Exxon says scientists boost lipid content from algae in lab study


By Ernest ScheyderHOUSTON, June 19 (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp <XOM.N> and
Synthetic Genomics Inc said on Monday they had found a way to
more than double the amount of lipids produced by algae in a
lab, moving a potential alternative to fossil fuels closer to
commercial viability.
    The development comes as Exxon, the world's largest publicly
traded oil producer, fights accusations by environmentalists and
others that it misled investors and the public for years about
the risks of climate change from fossil fuels.[nL1N1J61IZ]
    In the past decade, Exxon has boosted investment in fuel
cells, biodiesel, algae and other alternative energy
technologies, in collaboration with private partners. The
company also has invested in television advertisements to tout
its renewable energy investments, including during last summer's
Olympic Games.[nL1N1AY0UK]
    "Algae can be a viable, renewable source for volumes of oil
at scale," said Vijay Swarup, Exxon's vice president for
research and development.
    "We like algae because it's fast-growing, doesn't compete
for food and water and can grow in all sorts of climates and
brackish water."
    Exxon and Synthetic cautioned that they are far from being
able to run the process at commercial scale.
    The oil company's ultimate goal is to make an oil from algae
that can be processed by existing refineries, though that goal
remains elusive.
    Exxon began working with California-based Synthetic on algae
research in 2009. The lab work is conducted at Synthetic
facilities and funded by Exxon, which declined to disclose its
financial investment.
    Scientists studied the way that algae cells partition carbon
- typically from carbon dioxide - and produce lipids, a kind of
hydrocarbon. Algae converts carbon dioxide into lipids much in
the same way the human body converts sugar into fat.
    The scientists were able to genetically modify algae to
convert 40 percent of CO2 into lipids, up from a prior 15
    "This was not an overnight breakthrough. This was a lot of
sweat and toil," said Craig Venter, chairman of Synthetic
    Up next, scientists will need to unlock how to speed up the
process and strengthen the algae cells.
    "This just gives us hope and optimism that we're on the
right track," said Swarup.

 (Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Andrea Ricci)
 ((ernest.scheyder@thomsonreuters.com; Twitter: @ErnestScheyder;
+1-713-210-8512; Reuters Messaging:


This article appears in: Stocks , World Markets , Oil
Referenced Symbols: XOM

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