Tag Archives: Emil Jacobs

The Alternative Agenda: BP, Exxon, Italian Solar and Solar By The Bay

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 10:  Waves crash against rocks at Fort Point near the Golden Gate Bridge October 10, 2008 in San Francisco, California. The Golden Gate Bridge District board of directors voted today to continue with a plan to build a suicide prevention net on the world famous bridge with a price tag of $40 to $50 million dollars. An estimated 1,300 people are believed to have jumped to their death from the bridge since it was opened in 1937.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

BP Oil Spill: Progress In The Gulf

All eyes will be on the Gulf this week, closely following BP’s latest attempt to squash the massive spill. The British oil company announced over the weekend that it would be installing a tighter cap over its busted well, which if successful, could finally capture all of the oil spewing out of the well. The crude would then be funneled to containment ships at the surface. “The hope is that we can slowly turn off the valves, close the capping completely and then test pressure to see how the well is performing,” said National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen on CBS’s “The Early Show,” reports the AP.
Continue reading The Alternative Agenda: BP, Exxon, Italian Solar and Solar By The Bay

This Week in Green Energy: Exxon Sees Green in Green!

gooey oily algae Is Exxon Mobil a contrarian? While its competitors — in the 2006-2008 boom times — were bolstering their clean energy credentials, snatching clean tech assets at inflated valuations. Exxon stayed out of the fray, focusing on its oil and gas business and racking in record profits. It also did not shy away from controversy as it funded global warming denial groups. And so, while Exxon (proudly) defended its carbon-heavy industry, rivals like BP immersed themselves in “Beyond Petroleum” mantras and worked hard to convince anyone and everyone that they were pan-energy companies that happened to produce some fossil fuels.

How things have changed.

BP is now actively scaling back its clean tech investments and reasserting itself as a leading oil and gas super major. And that’s when Exxon, the Irving, Texas, giant, decides to dip its toe in the green pond as it announced on Monday an ambitious $600 million investment and partnership with biofuel maker Synthetic Genomics of La Jolla, Calif.

Exxon will initially invest $300 million but the company is open to doubling that amount to $600 million, if benchmarks are met. With Synthetic, Exxon chose a company with an interesting pedigree: Its founder and CEO is J. Craig Venter, the scientist who shot to fame in the late 1990s for having decoded the whole human genome.

Exxon said the investment, which pales compared to the $30 billion it will spend this year alone on its oil and gas business, was the outcome of an intense search. Emil Jacobs, vice president for research and development at Exxon told The New York Times that it “literally looked at every option” and opted to link up with Synthetic Genomics because it offered the best chance to scale its algae-based biofuel efforts to industrial levels.

Riggs Eckelberry, CEO of algae biofuel startup OriginOil— we wrote about him and his Los Angeles-based company,here — said that the Exxon investment represented an industry milestone. “A couple years ago, the [American] Petroleum Institute said there’s only [twenty] years left for oil, and now they’re really finally acting on that…Algae is the feedstock to overtake petroleum. It’s the real alternative to petroleum.” Continue reading This Week in Green Energy: Exxon Sees Green in Green!

Exxon Bets Algae is the Best Biofuel Feedstock

Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest oil and gas company, is dipping its toe in the clean tech sector with a  $600 million investment to develop algae-based biofuel as part of its newly formed partnership with Synthetic Genomics, a research and development company launched by J. Craig Venter, the scientist known for decoding the human genome in the 1990s.

Unlike many of its competitors, over the past years Exxon has largely stayed away from the green sector, as its advocated that over the long run fossil fuels are the only viable energy source that will be able to meet rising  global energy demand. But back in the 1970′s and 80′s Exxon was  involved in Solar research. Here’s a list of their solar patents that tells part of the oil major’s clean tech story.

The company’s venture with Synthetic Genomics comes despite its very public doubts that biofuels  even work. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson called ethanol “moonshine.” With this investment the Texas company is putting its skepticism aside. As part of this venture it plans to invest an initial $300 million with Synthetic for research and development; and, if certain milestones are met, another $300 million.

“We literally looked at every option we could think of, with several key parameters in mind,” Emil Jacobs, vice president for research and development at Exxon’s research and engineering unit, told The New York Times. “Scale was the first. For transportation fuels, if you can’t see whether you can scale a technology up, then you have to question whether you need to be involved at all.”

Scale is probably the major challenge faced by developers of algae-based biofuels. While a number of startups have successfully produced strains of energy-rich algae in the confines of labs, so far, none have been able to scale production to commercial levels. Back in June, GreenFuel Technologies, an extremely well-funded developer in Cambridge, Mass., shut down because it was unable to control and manage its algae production process.

Exxon predicts algae could produce more than 2,000 gallons of fuel per acre of production each year, compared with 650 gallons for palm trees and 450 gallons for sugar cane. Corn yields just 250 gallons per acre a year.

Exxon’s biofuel investment remains quite modest compared to what it invests every year in its oil and gas business. In 2009 the company plans to invest $29 billion in its oil and gas business  and grow production by about 725,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

The investment also comes as a number of its competitors are re-focusing back on their core oil and gas business. For example, BP, which over the past year has closed solar panel factories in Europe and the U.S., significantly cut its clean energy investments from $1.5 billion to $1.0 billion.

About BP’s refocus on its core oil and gas business, the Financial Times writes:

[BP CEO] Tony Hayward, who succeeded Lord Browne two years ago, is pinning BP’s hopes for the future more firmly than before on oil and gas. As one former BP executive puts it, ‘oil and gas are in the company’s DNA”. Another says that, while the rest of the world is trying to move forward, Mr Hayward is “turning the clock back.’

Alternative energy provides less than 1 per cent of BP’s revenues and none of its profits. Capital spending will be about $20bn this year, of which at most 5 per cent will go into renewable energy. But the reason behind the faltering of its ambitions for the business are telling – both for the future of the oil industry and for the world’s energy supplies.

Exxon’s investments mark a milestone in the budding algae-based biofuel market, which so far has largely been backed by venture capital firms.  The move could encourage other large strategic investors to enter the sector, which could help speed up overall biofuel production.