ExxonMobil announced an agreement with Renewable Energy Group to study the production of biodiesel by fermenting renewable cellulosic sugars from non-food sources such as agricultural waste. Through the research, the two companies will address the challenge of how to ferment real-world renewable cellulosic sugars, which contain multiple types of sugars including glucose and xylose; they will also study impurities that can inhibit fermentation.
REG has developed a patented technology that uses microbes to convert sugars to biodiesel in a one-step fermentation process similar to ethanol manufacturing, the company says.
While the science behind the concept is “extremely complex,” says ExxonMobil Research and Engineering VP of research and development Vijay Swarup, “we hope to identify new affordable and reliable supplies of energy for the world that do not have a major impact on food supplies. As we research renewable energy supplies, we are exploring future energy options with a reduced environmental impact.”
The first challenge, he says, is to determine technical feasibility and potential environmental benefits during the initial research. If the results are positive, the companies can then take the next step and explore the potential to expand efforts.