ExxonMobil takes on biofuels with new partnership

REG
Biofuels in the making at Renewable Energy Group, which entered a joint research project with Exxon Mobil.

A new agreement between ExxonMobil and biofuels developer Renewable Energy Group (REG) will see the Texas-based oil giant boost efforts to produce biodiesel from sources such as agricultural waste.

Using a fermentation process patented by REG and similar to that used for the manufacture of ethanol, the two firms will study how sugars found in non-food sources can be used to produce biodiesel.

"The science is extremely complex, but we hope to identify new affordable and reliable supplies of energy for the world that do not have a major impact on food supplies," said Vijay Swarup, vice president of research and development at ExxonMobil's research branch, in a statement.

The two companies will research how to ferment real-world cellulosic sugars, which contain sugars such as glucose and xylose but also impurities that can inhibit fermentation.

"Our first challenge is to determine technical feasibility and potential environmental benefits during the initial research," said Swarup. "If the results are positive, we can then take the next step and explore the potential to expand our efforts and explore scalability."

Eric Bowen, vice president REG, said the research will help lead to the cheaper production of lower carbon specialty chemicals and fuels.

The collaboration is the second ExxonMobil has embarked on in recent months, following the launch of a partnership with Michigan State University in October to explore the production of advanced algae-based fuels.

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