Big Energy Collaborations Seen to Jump-Start Emerging Biofuels Technologies

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joint venture with Verenium for construction of a cellulosic ethanol production plant near Tampa, FL. Baum estimates the project will cost close to $400 million, and the joint venture has sought federal loan guarantees to cover 80 percent of that pricetag.

—BP also established the Energy Biosciences Institute at U.C. Berkeley in early 2007 to head a $500 million R&D effort focused on using the tools of biotechnology to produce biofuels. BP Group Chief Executive John Browne said at the time the institute (which includes the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is intended to create the discipline of energy biosciences and “will be unique in both its scale and its partnership between BP, academia and others in the private sector.”

—Royal Dutch Shell established a joint venture in 2007 with HR BioPetroleum, which is based in Hawaii and San Diego, to build a pilot facility for growing marine algae and producing algal oils that can, in turn, be used to make biofuels. The joint venture, called Cellana, completed construction on the Kona coast of the big island of Hawaii, and the demonstration facility is now operating, according to HR Biopetroleum CEO Edward Shonsey. But Shonsey did not disclose how much funding Shell has provided under their collaboration. He also did not tell the Biocom crowd how construction of a second, commercial-scale algae biofuels plant on Maui became a victim of the financial crisis last fall when private equity financing for the project collapsed. The project has now become a poster child in efforts to win federal funding for investments in technology startups.

—ExxonMobil agreed in July to invest at least $600 million to develop algae-based biofuels, with $300 million designated for research and development at Synthetic Genomics under a partnership with the San Diego-based company founded by genome pioneer J. Craig Venter. With ExxonMobil’s backing, the four-year-old startup has plans to build a greenhouse and biofuels test facility in San Diego to test different strains of genetically engineered algae and methods of commercial biofuels production.

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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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