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Synthetic Genomics' Exxon Biofuel Pact Worth Up to $300M

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) –Synthetic Genomics has struck a biofuel research and development agreement with ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company that could bring in up to $300 million for the genomics firm, the companies said today.

The agreement to develop biofuel from photosynthetic algae that would be compatible with gasoline and diesel fuels could bring in $300 million to SGI if certain milestones are met. Exxon plans to spend up to another $300 million internally to support the program.

"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," SGI CEO J. Craig Venter said in a statement. "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," Venter continued.

"We believe that biofuel produced by algae could be a meaningful part of the solution in the future if our efforts result in an economically viable, low net carbon emission transportation fuel," Emil Jacobs, EMRE's VP of R&D, added.

The research collaboration will harness SGI's technologies and expertise in genomics, metagenomics, and synthetic genomics.

The La Jolla, Calif.-based firm will seek and engineer strains of algae and develop ways to convert their products into biofuels, and it will develop ways to cultivate them on a large scale. SGI will lean on ExxonMobil's research capabilities throughout the program.

SGI said that it has been working for several years on ways to harvest oils produced by photosynthetic algae.

"After considerable study, we have determined that the potential advantages and benefits of biofuel from algae could be significant. Among other advantages, readily available sunlight and carbon dioxide used to grow the photosynthetic algae could provide greenhouse gas mitigation benefits," Jacobs explained.

Jacobs also noted that algae does not rely on fresh water or arable land, so it would not compete with food producers, and it potentially could produce large amounts of oil that could be processed in existing refineries to make fuels that would be compatible with existing technologies and infrastructure.