues that scaling up production could be relatively quick.
The aim is to produce biofuels that will be cost competitive with conventional oil-based fuels at crude prices of about $60 to $65 a barrel. Oliver Fetzer, chief executive of Synthetic Genomics, said: “Once we’re past 2025 if our trajectory stays on track, there’s no reason why we would not be able to scale up quickly.” The two companies said there were still many technical challenges to overcome before large-scale production was possible, but they can see a “pathway” to make algae-based fuel a commercial reality. They believe their products could be the first such advanced biofuels to go into large-scale production. Exxon started working with Synthetic Genomics, founded by genome research pioneer Craig Venter, in 2009. Its aim was to develop gene editing on algae to make them produce versions of diesel and jet fuel while avoiding the problems of traditional biofuels, in particular the competition with food production.