Sunday, July 19, 2009

Exxon invests in algae for biodiesel


Barb Isman, chief operating officer for Canadian Bioenergy Corporation, spoke at PMG’s AgProgress Conference in Kananaskis, Alta., in July. (For my complete coverage of the conference, click here.) Isman presented an update on biodiesel production in Canada, noting that her company is working with ADM to built a 265-million-litre biodiesel production facility on site at ADM’s canola crush plant in Lloydminster, Alta. With mandates coming on stream in B.C. and Alberta in 2010 and Canada as a whole in 2011, Canada will need 700 million litres of biodiesel just to meet these mandates, she said. Current capacity, spread over a number of smaller plants, is 220 million litres or so.
In her talk, Isman talked about second and third generation source materials for biodiesel. Canola is a first generation material. Algae, which contains 46 per cent oil and doesn’t tie up farmland, is a second or third generation source, she says. She also noted that large petroleum companies are getting involved in these later generation products, and they’re also working on more efficient methods to convert the oil into useable energy.
As if on queue, that day Exxon Mobil announced it will invest US$600 million in a project to develop production and harvest techniques for high-oil algae. The research partner is Synthetic Genomics. In a Dow Jones Newswire article, which appeared in The Globe and Mail, Emil Jacobs, VP of research and development for Exxon Research, is quoted saying the company looked “at all fuel options” and algae made the cut.
The article says, “Commercially-viable algae biofuel is definitely in the realm of the future. Algae is rich in fat, which can be processed into fuel, and can reproduce much faster than corn and other land-hungry agricultural crops, all while living in brackish water.”
It will be many years, if ever, before algae goes commercial — so canola biodiesel will remain a strong market outlook for Canadian canola growers for a good while yet.

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