Synthetic Genomics Gets Big Oil Funding for Algae Biofuel, Qualcomm May Pull Plug on LifeComm, Aculon’s Nanocoating Replaces Toxic Chromium, & More San Diego BizTech News

The biggest news by far last week was ExxonMobil’s decision to invest $600 million in biofuels, with half of that going to San Diego’s Synthetic Genomics. A number of companies also launched new technology iniatives. To find out what’s happening, just keep reading.

ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, said last week it plans to invest $600 million to develop algae-based biofuels, with least $300 million going to fund fundamental work at Synthetic Genomics, the startup co-founded by J. Craig Venter, the human genome pioneer. Venter said Synthetic Genomics plans to begin construction soon on a research and test facility in San Diego. Venter’s wife, Synthetic Genomics spokeswoman Heather Kowalski, told me the ExxonMobil deal won’t affect the startup’s joint venture with BP, where the initial focus has been on coal. Kowalski also said that BP is an equity investor in Synthetic Genomics, but ExxonMobil is not.

—Covario, the San Diego-based software analytics startup, said it has developed a new software-as-a-service program that automates the process of analyzing Web traffic on a customer’s corporate website. Covario says its “D3” product for search engine optimization replaces the time-consuming work often performed by Web marketing agencies.

—San Diego wireless giant Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) said it is “reviewing its options” for LifeComm, its virtual mobile network focused on healthcare services. Qualcomm said LifeComm has been unable to raise enough capital from third parties to fully develop its initial launch product. Mobihealthnews, a Boston website focused on the wireless healthcare industry, said Qualcom has decided to pull the plug on LifeComm.

Aculon, a San Diego startup specializing in nanocoatings for use in a variety of industries, said its proprietary technology replaces hexavalent chromium in paint primers applied to stainless steel, titanium, aluminum, and other metal surfaces. Hexavalent chromium is a toxic, cancer-causing heavy metal used to make anti-corrosion coatings. Aculon CEO Ed Hughes told me Aculon’s technology forms a coating that is just one molecule thick, or 2 to 4 nanometers.

—San Diego’s TelCentris said it is upgrading its VoxOx universal communicator service to include an automated “personal assistant” that can answer your phone calls and route them according to your preferences. A VoxOx user can combine his or her existing phone number with their e-mail service provider, instant messaging service, and social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.

Simon Thompson, ESRI’s director of commercial marketing, mapped out some of the innovative trends in Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, when we met amid the hubbub of the 2009 ESRI International User Conference in downtown San Diego. Thompson said one trend stems from creating GIS mapping “masks,” or layers of mapped information, so you can change the underlying data set on your iPhone app from a map of gas stations to a map of restaurants or schools. Another key trend he discussed involves the convergence of GIS mapping technologies with software analytics.

Quasar Geophysical Technologies of San Diego has developed a new type of electromagnetic sensor that is sensitive enough to detect tiny electrical currents flowing through subsea rock—and variations in the conductivity among different types of geological formations. The company says its technology is sensitive enough to help the oil and gas exploration industry increase its chances of discovering offshore oil and gas deposits. Quasar has designed its sensors to be deployed on the ocean bottom, as deep as 2.5 miles below the surface, for weeks at a time.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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