Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI), a privately held company co-founded by Craig Ventner in the business of applying genomic-driven commercial solutions to challenges like energy and the environment, announced a multi-year research and development agreement with ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company (EMRE) to develop next generation biofuels using photosynthetic algae.
SGI will receive milestone payments for achievements in developing biofuel products. Total funding for SGI in research and development activities and milestone payments could amount to more than US$300 million with the potential for additional income from licensing to third parties.
"This agreement between SGI and EMRE represents a comprehensive, long-term research and development exploration into the most efficient and cost effective organisms and methods to produce next generation algal biofuel, said J. Craig Venter, Founder and CEO of SGI. "We are confident that the combination of our respective expertise in science, research, engineering and scale-up should unlock the power of algae as biological energy producers in methods and scale not previously explored. "
Photosynthetic algae, which include microalgae (single celled algae) and cyanobacteria (most commonly known as blue-green algae) are organisms that are very efficient at utilizing the energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into cellular oils (lipids) and even some types of long-chain hydrocarbons that can be further processed into fuels and chemicals. However, naturally-occurring algae do not carry out this process at the efficiencies or rates necessary for commercial-scale production of biofuels.
SGI’s scientific proprietary tools and technologies in genomics, metagenomics, synthetic genomics, and genome engineering as a platform may allow them to produce sufficient quantities of biofuels.
Under the terms of the agreement, SGI will work in a systematic approach to find, optimize, and/or engineer superior strains of algae, and to define and develop the best systems for large-scale cultivation of algae and conversion of their products into useful biofuels. ExxonMobil’s engineering and scientific expertise will be utilized throughout the program, from the development of systems to increase the scale of algae production through to the manufacturing of finished fuels.
Scientists at SGI have been working internally for several years to develop more efficient means to harvest the oils that photosynthetic algae produce.
Traditionally, algae have been treated like a crop to be grown and harvested in a process that can be expensive and time consuming. One of SGI’s achievements has been in engineering algal strains that produce lipids in a continuous process that is currently more efficient and cost-effective.
"This investment is an important addition to ExxonMobil’s ongoing efforts to advance breakthrough technologies to help meet the world’s energy challenges," said Dr. Emil Jacobs, Vice President of Research and Development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. "Meeting the world’s growing energy demands will require a multitude of technologies and energy sources. We believe that biofuel produced by algae could be a meaningful part of the solution in the future because of its potential to be an economically viable, low net carbon emission transportation fuel."