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La Jolla firm signs $600 million algae-fuel deal with Exxon

July 14, 2009 - 3:03 pm

In the biggest boost yet to algae biofuel, petroleum giant Exxon Mobil  agreed to a $600 million algae-fueled development deal with La Jolla-based Synthetic Genomics, Inc. The name of the company is less well-known than the name of its founder and CEO, Craig Venter, the scientist who outraced the government to map the human genome with his privately funded venture.

Venter has spent the succeeding years looking into how algae can be designed so that it’s natural excretions can produce feed stock for plastic or, ideally, gasoline. Algae biofuel has a lot of promise because its production and combustion result in zero net-increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Unlike corn- and sugar-based fuels, it can be grown without fresh water, and in places not normally conducive to farming. (I assessed some of the potential of algae in a story last year)

The funding is aimed at developing the ideal algae form for producing fuel, finding the best way to grow it, then scaling the production process so it can produce enough to replace the use of drilled oil.

The deal will also include a new research facility here in San Diego.

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