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Solazyme Introduces Its First Algal Biodiesel, Enters Development Agreement With Chevron

22 January 2008

The Soladiesel test car.

Solazyme, Inc., a synthetic biology company formed in 2003 to pursue biofuels from microalgae, is introducing Soladiesel, its first algal biodiesel, which has undergone road testing in a blend by powering a Mercedes-Benz sedan for long distances under typical driving conditions. Solazyme also announced that it has signed a feedstock development and testing agreement with Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron USA.

Solazyme is currently producing thousands of gallons of algal oil for use in producing algal biodiesel via conventional transesterification or algal renewable diesel via refinery-based hydrotreatment.

The company also has a research project underway for the production of algal biocrude oil. The biocrude or biopetroleum will be designed to match the composition of light sweet crude oil. The biopetroleum would be fully compatible with the infrastructure that refines, distributes retails and consumes petroleum products—not just automobile fuels but aviation fuel and chemicals as well.

Biopetroleum will require an industrial-scale biofermentation process that can produce pure, long-chain hydrocarbons efficiently. The company is receiving  funding from NIST on this project. (Earlier post.)

Solazyme’s technology platform consists of several integrated methods and techniques: directed evolution; high-throughput robotic screening; proprietary techniques; and metabolic engineering.

In October 2007, Chevron and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) entered into a collaborative research and development agreement to identify and develop algae strains that can be economically harvested and processed into finished transportation fuels, such as jet fuel. Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron USA, is funding that initiative. (Earlier post.)

The more conventional algal biodiesel fueling the demonstration car is derived from Solazyme’s proprietary process for manufacturing high-value, functionally-tailored oils from algae.

Soladiesel exceeds both the requirements of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) biodiesel standard D6751 and EN 14214, the European standard. The car demonstrating Solazyme’s biofuel at Sundance is running on its original, factory-standard diesel engine with no modifications, and is powered by the highest blend of biodiesel that engine manufacturers currently certify. By operating in the typical sub-freezing temperatures for the area in January, it also illustrates how Soladiesel provides better temperature properties than any traditional biodiesel.

In June 2007, Solazyme and Imperium Renewables entered into a biodiesel feedstock development agreement in which Solazyme will generate algal oil for Imperium’s biodiesel production process. Under the agreement, Solazyme will grow its proprietary strains of microalgae, extract the oil, and deliver it to Imperium. Imperium will convert the feedstock oil using its proprietary technology into biodiesel fuel in its Seattle plant. (Earlier post.)

January 22, 2008 in Biodiesel, Biomass, Biotech, Fuels | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack (0)


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The oil industry started with one well.

Let's hope that this works out. Keep plugging away.

Lets hope that the cost per gallon is reasonable.

"Solazyme is currently producing thousands of gallons of algal oil for use in producing algal biodiesel via conventional transesterification or algal renewable diesel via refinery-based hydrotreatment."

Well they get my vote for the Technical Words Density award. For January 2008 anyway.

Good to hear of progress with an algae driven process.

Is this produced using Solar Energy, or do they still use Petroleum or coal powered Machinery? What I'm asking is this costing the same amount of energy to produce as it produces? Does anyone know?

biodiesel generally has a very good energy balance. ie more energy out than energy in. that's part of the draw of the algae is that it produces more oil for the same amount of energy input compared to other plants.

Interesting that no one has chimed up with questions on them using a photosynthesis-free process... ?


OK, I'll bite. Does anyone know how the algae are growing? Via consumption of waste water? Quote: "...algal renewable diesel via refinery-based hydrotreatment."

Note references to 'marine algaes'
Heaps of references about patenting process and proprietry strains indications to acelerated evolution through mutations and the Co approach embraces, genetic manipulation.
So apparently this approach is necesary to attract funding and development, secure the economic returns etc but places the full comprehension and simple application outside of most of our understanding.
This should not be neccesary for viable technology.
So we have little indication as to the environmental implications, which would be obvious if sewage or other waste streams were utilized.
If Marine = wild harvest or usurping some natural environment, high tech biofactory farms fed by chemical fertilizers etc would have serious implications.
While is easy to appreciate the scientific approach, I would hate to see the low (appropriate) tech implementation possibilities ignored.
The volumes required and the differing technological abilities and desiabilities should be a priority if this is to really make a difference.

Really glad to see algaes being taken seriously

Marine as opposed to Aquatic.
But ultimately the feedstocks should be iterchangeable , if the process is not "optimised"
the co references all sorts of technologies.

Well, the idea is that the biocrude can just be put through existing refinery infrastructure, and we'll get gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other chemicals identical to what we already have out of it. Then the only infrastructure we need to invest in (and expend energy building) is in growing the algae and transporting the resulting biocrude to the refineries.

Solazyme isn't the only company working in this area. Technology Review profiled David Berry on this topic.

Berry took the lead in designing a system that allowed LS9 researchers to alter the metabolic machinery of ­micro­örganisms, turning them into living hydrocarbon refineries. He began with biochemical pathways that microbes use to convert ­glucose into energy-storing molecules called fatty acids. Working with LS9 scientists, he then plucked genes from various other organisms to create a system of metabolic modules that can be inserted into microbes; in different combinations, these modules induce the microbes to produce what are, for all practical purposes, the equivalents of crude oil, diesel, gasoline, or hydrocarbon-based in­dustrial chemicals.

It sounds like Solazyme is just methodically dealing with all the classic challenges of biodiesel; poor yeild per acre, too high of a gel point temperature, and harvesting and refining costs. I don't know how well they are dealing with any of these, but it's nice that they are making a concerted effort.

The aquatic species program from the DOE seemed to say that the algae which produce the most oil, by weight, were marine and not very competitive with other algae species. That, and heavy genetic manipulation of the algae, suggest Solazyme will require a closed bioreactor. There are some companies trying to make cheap reactors (basically glorified plastic-bag tubes 100 feet long) that can be managed with traditional farm equipment. One wonders if those will work well with marine algae operations. If you spill salt water on your farm, you can't grow much else for awhile. I guess there's probably a lot of coastal land in Texas that isn't good for much else. I wonder if it has ready access to lots of flue gas, livestock runoff, or sewage?


Got only one comment. I hope they at least consider a case of what happens if/when the algae escapes. They engineer these things and systems to do specific jobs for us but they forget about how really open systems are and what the consequences are when things invariably go wrong.

Caulerpa taxifolia is a genetically engineered seeweed developed for aquariums and accidentically released into the Med. Its toxic to most fish species and torn off pieces can regenerate whole plants. Its slowly carpeting whole areas and is considered a disaster both ecologically and economically. Safeguards need to ensure that stuff like this is minimized while supplying us with what we need.

Dega vu all over again when all the green technology in the 1970's was acquired by the big oil and energy companies.

I'm certain that Chevron, Shell, and the other oil companies would much rather grow their oil in politically stable regions rather than drill for it in places where their infrastructure gets continually attacked, or the majority of the revenue gets extracted via punitive royalties or taxes.

Only this time, there won't be anybody able to crank the taps open and sink oil prices at a whim.

(A recession could do it, but the price of all the materials for the algal route will sink too.)

Where do you suppose Chevron wants to grow the algae?

Wouldn't they prefer some place tropical, cheap labor, and little environmental regulation?

Where would that be?

Healthy Breeze, if you narrow the list down to 'some place tropical,' a better question might be 'where wouldn't that be.' Perhaps that is what you were inferring.

Yep, progress is accompanied by these ham-fisted attempts to make it all so mysterious. Algal oil, not significantly different from other vegetable oils used in making biodiesel - needs a relatively simple process (transesterfication) to separate glycerides prior to blending. It can be done in most back yards with old deep fry oil which is what many home brewers do now. Same with the ethanol industry - clumsy attempts to make what can be done in a back woods still look like industrial magic. Yeah we want a biofuel industry - but do we really need the superfluous sleight of hand?

One hopes this venture focuses on marine species and closed systems near temperate shores with lots of sunshine. GreenFuel and Vertigro both are moving on aquatic species with the polyvinyl bag method. Let's keep moving!

Once we start scaling up producing oil-laden algae, it could drastically change the equation for oil imports. Because oil-laden can be processed into diesel fuel, heating oil and kerosene, that could reduce the amount of crude oil needed. You can produce the algae near any large source of water, including seawater (plenty of that to go around!). Since oil-laden algae is renewable resource, this would create essentially a near-unlimited source for the fuels I mentioned.

@ KS

Instead of sunlight as a primary feedstock, they'll be using sugar. Lots & lots of sugar.

It's amazing how few details these guys are releasing, but I'm impressed by what GreenCarCongress was able to find out. In reference to earlier questions about the process and energy balance: I spoke with Harrison Dillon (President/CTO Solazyme)yesterday and he said that they're going to feed their algae sugar from cellulosic and non-cellulosic sources. It's almost like cellulosic algae biofuel, which seems crazy, but Harrison said if you take the sugar produced by cellulosic-ethanol methods (before it gets fermented into ethanol) and feed it to algae, you get a way better energy return. It's interesting, but I still don't have enough information to make sense out of it...

Feed sugar to algae?  Algae are photosynthetic; they are supposed to make sugars (and fats, and proteins!).

The reason oil companies are in on it is they one have the vast capitol to invest and two there not just oil companies anymore they are energy companies in the biz to sell energy the source can be fossil hydrocarbons or algae hydrocarbons its matters. not energy is energy and if there is profit to be made then they will do it. Remembered principles of financial accounting freshman year in college now. The sole purpose of a incorporation is to make profits for the shareholders all activities must account to this principle. The oil companies are not out there to better the world, fuel revolution, create world peace blah blah. They are only in existence to make there share holders the maximum profit available period end of story. the corporate charter contains that law enumerated in it from its inception as does any other incorporations charter. If I was the stockholders union president I would fire my board of directors if they let my company miss an opportunity to control the new energy market when you already control the existing one and have the capital to corner the market from the get go. Business law dictates it must be this way get over it. What would be wise as an individual to do is own part of these energy companies and one can by purchasing stock in a incorporation you are then a part owner of said corp. I made a tidy dividend this year with my Exxon/ Mobil shares keep up the good work boys.

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