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Exxon looks to benefits of pond scum

A river awash with algae

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: The world's biggest oil company Exxon is investing more than half a billion dollars to develop new biofuels to power cars, trucks, and airplanes.
The company announced today it'll partner with biotech pioneer Craig Ventner. He's the guy who decoded the human genome. Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman has more.


Mitchell Hartman: Even as its oil profits have soared, Exxon's been quietly moving forward to develop fuels that can be grown rather than drilled. That's as governments mandate more use of biofuels to fight global warming.

And why make oil from algae? Well, it can be grown in any old muck and mire -- in brackish swamps or even at sea, says Mark Nicholls of the magazine Environmental Finance in London.

Mark Nicholls: Algae, if the technology is got right, won't compete with food crops such as corn or sugar cane even. And it appears that the resultant biofuels may be more easily used in existing distribution systems and existing engines.

Exxon will spend $29 billion on capital and exploration for crude oil and natural gas this year. So its $600 million bet on algae-based biofuels is a drop in the bucket. But it's an investment that energy analysts say could lead to big profits down the road.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.
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