Why algae is not only used by sushi masters but also by Exxon Mobil

In our blog post on monday,Mirella already gave a hint to today’s topic. Today we are having a closer look on efforts Exxon Mobil is making when it comes to alternative energies. Since it is clear that normal energy sources such as oil, coal and gas are not lasting forever and because our society is getting more and more conscious about our environment, alternative energies are heard and used everywhere; may it be some scientists who seek for a new innovative energy source, some politicians who seek to win the people’s vote (just think of Angela Merkel who stopped nuclear power stations immediately after Fukushima) or big companies who want to polish their image. Everybody is aware of alternative energy’s great potential,and there are many ways to use it. This potential can come in form of higher profitability, but also more prestige or better CSR ( about Exxon Mobil’s CSR check out Nici’s post). And of course big U.S. oil company Exxon Mobil is jumping on the train,too.

What is important for companies like Exxon Mobil when deciding to go for alternative energies?  Economic expert Abdolreza Ghofrani tries to explain:

Of course, how the alternatives can be exploitable, while being economically cost-effective, are the key factors in coming up with conclusion and making decision on the part of consumers. Over the past several decades, the consumer countries have been weighing up the use of other resources, or substitutes, such as solar, water, wind, nuclear. Although huge research works have been done, it sounds a serious steps has not been taken yet; mainly because there have been gigantic amount of this noble energy carrier, namely the oil, and it has been rather cheap and comparing with other substitute resources being highly cost effective. So all this have made weak incentives for the use of other resources.

According to fastcompany.com, ExxonMobil has invested some resources in renewable energy.

Exxon has also given Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy project, which researches alternative fuels, $100 million over the past decade. And in an email to Herman, Exxon claimed that it has invested over $1.9 billion in activities that cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency since 2004 (out of hundreds of billions in yearly revenue). The company also noted that it contributed $235 million to communities worldwide last year.

At the same time,

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson has derided biofuels as “moonshine” and in May 2010 he proclaimed that oil production hasn’t peaked and the world won’t move beyond coal, natural gas, and crude oil for 100 years.

Sounds very contradictory to me, doesn’t it? The actions Exxon Mobil took and the opinion of its CEO are two different things, so how do they manage to balance that?  But then it is even more surprising when Exxon Mobile announced in 2009 that it would invest $600 million on algae research for liquid transportation fuels.

For a short introduction to algae as biofuel, watch this video:

Dr. Emil Jacobs, vice president of research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company said:

To meet the growing alternative energy demand in the world should use various technologies and energy sources. We believe that biofuel produced from algae could be a significant part of the solution in the future if our efforts lead us to produce an economically viable transportation fuel, low net carbon emissions.

Algae holds more potential than traditional biofuels, and firms are starting to realize that. If some of the scale efficiency issues are resolved, then algae could become a very competitive biofuel, especially since it absorbs CO2, as well, and could be eligible for offset credits.

is RBC Capital Markets energy analyst Sandeep Ayyappan remarking.

After this announcement, many skeptics rose their voices.

Michael Webber, an energy expert and engineering professor at the University of Texas, commented:

I think they see changes to the energy system coming over the next decades.It’s pretty transparent that the energy field will be different 30 years from now. They’re an energy company, so they had better be prepared than to wait.

Brent Erickson, senior vice president for the industrial and environmental section at the Biotechnology Industry Organization trade group explains Exxon Mobil’s strategy as following:

I think the fact that Exxon – which has a history of openly opposing biofuels and saying they don’t work – is moving into algae biofuels sends a strong signal to the investment community and technology community that there is a paradigm shift going on.

Nobody really knows what Exxon Mobil’s strategy behind that is, but probably Kevin Quon has the right advice for us as observers :

Is Exxon wasting its capital when it comes to exploring photosynthetic algae research? Only time will tell. As it stands, the technological accomplishment appears far from ready let alone the logistical infrastructure needed to implement it.


About Mai

My name is Mai, I'm 23 years old and currently studying in Berlin. I am especially interested in different cultures, art, design and like to be surrounded by beautiful things. This is my first time blogging, I will try to provide many interesting and diverse topics and inspirations for you to read. I'm open for discussions, feedback and ideas from other bloggers, so don't be shy if there are any questions or suggestions. Have fun exploring!
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9 Responses to Why algae is not only used by sushi masters but also by Exxon Mobil

  1. Nicpic says:

    Hi Mai,
    Very interesting post! In my opinion alternative energies is a topic our generation will have to find the solution for and that occupies us all. Ferhat also wrote a great post about alternative energies: The energy turnaround. You might find it interesting!
    Yet it had never occurred to me when trying to avoid touching algae in the sea that this yucky disgusting thing might be the answer to our present and future energy problems.
    I think the length of your post is great and the video as well as the pictures are well chosen! You include a lot of different quotations and try to display the discussion through experts’ opinion. However I would have liked to hear your point of view in the end.
    Furthermore I don’t think your headline is your strongest one. It is very long and because of that not catchy enough. I know it’s hard to believe that 14 words are too many, but people only have an average attention span of 3 to 8 seconds!! Which is why I should probably wrap it up right about now 😉
    Your post shows a great mixture of general facts and specific ones on ExxonMobil, but is missing a clear message for the readers. What do you want us to take away from this?
    So not your best work, but even your mediocre work is still pretty amazing!
    Cheers Nicky

    • Mai says:

      Thank you Nici for your really objective comment. I will try to keep that in mind and to use your advice for my next blogpost 🙂

  2. Hello Mai,
    first of all I loved the idea of your group to have a common topic on fast exposure this week. You obviously thought deeply about the single blog posts and how each of them hints to the other without repeating same arguments or facts. Apart from that your choice to write about Exxon Mobil is a good one since it’d a company with many controversial aspects such as environmental protection.
    Environmental and alternative energies are issues which are discussed a lot. In fact it has been a major discussion topic for so many months now that I was a bit afraid your blog post would be one of those rather boring articles aka “Oh, no not another text about alternative resources”. But I was wrong! Right in the beginning you made me curious with your title and the reference to sushi. You included humor which is always a secret weapon!
    I also liked the fat that you referred to German politics, for example the Angela Merkel comment.
    In addition you emphasized your arguments by adding quotes from experts so it was very easy for me to be convinced of your opinion.
    The YouTube video you included was a good way of explaining the usage of algae as bio fuel quickly.
    I especially liked the fact that you added quote about skeptics and I believe the two guys in the picture are those two critics?
    The only thing I would have appreciated is if you would have included a bit more of your own opinion in the end.
    Other than that: excellent blog post

    • Mai says:

      Thank you LittleMissPanda for your feedback, I appreciate it a lot. In fact, I totally forgot to consider my own opinion! I will definitely try to do this in my next blog post 🙂

  3. Ferhat says:

    Hello Mai,
    first of all thanks for your comment on my post. It’s an interesting coincidence that we both blogged something about renewable energies. So my focus is more on the political side. Your post is very interesting and well structured. The quotations and the embedded video are appropriate and instructive. Your style and the structure of your post is very different than my post. I’m positive that I can learn more when I read your posts. Finally I’m very interested in this topic and would like to read more of that. See you next time. 🙂

    • Mai says:

      Thanks to you that you delivered some information on this topic concerning Germany! I think it is just great that we had some different approaches on this diverse topic. Hope to read more interesting post from you 🙂

  4. MonaMondschein says:

    Hey Mai!
    First of all, I find it a great idea of yours to have an “Exxon Mobil” week! That way your deepen your team relations and split up one interesting topic apart and bring it a lot closer to your reader than by just having one single post on it.
    Glad you inserted links to relevant sites as well as added a video. Media is always a good way to help your reader digest big chunks of text. 😉
    I personally did like how you concluded the topic also by quoting someone else – letting someone else speak shows the audience that you are not the only one having this specific opinion.
    Unlike my predecessor, I liked your heading and was immediately attracted when seeing the word “sushi” 😉 – food should be always a good way to capture one’s attention!
    Thanks girl!

    • Mai says:

      Haha, yes, the idea about sushi came right to my head when I read about algae. But I have to agree with Nici that my heading was a little bit too long. I will try to do better in my next post.

  5. Pingback: This week on FastExposure « fastexposure

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