Energy

Despite Progress, Algae Diesel Stills Years To Go In Development

released March 13, 2017. Courtesy Stefan Bengtson/Handout via REUTERS

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Tim Pearce Energy Reporter
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ExxonMobil reported in June that scientists had developed a way to double the size of natural algae that could be used as biofuel to take the place of diesel, according to a news release.

Commercially viable biofuel as an alternative to fossil fuels, however, is still years away, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company vice president Vijay Swarup admitted.

“Advancements as potentially important as this require significant time and effort,” Swarup said in the the news release. “Each phase of our algae research … requires testing and analysis to confirm that we’re proceeding down a path toward scale and commercial viability.”

Former ExxonMobil CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson estimated in 2013 that algae was at least 25 years away from competing in the market as a viable source of fuel.

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is a federal mandate that requires a certain amount of cellulosic ethanol, the class of biofuels to which algae belongs, to be used commercially.

In 2010, Congress set the first RFS mandate at 100 million gallons. The Environmental Protection Agency quickly dropped the number to 6.5 million gallons after not enough biofuel appeared in the market, according to a 2016 Heritage Foundation study.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the EPA’s RFS mandate in 2013, saying the EPA “let its aspirations for a self-fulfilling prophecy divert it from a neutral methodology,” or that the agency did not adequately consider the commercial prospects of the good it was mandating.

The EPA has proposed new cellulosic ethanol mandates in 2014, 2015 and 2016, but none were made into law, according to The Heritage Foundation.

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