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ExxonMobil Cans Algae (greenwash failure)

By Robert Bradley Jr.

From GraspUseful resource

“After promoting its efforts to supply environmentally pleasant fuels from algae for over a decade, Exxon Mobil Corp. is now quietly strolling away from its most closely publicized local weather resolution.” (beneath)

Biofuel is out, leaving carbon seize and storage (CCS) because the leave-us-alone, we-are-doing-our-part “greenwashing” technique at ExxonMobil (see tomorrow’s put up). The tip of algae as an alternative to crude oil comes after $350 million and 14 years of dedication. This expenditure was joined by a “inexperienced” promoting marketing campaign across the venture of a minimum of $60 million, largely spent between 2017 and 2019.

It was predictable. Shell, BP, and Chevron had beforehand thrown within the biofuels towel. And it’s harking back to Exxon’s failed ventures within the Seventies: Workplace gear. Actual property. Artificial fuels. Shale oil. Electrical motors. Photo voltaic panels. Uranium. Copper.


Right here is the newest as reported by Ben Eligin and Kevin Crowley. “Exxon Retreats From Main Local weather Effort to Make Biofuels From Algae” (Reuters: February 10, 2023) is subtitled “Renewable fuels comprised of algae was the corporate’s most closely publicized local weather resolution.” The three shutdowns are reported within the article:

Exxon has slashed its assist for Viridos Inc., a biotech firm based mostly in La Jolla, California, that operated because the oil big’s key technical accomplice because it started its algae push in 2009. With Exxon funding drying up and problem discovering different backers, the biotech agency laid off 60% of its workers on Dec. 27, in line with Viridos executives. The biotech firm mentioned it’s nonetheless transferring ahead with algae analysis.

Exxon, in the meantime, has additionally halted funding for a multi-million-dollar algae venture on the Colorado College of Mines on the finish of final yr, after supporting the work for eight years. One other Exxon-backed enterprise with the Nationwide Renewable Vitality Laboratory is about to finish inside weeks.

However the firm’s new division, Low Carbon Options (assume Exxon Enterprises of the Seventies), troopers on with authorities subsidies in tow:

Exxon confirmed that it’s pulling again on funding for algae in favor of different applied sciences now being labored on by its Low Carbon Options division. “At this level we have now different applications which are prepared for deployment,” mentioned Vijay Swarup, Exxon’s senior director of expertise who ran algae analysis. “We have to get on the deployment curve for carbon seize, for hydrogen, for biofuels. Algae nonetheless wants some extra work.”

“It’s a outstanding shift for Exxon,” Eligin and Crowley proceed:

The attract of biofuels comprised of algae is that they’d doubtlessly generate lower than half the emissions of petroleum. The manufacturing and use of Exxon’s oil and fuel finally generates about 630 million tons of heat-trapping gases every year, practically equal to the carbon footprint of Canada. The inexperienced goop has for years been prominently featured as a climate-friendly chance in tv advertisements and investor shows.

Exxon is retreating from algae regardless of a smashing monetary efficiency final yr, wherein it posted a record-breaking $59 billion in income. And it comes simply because the algae analysis has proven vital progress: Viridos and Exxon achieved vital enhancements in recent times, together with a seven-fold enhance within the productiveness of algae grown in out of doors ponds, in line with Viridos Chief Government Officer Oliver Fetzer.

Some questionable editorializing right here. Sturdy income usually are not a motive to interact in loss economics, significantly with a expertise that has by no means been worthwhile and has open-ended grim economics. And “getting higher” … isn’t that the perennial cry for extra subsidies, extra time?

Again to Eligin and Crowley:

Algae has lengthy performed an intriguing function at Exxon. The corporate, greater than another, has obtained criticism for being essentially the most recalcitrant on local weather change, turning into the topic of lawsuits, protests and years of political scrutiny over its long-term dedication to fossil fuels at the same time as international warming gathers tempo. As criticism poured in, Exxon incessantly held up its algae efforts as one vital piece of proof that it was critical about local weather change and discovering cleaner types of vitality. “They’ve been making an attempt to create the impression that they’re a part of the answer, once they’re actually not,” mentioned Robert Brulle, a visiting professor at Brown College who has studied the promotional actions of the fossil fuels trade.

ExxonMobil executives tried to appease their enemies, and that is what they get? It was all laid out by one Steve Milloy, who has actively urged the corporate’s executives to not attempt to appease their enemies however to face proud for what they imagine in: oil and fuel for the plenty. [1]

Eligin and Crowley finish:

In an interview, Exxon officers rejected the suggestion that algae was some form of greenwashing try. “The progress we’ve made up to now is outstanding,” Swarup mentioned, including that algae nonetheless has huge future potential. “The place we’re with the algae immediately is additional alongside than, fairly frankly, anybody has ever been with algae, when it comes to productiveness, when it comes to the power to duplicate the outcomes outside.”

Exceptional? Does the analysis and findings thus far have any market worth? Or was it only a wealth switch to some educational researchers and costly greenwashing? Lee Raymond would have by no means achieved it again when ExxonMobil was among the best managed firms on this planet.


The biofuels downside is certainly one of vitality density from which loads of different issues emerge. [2] Crude oil stays king.

It might solely be hoped that the errors of the current (algae yesterday, carbon seize tomorrow) might be lesson realized. Referring to the Seventies, Joseph Pratt and William Hale remarked:

Considering that the oil trade may nicely be dying a sluggish loss of life, Exxon and most main oil firms moved out of oil in the hunt for alternatives for long-term development. Exxon spent appreciable capital, administration effort, and analysis {dollars} on diversification into industries utterly outdoors of vitality, in addition to into vitality industries apart from oil and fuel.

Errors all, the corporate exited the companies and “refocused its attentions on its core enterprise: oil, pure fuel, and chemical compounds [and] … emerged on the finish with a sharper give attention to its core companies and a renewed sense that oil and fuel would stay its precedence nicely into the longer term.” [3]

There may be extra hope immediately than yesterday. However carbon seize and storage stays as a Nice Distraction at ExxonMobil. Unhealthy PR from proper and left, too.


[1] Milloy testified on the 2021 assembly:

On the 2008 annual assembly, I advised then-CEO Rex Tillerson that appeasing local weather activists would result in catastrophe. I urged a method out: Ban these silly shareholder proposals. I delivered the identical message to present CEO Darren Woods in 2017. He didn’t pay attention both…. This yr I proposed that Exxon push again on local weather idiocy by disclosing the precise prices and advantages of reducing emissions. The prices of emissions cuts, you see, are very excessive and the advantages are zero. However the ever-obtuse Mr. Woods refuses to acknowledge these realities.

[2] “The method requires huge quantities of vitality a lot in order that algal biofuel manufacturing may eat extra vitality than it produces, some researchers concluded.” – Christopher Matthews, “Exxon Sees Inexperienced Gold In Algae-Primarily based Fuels. Skeptics See Greenwashing” (Wall Avenue Journal, October 4, 2021)

[3] Pratt and Hale, Exxon: Reworking Vitality, 1973–2005 (Austin: Briscoe Middle for American Historical past, 2013), p. 167.



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