Algae roundup

There's been a flurry of news around algae since Exxon announced its $600m investment in Synthetic Genomics two weeks ago.

About that $600m... I recently learned from an industry source that the investment is conditional on multiple technological breakthroughs which are considered to be quite far-fetched. Turns out the most important words in the press release were "if research and development milestones are successfully met," which should temper excitement about "Exxon's big bet."

More companies are popping out of the woodwork - the latest, OriginOil, promises higher yields through "live lipid extraction."

Just in time, it looks like the EPA will count algae as an advanced biofuel under the RFS mandates - kudos to Jeff Bingaman for standing up against picking winners.

Finally, Geoff Styles, who can be counted on for deeper reflection and analysis than the average commentator, thinks through the implications of Exxon's investment. He concludes that Exxon was unlikely to make the move for PR purposes alone and must like the potential for scale (based on much higher per-acre yields). He also cautions:
If Exxon has concluded correctly that algae--which faces many serious hurdles of its own--is the best bet, then the entire US alternative fuels strategy could be in trouble.
I somewhat agree, but given what I recently learned about the conditionality and hence risk profile of the investment, I don't take it as a particularly strong signal of Exxon's belief in algae.

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