Oil giant Exxon Mobil has taken one more step towards ensuring its future in the realm of renewable fuels by investing $600 million in a joint venture with California-based Synthetic Genomics, Inc (SGI). The funding will go towards researching and developing next-generation biofuels derived from photosynthetic algae. Under terms of the program, over half of this investment will be earmarked to underwrite primary work by SGI with the remainder used for related internal support efforts by ExxonMobil.

SGI, a recognized leader in this emerging renewable fuels arena, brings extensive experience in developing new ways to more effectively create and harvest photosynthetic algae using various proprietary tools and technologies. Under this new joint venture, the firm will be charged with finding, optimizing and/or engineering superior strains of both single-cell microalgae and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) to make them suitable for large scale production or conversion into biofuels. ExxonMobil's role will be to use its resources to optimize SGI's results at every level in the process.

"This investment comes after several years of planning and study and is an important addition to ExxonMobil's ongoing efforts to advance breakthrough technologies to help meet the world's energy challenges," said Dr. Emil Jacobs, vice president of research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. "We believe that biofuel produced by algae could be a meaningful part of the solution in the future if our efforts result in an economically viable, low net carbon emission transportation fuel."

J. Craig Venter, founder and CEO of SGI, echoed Jacobs sentiments, adding: "We are confident that the combination of our respective expertise in science, research, engineering and scale-up should unlock the power of algae as biological energy producers in methods and scale not previously explored."

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