‘Restraint’ an Unspoken Watchword of Algae Biomass Sessions
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President Obama within a few hours of his scheduled introductory keynote address at the biomass summit, so he had to bail out of the algae conference.
Venter’s talk had attracted widespread interest because of the deal that Synthetic Genomics announced in July with the largest U.S. oil company. ExxonMobil said it plans to invest $600 million or more in the development of renewable, algae-derived biofuels, including at least $300 million through a development agreement with Synthetic Genomics. But Venter’s pinch-hitter, Paul Roessler, did not break any new ground about the deal.
Roessler, who oversees Synthetic Genomics’ biofuels and biochemicals production efforts, gave a good overview of Venter’s career and the scientific breakthroughs that led Venter and others from sequencing genomes to combining genes from different organisms—creating synthetic chromosomes. Using such techniques, Roessler says Synthetic Genomics has been working to essentially re-design the cellular machinery of algae to maximize the production of natural fats and oils—and to minimize or eliminate the factors that limit production. “We’ve been doing some work that gets past some of the cost issues associated with algae biofuels production,” Roessler says.
In one key development, Roessler says Synthetic Genomics has successfully re-engineered algae’s cellular machinery to secrete the fats and oils that are naturally produced. This enables the company to avoid the cost of harvesting and processing algae to recover the fats and oils normally stored within algae’s cellular walls. “We are able to collect the secreted oils,” Roessler says, “but I’m not going to go into that.”
Roessler also initially declined to comment when someone asked how many barrels of green crude Synthetic Genomics has been able to produce with its methods. But then he reversed himself, saying the company had previously disclosed in a press release that by some estimates algae could yield more than 2,000 gallons of fuel per acre of production per year.