July 27, 2009

Algae for chems coming soon?

Excitement is palpable in the [carbon-dioxide laden] air of algae industry as big oils and chem firms recently jumped in to the development of algae as potential feedstock for fuel and chemicals.

Last week, ExxonMobil announced its $600m commitment in developing algae for biofuel feedstock with its partnership with Synthetic Genomics (SGI). The companies said it will It would take 5-10 years before any small-scale plants are up and running.

Last year, Chevron partnered with algae-fuel startup Solazyme in California while former executives from BP (according to ICIS news) started Sapphire Energy, another California-based biofuels company working with algae.

At the recent BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing event in Montreal, Canada, a session on algae revealed how close (or far) algae's potentials are as feedstock for fuels and chemicals.

Dow Chemical's Steve Gluck noted a bigger opportunity in the chemical industry for algae compared to biofuels. While most of the research on algae are focusing on biofuel application, Gluck said the economic and scale barriers for chemical feedstock maybe less of a challenge than those for providing a fuel.

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