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ExxonMobil and REG report progress in cellulosic biodiesel research

In the United States (US), ExxonMobil, the world's largest publically traded energy company and renewable chemical and biodiesel producer Renewable Energy Group, Inc. (REG), have announced that by utilizing REG’s patented fermentation technology, the companies’ joint research programme has demonstrated the ability to convert sugars from a variety of non-edible biomass sources into biodiesel.

Researchers at Renewable Energy Group (REG) Life Sciences in South San Francisco, California are working with ExxonMobil to develop biodiesel from cellulosic sugars using REG proprietary technology (photo courtesy REG).

In January 2016, the companies announced an agreement to study the production of biodiesel by fermenting renewable cellulosic sugars from sources such as agricultural waste

Our first challenge during the initial research was to determine technical feasibility and potential environmental benefits. We’re optimistic as the results indicate good potential for advancing the technology, and we look forward to continuing our work with REG Life Sciences, said Vijay Swarup, Vice President of R&D at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company.

During their initial research, the companies successfully validated the feasibility of the REG Life Sciences fermentation technology across multiple cellulosic sugar compositions produced with a variety of methods from various non-edible biomass sources.

The research also confirmed REG Life Sciences technology is capable of achieving substantial reductions of full-lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to traditional diesel fuel.

Extend R&D collaboration

The companies have agreed to extend the research programme based on their positive findings and are “excited to continue” to jointly explore the technology’s potential for scalability.

Biofuels today are made largely from food sources, such as corn and sugarcane. ExxonMobil is challenging that paradigm by exploring a portfolio of large-scale biofuels solutions that do not compete with food and water. Our work with REG Life Sciences has been critical to better understanding the potential for converting cellulosic feedstock from agricultural waste into a commercially viable diesel fuel, as well as the lifecycle greenhouse gas implications of that process, Swarup said.

REG Life Sciences has developed proprietary technology that relies on microbes to convert cellulosic sugars into biodiesel in a one-step fermentation process. Cellulosic feedstocks derived from agricultural waste, contain multiple types of sugars, including glucose and xylose, as well as impurities that can inhibit the fermentation process.

ExxonMobil has been a great partner and we are proud of what we have accomplished to date. The Life Sciences team, led by Fernando Sanchez-Riera, senior director, Fermentation Process Development, made key discoveries in advancing the commercialization of fermenting diverse cellulosic sugars into renewable, clean burning diesel fuel. We are excited to take these discoveries to the next level. We believe our REG Life Sciences technology holds great potential as an innovation platform across multiple industries and can think of no partner better than ExxonMobil to help us realize that potential in fuels, said Eric Bowen, Vice President of REG Life Sciences.

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