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Developing technology solutions

Climate change risk management strategy

Society continues to face the dual challenge of meeting the world’s growing energy demand, while simultaneously addressing the risks of climate change. ExxonMobil believes the risks of climate change warrant thoughtful action.

  • Darren Woods
    Darren Woods

    Chairman and CEO
    "I believe, and my company believes, that climate risks warrant action and it’s going to take all of us — business, governments and consumers — to make meaningful progress."

We are committed to providing affordable energy to support human progress while advancing effective solutions to address climate change. Our climate change risk management strategy includes four components: developing technology solutions, mitigating emissions in our operations, providing solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions for our customers and engaging on climate change policy.

Developing technology solutions

Overview

As society pursues energy solutions that will lower greenhouse gas emissions, technological advancements will be instrumental in providing the global economy with the energy it needs. Recognizing the challenges associated with most existing low greenhouse gas emissions energy technologies, particularly in delivering the necessary economy, scale and reliability, we are conducting fundamental research aimed at developing energy solutions that have the potential to be economically feasible without subsidies, standards or mandates. ExxonMobil is pioneering scientific research to discover innovative approaches to enhance existing — and develop next-generation — energy sources.

ExxonMobil’s Emerging Technologies program brings together executives, scientists and engineers from across our businesses to identify and evaluate technology research opportunities with a long-term strategic focus. Our Emerging Technologies team seeks to understand a wide range of technology options and how they may shape the global energy system. Understanding the fundamental science serves as a basis for our broader research efforts and may lead to further technology development aimed at practical application. This awareness informs our internal analysis of the global energy landscape as reflected in our annual Outlook for Energy.

Our approach 

At the center of our research is ExxonMobil’s Corporate Strategic Research laboratory, a fundamental research institution with approximately 150 Ph.D. scientists and engineers focused on addressing the company’s long-range science needs. Our in-house research portfolio includes a broad array of programs, including biofuels, carbon capture and storage, alternative energy and climate science.

In addition to in-house research, we partner with leading universities around the world – such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, the University of Texas and Stanford University – to broaden awareness of energy developments and support technology breakthroughs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency.

Advanced biofuels

ExxonMobil funds a broad portfolio of biofuels research programs, including ongoing efforts to develop algae-based biofuels. These include programs for converting non-food based feedstocks — such as whole cellulosic biomass, algae-based feedstocks and cellulose-derived sugars — into advanced transportation fuels. We believe that additional fundamental technology improvements and scientific breakthroughs are still necessary in both biomass optimization and the processing of biomass into fuels. Specifically, further progress is needed to ensure that advanced biofuels can work on a commercial scale and be produced with lower life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions.

Our advanced biofuels research includes joint research collaborations with Synthetic Genomics Inc., Renewable Energy Group, the Colorado School of Mines, Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin. 

Carbon capture and storage

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the process by which carbon dioxide (CO2) gas that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere is captured, compressed and injected into underground geologic formations for permanent storage. With a working interest in approximately one-quarter of the world’s total CCS capacity, ExxonMobil is a leader in one of the most important next-generation, low-carbon technologies. In 2016, we captured 6.3 million metric tons of CO2 for storage.

We believe the greatest opportunity for future large-scale deployment of CCS will be in the natural gas-fired power generation sector. While CCS technology can be applied to coal-fired power generation, the cost to capture CO2 is about twice that of natural gas-fired power generation. In addition, because coal-fired power generation creates about twice as much CO2 per unit of electricity generated, the geological storage space required to sequester the CO2 produced from coal-fired generation is about twice that associated with gas-fired generation.

ExxonMobil is conducting proprietary, fundamental research to develop breakthrough carbon capture technologies that have the potential to be commercially feasible without government subsidies, standards or mandates.

Performance and initiatives

Up Close: Next-generation technology partnerships

ExxonMobil continues to invest in research and development of next-generation technologies. Achieving large-scale changes in the energy sector will require long-term investments in research to develop cost-effective solutions that are capable of broad commercial application. We conduct cutting-edge research and development in-house and in collaboration with other industries. We also partner with approximately 80 universities around the world to explore next-generation energy technologies. Spending approximately $1 billion per year on research and technology development over the past decade, ExxonMobil is maintaining a leading role in technological innovation in the energy industry. Below are examples of our technology partnerships announced in 2016.

FuelCell Energy

ExxonMobil and FuelCell Energy, Inc., are pursuing a novel technology in power plant carbon dioxide capture through a new application of carbonate fuel cells. A fuel cell is a device that converts chemical energy into electricity.

Advancing economic and sustainable technologies to capture carbon dioxide from large emitters such as power plants is an important part of ExxonMobil’s suite of research into lower-emission solutions to mitigate the risks of climate change. ExxonMobil researchers conducted two years of comprehensive laboratory tests that demonstrated that the unique integration of two existing technologies — carbonate fuel cells and natural gas-fired power generation — allows the capture of carbon dioxide more efficiently than conventional technology. Through these tests, our scientists saw the potential for this exciting technology for use at natural gas-fired power plants to enhance the viability of carbon capture and storage while at the same time generating additional electricity. Following several years of experiments with FuelCell Energy, we advanced our research via a joint development agreement in 2016. This agreement allows scientists from both companies to work collaboratively to further develop this potentially game-changing technology.

  • Chip Bottone

    President and chief executive officer of FuelCell Energy, Inc.
    "The fuel cell carbon capture solution we are advancing with ExxonMobil could be a game-changer in affordably reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants globally. The carbonate fuel cell solution uses a proven global platform to generate power while capturing carbon dioxide."

Photo — FuelCell Energy plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

University of Texas

ExxonMobil partnered with the University of Texas at Austin in 2016 to explore and progress innovative solutions to the world’s energy challenges. As part of this effort, we are investing $15 million in research initiatives over five years to build upon decades of research at the University of Texas and further develop existing and next-generation energy sources that have the potential to reduce emissions.

The university’s renowned Energy Institute will help drive much of the research conducted through this partnership. Research projects are expected to cover a range of emerging technologies and will take advantage of the university’s capabilities in renewable energy, battery technologies and power grid modeling.

  • Gregory L. Fenves

    President of the University of Texas 
    "The University of Texas at Austin is proud and deeply appreciative of its long history of collaboration in education and research with ExxonMobil. This investment further unites two of the world’s leading energy organizations to pursue innovations for a better energy future."

Georgia Institute of Technology

Research teams from ExxonMobil and the Georgia Institute of Technology have successfully developed a new method of reverse osmosis that filters hydrocarbons through synthetic carbon membranes at the molecular level. This is a critical step in the production of certain plastics that currently requires energy-intensive separation processes.

Because the new method works at low temperatures, it may one day replace existing separation technology, dramatically reducing the amount of energy required in plastics processing.

If brought to industrial scale, this breakthrough could reduce industry’s global annual carbon dioxide emissions by up to 45 million metric tons, which is equivalent to the annual energy-related carbon dioxide emissions of about 5 million U.S. homes. It could also reduce energy costs used to make plastics by up to $2 billion a year globally.

Chemical plants account for about 8 percent of global energy demand and about 15 percent of the projected growth in demand to 2040. As populations and living standards continue to rise around the world, the demand for auto parts, housing materials, medical devices, electronics and other products made from plastics and other petrochemicals will continue to grow. Improving industrial efficiency is part of ExxonMobil’s mission to meet the world’s growing need for energy while limiting environmental impacts.

Renewable Energy Group

ExxonMobil is a global leader in advanced biofuels research. In 2016, we extended this leadership by partnering with Renewable Energy Group, Inc. (REG), to study the production of biodiesel by fermenting renewable cellulosic sugars from sources such as agricultural waste. This work is part of our many investments in new technologies with the potential to increase energy supplies, reduce emissions and improve operational efficiencies.

REG has developed a patented technology that uses microbes to convert sugars to diesel in a one-step fermentation process similar to ethanol manufacturing. The ExxonMobil and REG research will focus on using sugars from non-food sources to produce biofuels.

Through this research, we will address the challenge of how to ferment real-world renewable cellulosic sugars that contain impurities capable of inhibiting fermentation. The research will explore the technical feasibility and potential environmental benefits of biodiesel produced from fermented sugars. Positive results could lead to expanded efforts to explore scalability of the technology.

  • Eric Bowen

    Vice president and head of REG Life Sciences
    "We look forward to this collaboration with ExxonMobil to advance our proprietary cellulosic sugar fermentation technology. This technology can enable us to capitalize on the combined power of cellulosic sugars and microbial fermentation to revolutionize the production of ultra-low carbon, cleaner-burning advanced biofuels."

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