June 7, 2010 / 2:46 PM / 9 years ago

Exxon explores algae biofuels as alternative energy

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp is testing the commercial viability of algae biofuel as an alternative energy source to supplement oil and natural gas, a senior executive said on Monday.

Although oil, coal and natural gas are expected to represent about 80 percent of global energy supply mix through 2030, nuclear and renewable energy such as wind, solar, geothermal and biofuels will play a significant role, ExxonMobil’s senior vice president Andrew Swiger said.

Global energy demand is expected to rise by almost 35 percent by 2030, from 2005 levels, he said.

“We are testing the hypothesis that algae biofuels could become commercially viable and achieve sufficient scale to make meaningful contribution to the future energy mix,” he told the Asia Oil and Gas Conference in the Malaysian capital.

Sunlight and carbon dioxide used to grow the algae could also mitigate the effect of greenhouse gases, while algae has the potential to produce large volumes of oils that can be processed in existing refineries to make fuels compatible with existing transportation technology and infrastructure.

“It is early days in this research, and the obstacles we face are formidable, but the potential is great,” Swiger added.

He said Exxon currently has an interest in 4,900 megawatts of cogeneration capacity at more than 30 sites worldwide. New facilities under construction in Singapore will boost that capacity to more than 5,000 megawatts by next year.

Swiger also said that ExxonMobil will not delay the start up of its new petrochemical plant in Singapore despite the glut in ethylene supplies.

“We are into long-term investments. The petrochemical industry goes through many cycles. We cannot predict the cycles, Swiger told a news conference.

“We will start our plant as scheduled.”

The multibillion-dollar ethylene cracker on Singapore’s Jurong Island has a capacity of 1 million tonnes per year (tpy).

Mechanical completion and start-up activities of the new facilities will be in phases beginning late 2010 through 2011, the company had said.

The petrochemical market is starting to feel the pressure of additional ethylene coming on line, traders said.

China, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and India will add 6.3 million tonnes of ethylene capacity, taking the region’s total to 48.33 million tonnes per year (tpy). China will account for more than a third of the additions, reducing its need for imports.

Shell has already brought its 800,000-tpy cracker online in March, as did Thailand, where the Map Ta Phut Olefins Co had started a 900,000-tpy cracker around the same time.

Reporting by Jennifer Tan and Seng Li Peng; editing by Ramthan Hussain

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