Researching algae takes scientific know-how, sunshine, some very large ponds and the right kind of algae.

Scaling algae production to have the technical ability to produce 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel a day is an ambitious target. But that’s what Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI) and ExxonMobil are working towards by 2025.

There’s already been significant progress in improving the amount of energy-rich fat a model strain of algae yields at SGI’s labs in La Jolla, in Southern California.  

Around 150 miles away from the La Jolla labs, at a farm in Calipatria, California, SGI and ExxonMobil scientists are researching possible ways to create a scalable production process that is able to turn some of the strains identified in La Jolla into tomorrow’s low-emission fuel.

To see what it takes to meet this challenge, scroll through our photo essay:

Algae farming Algae growing in a petri dish

Algae growing in a petri dish. Much of the work in the lab aims to develop algae strains that efficiently convert more carbon and other nutrients into energy-rich fat.

Algae farming An algae reactor

An algae reactor unit in the SGI greenhouse. The reactor recreates the ideal environment for growing algae, including the right temperature, abundant light and nutrient-rich water.

Algae farming Small ponds of algae in the greenhouse in La Jolla California

In the greenhouse, small ponds are used to test algae at a larger scale than in the lab before they move to the big outdoor ponds.

Algae farming Algae ponds

After initial growth in this reactor, the algae is moved into larger ponds, where harvesting techniques are tested and improved.

Algae farming Large-scale outdoor algae reactors Calipatria California

Large-scale outdoor algae reactors at the Calipatria farm.

Algae farming Open air algae growth ponds Calipatria California

The largest algae growth pond currently in use at the farm is about one acre in size.


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