ExxonMobil is promising up to $100m over the next 10 years to US government laboratories to research technologies that could cut greenhouse gas emissions, as it seeks to show that it is responding to the threat of climate change.
The largest listed US oil group will be giving the money to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and National Energy Technology Laboratory to work on technologies including advanced biofuels and ways to capture and store carbon emissions.
Darren Woods, Exxon’s chief executive, said: “Unfortunately, the technology does not exist today to meet the growth in demand for energy while reducing emissions in line with the goals of the Paris agreement.”
In its R&D spending, he added, Exxon was “trying to do our part” to help develop those technologies.
The announcement comes as Exxon faces pressure from investors over its strategy on climate change. The company denied shareholders a chance to vote at its annual meeting on May 29 on a proposal that it should set targets for cutting its greenhouse gas emissions. The state of New York and the Church of England, which had taken the lead on that proposal, are now backing an effort to persuade the company to appoint an independent chairman.
The commitment to the US national laboratories, if paid at the rate of $10m a year, would represent a little under 1 per cent of Exxon’s research and development budget of $1.12bn last year.
Exxon already has a range of research partnerships with 80 universities, and has been working on technologies for reducing emissions, including new techniques for carbon capture and genetically modified algae to produce fuel in commercially viable quantities. It said last year that it planned to set up one or more demonstration plants by 2025 to produce 10,000 barrels a day of diesel and jet fuel from algae, and suggested there could be rapid growth in production after that.
However, Mr Woods said, “you’ve got to have a lot of parallel efforts, because you never know which ones are going to be successful”.
Working with the US government laboratories, he said, could be particularly useful for scaling up ideas from initial testing to pilot projects.
Brian Anderson, director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory, said the relationship with Exxon would be “unique” in its scope, and could be flexible in deploying resources towards the most promising technologies.
The International Energy Agency, which is backed by the world’s leading economies, warned this week that global investment in renewable energy was running well below the rate needed to reach long-term goals for curbing emissions.
The IEA has backed the need for more and better low-carbon technologies, warning: “Maintaining or accelerating the rate of reduction of energy- and process-related emissions up to and beyond 2040 is likely to require robust technological innovation.”
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