Exxon Mobil [XOM:US] is quietly switching its focus from developing algae biofuel to other green initiatives, after bragging about its efforts to produce environmentally friendly fuels from algae for over a decade, as reported by Bloomberg on February 10. Exxon has slashed its funding for Viridos Inc, a biotech company pursuing industrial-scale production of biofuels using recombinant algae and other microorganisms. Last December, Exxon also stopped funding for an algae project at the Colorado School of Mines, which has cost millions of dollars. In addition, another Exxon-backed venture with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is set to be closed within weeks. According to Vijay Swarup, Exxon’s senior director of technology who ran algae research, the firm has deployed other programs, such as carbon capture, hydrogen, and biofuels, while algae research still requires more work.
Algae biofuel was the most eye-catching climate solution Exxon has advertised. Such fuel only produces half the emissions of petroleum while consuming no arable land. Nevertheless, producing biofuels from algae outside a laboratory environment is challenging, not to mention manufacturing on a commercial scale. Exxon vowed in 2018 to produce 10,000 barrels of algae biofuels a day by 2025. Critics see the claim as distracting the public from Exxon’s continued fossil fuel business, as 10,000 barrels only account for less than 0.3% of the firm’s daily oil and gas production. Exxon denied the greenwashing charge, stating that it invested USD350m on algae biofuel research in total, twice its spending on algae advertising.