Kate Mackenzie BP takes a baby step in microbial biofuel

BP is partnering with US firm Martek to develop a scalable way to produce biodiesel from sugar, using algae.

From Reuters:

NEW YORK, Aug 11 (Reuters) – BP Plc (BP.L) and Martek Biosciences Corp (MATK.O) said on Tuesday they will form a partnership to study the use of algae to convert sugar into biodiesel.

London-based BP will contribute $10 million to the project, which will study ways to use Martek’s proprietary algae to create the fuel.

Martek will conduct the research and development, and BP will help find applications, the companies said in a joint statement.

Tempting as it is to say this move, coming after Exxon’s algae investment, signals a turning point for algae-based fuel, BP’s investment is very tiny – the press release specifies “up to $10m”, which is only a fraction of the £56m it committed to its ill-fated jatropha venture with D1 Oils. And it’s small change compared to BP’s overall spending.

BP’s overall investment in alternatives, after hitting a peak of $1.4bn last year, will fall to just $500m-$1bn this year – and its overall capital investment will be about $20bn. As my colleague Ed Crooks pointed out last month, it has had to pull back from the runaway success of its ‘Beyond Petroleum’ slogan.

Meanwhile Exxon committed a minimum of $300m, and possibly more than double that amount, to an algal oil project with Synthetic Genomics.

Related links:

Back to petroleum (FT 07/07/09)
BP’s jatropha venture: In case you were wondering (FT Energy Source, 17/07/09)