'Green goo' biofuel gets a boost - CNN.com Last month ExxonMobil-- which has been publicly skeptical of other biofuels in the past -- invested up to $600 million into a collaborative R&D program with Synthetic Genomics, a startup founded by J. Craig Venter. Venter's previous firm, Celera Genomics, was a key player in sequencing the human genome. Synthetic Genomics is looking at, among other approaches, the use of tweaked metabolic pathways in algae to boost the plant's oil production. The startup received an earlier investment from BP a few years ago, but this one by ExxonMobil has raised eyebrows both for its size and because of the giant's track record. "ExxonMobil has always been like the grinch that stole clean tech," says Udupa. "And then all of a sudden they're investing a lot of money in this one algae company." The company kept enthusiasm tempered at a press call last month. "We need to be realistic," said Emil Jacobs, vice president of R&D at the oil giant's research and engineering unit. "This is not going to be easy, and there are no guarantees of success." But after years of careful research ExxonMobil concluded that algae, among all the alternatives, has the most potential in terms of scalability and fitting into the vast infrastructure of existing refineries and filling stations. (It can also produce far more fuel per acre than palm, sugar cane, or corn.) Other big oil companies have recently invested into algae ventures as well, including Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell.