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Upstream Research Center

Developing technology solutions

Technological advancements will be instrumental to meet rising global energy demand while also lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Our approach to developing technology solutions

Energy technologies of the future will need to deliver the economy, scale and reliability necessary to support economic progress, especially in the developing world. We are conducting scientific research 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 long-term, strategic research opportunities. We seek 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. The findings from this program help inform our internal analysis of the global energy landscape as reflected in our annual Outlook for Energy.

Performance and initiatives

At the center of our research is ExxonMobil’s Corporate Strategic Research laboratory, a fundamental research institution with approximately 170 PhD scientists and engineers focused on addressing the company’s long-range science needs. We support a diverse portfolio of in-house research projects, including next-generation biofuels, carbon capture and storage, alternative energy and climate science. In addition to in-house research, we collaborate with leading universities — such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, the University of Texas and Stanford University — to broaden awareness of energy developments and support technology breakthroughs. 

We are proud to maintain a leading role in technological innovation in the energy industry. ExxonMobil is partnering with approximately 80 universities around the world to explore new energy technologies. ExxonMobil has spent more than $9 billion on lower-emission energy solutions since 2000. 

  • Singapore skyline
    Spotlight: Partnering with Singapore universities to innovate lower-emission technologies

    ExxonMobil actively collaborates with industry experts and pioneering academics to develop solutions for some of the world’s most pressing challenges. We partner with approximately 80 universities around the world to develop new energy technologies. In 2017, we announced our first energy center partnership outside the United States with Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and the National University of Singapore. The Singapore Energy Center, led by the two universities, will focus on advancing cutting-edge technologies that could improve energy production and enhance energy efficiency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the risks of climate change.

    As the center’s founding member, ExxonMobil will support its wide range of early-stage research projects. Company researchers and scientists will collaborate with students and faculty at the two universities once the center opens in early 2019. This partnership with Nanyang Technological University and the National University will add another dimension to ExxonMobil’s commitment to finding solutions through collaboration with leading industry companies and professionals.

Advanced biofuels

ExxonMobil scientist Kelsey McNeely in algae lab
Photo — ExxonMobil scientist Kelsey McNeely researching algae strains.

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. 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. 

Algae-based biofuels have the potential to supplement petroleum with minimal alterations to current transportation infrastructure. Algae-based fuel yields more energy per area than other biofuels and can be grown on land considered unsuitable for agriculture. However, 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 lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2017, ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics, Inc. announced breakthrough research involving a modified algae strain that more than doubled its oil content without significantly inhibiting growth, a key challenge along the path to commercial scalability. We recently announced a new research phase of this project that could lead to the production of 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel per day by 2025. The new phase of research includes an outdoor field study that will grow naturally occurring algae in several ponds in California.

Performance and initiatives 

Our broad portfolio of advanced biofuels research also includes biofuels derived from cellulosic biomass. We are partnering with the Renewable Energy Group to study the production of biodiesel through fermentation of renewable cellulosic sugars from sources such as agricultural waste. In 2017, the joint research team was able to demonstrate the ability to convert sugars from a variety of non-edible biomass sources into biodiesel. 

The research also confirmed Renewable Energy Group’s fermentation technology is capable of achieving substantial reductions of full-lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional diesel fuel. Once more fully developed, this technology could provide not only an alternative fuel solution with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but also an opportunity to more sustainably manage agricultural waste.

Carbon capture and storage

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the process by which carbon dioxide gas that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere is captured, compressed and injected into underground geologic formations for permanent storage. ExxonMobil is conducting research to develop breakthrough carbon capture technologies.

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

Performance and initiatives

With a working interest in more than one-fifth of the world’s total CCS, ExxonMobil is a leader in the deployment of this critical low-carbon technology. In 2017, we captured approximately 6.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide for storage.

ExxonMobil is conducting joint research to develop breakthrough carbon capture technologies that have the potential to significantly lower costs and reduce operating complexity. As an example, carbonate fuel cell technology could make carbon capture and storage more affordable for power plants, which according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. One project, with FuelCell Energy, is focused on reducing the cost of capturing carbon by using carbonate fuel cells that generate power while capturing carbon. We are identifying potential locations for pilot testing. 

CCS fuel cell energy box
Photo — ExxonMobil and FuelCell Energy are working on a potential carbon capture solution.