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Viridos executes agreement with ExxonMobil to help scale algae biofuels toward commercial levels

Viridos Inc., earlier known as Synthetic Genomics, has signed a joint development agreement with ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company (EMRE) with the intent to bring Viridos’ low-carbon intensity algae biofuels toward commercial levels.

In 2009, EMRE launched what it calls a “significant” new program to research and develop advanced biofuels from photosynthetic algae that are compatible with today’s gasoline and diesel fuels. As part of the program, ExxonMobil formed a strategic research and development alliance with Synthetic Genomics. (Earlier post.)

At that time, ExxonMobil expected to spend more than $600 million, which includes $300 million in internal costs. As part of the multi-faceted agreement, SGI received milestone payments for achievements in developing technology related to algal-based biofuels and related products. The development partnership has continued over the years.

We’re excited to announce that ExxonMobil is continuing this collaboration with us to bring sustainable algae biofuels technology closer to commercial deployment. The recent productivity advances in Viridos’ technology are an opportunity to turn CO2 into renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuels, providing an essential component for the decarbonization of the heavy-duty transportation industry. In this next phase of the program, we intend to broaden participation and invite others to build the ecosystem required for full-scale deployment.

—Viridos’ CEO, Dr. Oliver Fetzer

Founded in 2005 by leaders in synthetic biology, Viridos quickly established itself as a powerhouse for innovative research, transplanting the first genome, synthesizing the first bacterial genome and creating the first synthetic cell. In the past few years Viridos’ leadership in engineering microalgae has achieved greater than 5x bio-oil productivity increases by increasing both the oil content in the algae and the algae yield. The results from outdoor deployment of Viridos’ bio-engineered strains in 2020 and 2021 mark the inflection point toward deployment.

Viridos says that these latest advancements in bioengineering have positioned it to be the leading enterprise in algal technology with the potential to facilitate significant reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the heavy transportation sector. Viridos’ continued partnership with ExxonMobil seeks to build out the technology and agronomy to enable the commercial launch of Viridos’ low-carbon intensity algae biofuels.

In addition to their use in heavy transport, the algae biofuels could be used for aviation, commercial trucking, and maritime shipping. The terms of the renewed partnership with ExxonMobil should enable other interested parties to access and advance the technology to accelerate the deployment of Viridos’ patented technology in pursuit of lowering global GHG emissions, the company said.

Our research with Viridos is one facet of our approach to help society identify and deploy the biofuels needed to reduce emissions from important sectors of the economy, including heavy duty transportation. ExxonMobil has supported Viridos in the development of advanced bioengineering tools, and we look forward to further advancements in the research that shows potential to help society mitigate the risks of climate change.

—Vijay Swarup, vice president of Research and Development at ExxonMobil

In 2017, ExxonMobil and Viridos announced breakthrough research published in Nature Biotechnology that resulted in a modified algae strain that more than doubled oil content without significantly inhibiting growth, a key challenge along the path to commercial scalability.

Again with the support of ExxonMobil, Viridos developed the California Advanced Algal Facility (CAAF) in the Imperial Desert in 2018 as the initial pilot facility to test and farm optimal algae strains to move toward commercialization.


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