ExxonMobil algae ad banned

A TV ad for ExxonMobil featuring a scientist talking about researching algae as a source of biofuel cannot be screened again after a complaint to advertising watchdogs.

In the advert which was screened on primetime television in the UK for several months the scientists says: “In using algae to form biofuels, we’re not competing with the food supply, and they absorb CO2, so they help solve the greenhouse problem as well.”

However, a member of the public complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the claim that CO2 (carbon dioxide) absorbed by algae would be re-released back into the atmosphere when it was burned as fuel.

He felt the ad was misleadingly as it implied the technology would reduce CO2 levels.

ExxonMobil told the ASA one of the advantages associated with second generation biofuels like algae, was their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by partial replacement of conventional transport fuels derived from hydrocarbons.

The company claimed lifecycle analysis showed that using second generation biofuels resulted in lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional fuels.

The ASA ruled, while noting the ad referred to ‘unlocking the potential in algae’ and considered it had made clear it was an emerging technology, nonetheless considered the ad made an objective claim that algae, if developed as a source of biofuel, would help solve the greenhouse problem.

It noted that, by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and then re-releasing this CO2 when combusted, the technology would not add new greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

A spokesman for the ASA said: “We considered viewers would infer from this that it was because of the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere that using algae to form biofuels helped ‘solve the greenhouse problem’ by acting as a carbon sink.

“We considered this claim went beyond stating the mitigation benefit, because we understood that any CO2 absorbed by the feedstocks would eventually be re-released into the atmosphere, we concluded that the ad overstated the technology’s total environmental impact and was therefore misleading.”

The ASA ruled the ad must not be broadcast again in its current form.

Luke Walsh

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