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Solazyme Ups Soladiesel Testing to B100

Solazyme, which recently announced the road-testing of blends of Soladiesel, its first algal biodiesel (earlier post), has successfully taken the test blends up to B100, according to Jonathan Wolfson, Solazyme’s CEO.

Soladiesel, the first of Solazyme’s planned algal fuel projects, is a biodiesel produced from algae that are engineered to produce an oil with an optimized fatty acid profile to enhance cold flow performance, among other properties, and are also modified to grow in the dark in industrial fermentation tanks fed with plant sugars.

The lipid composition is really important. We went out and spoke to the biodiesel companies, got their specs for lipid composition, and that’s what we’re producing. Our results are far better than soy, palm and canola.

—Jonathan Wolfson

Soladiesel exceeds the requirements of both the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) biodiesel standard D6751 and the European standard EN 14214. International biodiesel standards have some significantly different property specifications, highlighted by a recent study on global standards for bioethanol and biodiesel. (Earlier post.) The study suggested that one way of bridging the differences could be by blending biodiesel from different feedstocks. Soladiesel avoids that issue.

As critical as the composition of the oil molecules might be, the ability to scale production is the primary factor, according to Wolfson.

One of the things we did very early on was to talk to all the oil companies, saying we can produce these ideal oil compositions for under two bucks a gallon.

They said “Stop talking, start listening. Don’t sit here and tell me you can make the ideal me you can do it at scale. If you can scale it, you can bring production cost down over time.”

So we threw out the R&D plans designed to make the ideal lipid molecule, and we started working on scale from a very early point, which is why we can actually scale now. We were fortunate because we hired good scientists, and we were able—even though the main focus was scale—in being able to carefully modify the composition to be what we wanted.

—Jonathan Wolfson

Wolfson estimates that Solazyme has another two to three years of work until it is at production economics, defined as parity with fossil fuels.

Growing algae in fermentation tanks. The focus on scale and production economics was one of the drivers to modify algae to grow in the dark in fermentation tanks, sustained by sugar, rather than photosynthetically in the open. Growing conventional, photosynthetic algae in the open requires dealing with the variability of the environment, light limitations and contamination with microbes.

In 2001, researchers at the Department of Plant Biology of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Palo Alto, California, and Martek Biosciences Corporation in Columbia, Maryland—which sells algae-derived products—were the first to introduce a fundamental metabolic change in a single-celled alga so that it no longer required light to grow.

The scientists found that by inserting just one gene that catalyzes glucose transport into the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum, the organism could thrive in the dark, getting its energy exclusively from the glucose. This marked an important first step toward large-scale, high-density, cost effective cultivation of algae using fermentation technology. The results of their study were published the journal Science.

For their experiments, the scientists individually inserted several genes responsible for glucose transport from three different organisms into P. tricornutum.

One of the genes, hup1, came from the green alga Chlorella kessleri. Three other genes, hxt1, hxt2 and hxt4, come from the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, widely used in brewing, baking and ethanol production. The final gene, glut1, and the one that had shown the most promise, was involved in transporting glucose into human red blood cells to maintain metabolic processes.

The investigators introduced each of these genes into the alga and found that both the hup1 and glut1 genes allowed it to take up high levels of glucose and thrive in the dark.

Other Sola-fuels. Solazyme, which recently entered into a biodiesel feedstock development and testing agreement with Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron USA, in the shorter term is also working on developing algae optimized to produce oils for use in hydrotreatment at a refinery.

For hydrotreatment, you might want to have higher saturation [in the algal oil] and you want low saturation levels for methyl esters.

—Jonathan Wolfson

Solazyme has also received funding from NIST to support a project to use algae to produce biopetroleum, which will match the composition of light sweet crude oil. (Earlier post.) 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.

As with Solazyme’s other algae-derived fuels, the biopetroleum would be produced by algae grown in fermentation tanks. The NIST funding is expected to accelerate the project by four years.

Algae are amazing. The molecules they make naturally would blow your mind. They make long chain hydrocarbons naturally—we’re taking that capability and enhancing that.

We’re not putting in a whole new pathway. If you do that, it can’t scale, you’re fighting the organism. We’re working with the evolutionary biology of the organisms, and taking tools of modern biotechnology to enhance them.

—Jonathan Wolfson



Rafael Seidl

So where does the glucose come from? This seems like a giant step backward on the road toward sustainable biofuels.

What they could do is have an array of cyanobacteria in plastic tubes outside making the glucose solution for the algae.

In future it would be much better to just engineer the cyanobacteria to produce and excrete long chain hydrocarbon directly for easy separation from growth medium.


I think the future of biofuels and even most agriculture is to become far more independent of Mother Nature. That will take decades but it should be doable. Specifically we could grow biofuels and nutrition inside very large industrial multi-floor buildings with bioreactors packed on each floor using an input of the necessary minerals, air, LED light and synthetically made organisms. The electricity for such bio-factories should of cause come from renewable energy such as solar, wind and hydropower.

The fact is that 99% of all the soon to be 7 billion humans on this planet want to consume like the most affluent 1% and this desire is very much driving global economic growth. I have no doubt that the 99% will achieve their wish in a not so distant future (50 years or so). However, this growth could turn into a nightmare scenario unless we are clever and stay focused on finding ways to produce everything we need in a manner that will not destroy the planet. Old fashioned farming is not the future. It may be more romantic than giant bioreactor facilities but it will kill the planet. We need to get rid of it or we need to reduce the number of people on this planet. I prefer to sacrifice old farming.



Vertical farming of food and fuel, in other words. I don't know if you've seen the vertical farm project's site (, but it's same concept you're talking about.


I liked the algae to fuel idea better when it was about recycling atmospheric carbon; ie not only do you get fuel out of it, you also cut carbon emissions. I thought the idea was to have vast algae farms in deserts, using briny or otherwise non-potable water resources. seems like now they will have to have one GMO organism to process the glucose, and another one or more to process biomass into the feedstock glucose. did they really think this through?


Ryan thank you for the link. You are right the concept is similar. However, they still talk about using known plants. Replacing plants with synthetic organisms that grow in bioreactors will be more economical because bioreactors can produce the needed oils, proteins and sugars 100 of times faster for any given cubic feet of space. We are already using bioreactors to produce all kinds of enzymes, bio colors and medical products and I think it is a matter of time (10 years or so) before it will be economics to use such reactors for large scale production of food and biofuels. Cheap LEDs will help and they are halved in price every 18 months. Cheap electricity will be another important step towards that goal. Fortunately wind power will get much cheaper in 10-15 years from now especially if they forget about offshore wind and focus on massive onshore farms instead (500 - 1000 MW farms) very much like they do in Texas right now.

Healthy Breeze


We're not really talking about an orbital space station or a colony ship, are we? We've got lots room...lots of sunny deserts near the ocean or salinated water sources (e.g., the Salton Sea). We've got lots of carbon-rich flue gasses, livestock runoff, and other industrial biproducts. And, we need to produce millions of barrels per day to make a dent in our fossil fuel consumption.

What I think Chevron likes is the idea that they can use their existing infrastructure to make more of their existing products. As a transitional strategy, that may have some merits. If they do it by removing billions of tons of CO2 that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere, it's probably at least carbon neutral.

I remain skeptical that it can be cost effective if they require expensive reactors and agricultural product inputs. But, who knows?

In the long run, I still think it's easier to transport electricity from a dessert solar power plant than mess with algae and refining. Maybe the best carbon capture we could ever do is to use algae oil to replenish the national petroleum reserve.


It begs the question : Where's all the sugar going to come from??? Also, what happens if this GM-strain should happen to get into the wild?


These guys are throwing money away. We need to be finding new areas to drill. Thanks to Cuba, the Chinese are drilling off the Cuban coast now.....but nooooooo, don't let American companies drill in new areas in the Gulf, Pacific and Atlantic, or in ANWR!


ejj, whew. i think you're in the wrong forum. more drilling couldn't be more of a dead end. we're looking for real long-term solutions.


These Solazyme bioreactors will not use light so they will not cost a lot to build and they will not use much electricity either for heating. Because they convert sugar to oil and not sugar to ethanol I guess they also save a lot of the energy that is normally used to purify the ethanol by distillation. Oil and water separates naturally without any energy intensive processes. As I see it the progress is that this process is a less energy consuming way of making a biofuels from sugar.

Brazil and other sugar producers will gain from this process. The next natural step is to do the sugar as well in photosynthetic bioreactors. As I say this is still not economic because such reactors will cost a lot mainly because of expensive LEDs and moreover I think the necessary electricity is still too expensive to compete with sugar derived from conventional agriculture. However, time and environmental demands will drive the price of sugar from conventional farming up. Electricity on the other hand will cost less in the future mainly because wind power is becoming less expensive (the past 20 years the price dropped 80% measured by cent/ kWh and is now on par with nuclear or coal). At some point in time the economics will be most favorable to “synthetic farming” rather than conventional farming. Give it 10 or 15 years and the first commercial scale photosynthetic facilities will go online. So no there are no orbiting space ships it is far more down to earth than that ;-). But I admit the whole idea of dropping conventional farming is rather radical. It will eventually change our landscape profoundly. Nature forest etc will be back to the areas that right now are covered with some sort of mono species farming. That is progrees in my eyes.


EJJ, Wow I couldn't agree more! Lets spend our money on oil. Lets not create jobs, tax revenue, new clean technologies, or even export items. Lets just export $300 Billion a year to raise the ocean, flood our cities and muck up the air. That's progress!

I think EJJ typifies the problem. He has given up! He says that marrying the problem and it's disasterous consequences is cheaper and easier than solving the problem. I thank such people for enlightening that there is a better solution.

No offense EJJ, but we have as a species: landed on the moon, split the atom, invented and built the internet, sequenced the human genome, cloned mammals, built super-computers, looked across the universe 14 billion years built the Hubble and International Space Station, and many many more.

We can solve our energy and environmental problems. We just need vision and intelligence unlike our present George W. Bush ignorance and opportunism. It just takes will and honesty :-)



Henrik, I can't agree more.
Consider that at the moment, the amount of energy we consume for electricity, transportation and heating is manyfolds what we need for eating.
(we eat about 3000 kcalories/day = 300ml of gasoline)
So once we are capable of producing all our energy needs out of wind/solar/nuclear, it's only a few percentages extra to produce our 'food energy' out of it also. The only trick is to convert the energy to food. Even with an efficiency of 20%, it will be very economical. I bet the GM-micro organisms of the future will even taste better and certainly be healthier than roast beaf.
Though, I think converting electricity to light and then light to biomass is not the most efficient way.
I would bet on converting [heat or electricity] to H2 and then convert CO2 and H2 to biomass and O2. (H2 in solute, not gaseous, so it can't explode)
One large (nuclear) facility of 5GWe with a total conversion efficiency of 50% could produce 600000 kCalories/s, or the food needed in a day by 200 people every second. It could produce the food for 17 million people continuously, without an acre of farmland. Because the conversion of gasses to food is a bulk process, it can be made very scalable. I see they introduced a human glucose transporter molecule into their algae. Why not intoduce muscle proteins also, so we can grow steaks.


I'm not too thrilled about the use of glucose as the carbon feedstock. Also, doesn't the process of fermentation also produce carbon dioxide?

Jesse 67

Alain and Henrik, you guys are obviously eat to live kind of people as apposed to live to eat kind of people, right? Grow your own steaks!!! shiver...
I don't think its much of a long shot to say that most people would rather eat a nice crisp, juicy organically grown apple than some bioengineered nutritional paste manufactured in giant vats. If food production is transfered from farmers to large metanational industrial coorporations, that seems like what we're trying to get away from in the energy field!

A better plan might be to grow some of your own food on a green roof or in your backyard. Sort of like producing your own power right?


"A better plan might be to grow some of your own food on a green roof or in your backyard. Sort of like producing your own power right?"

for most city-dwellers this is not really possible. most have little or no garden to speak of, and as the world is becoming more and more urbanised (i believe the majority of the world's population now live in cities? happened quite recently) this will never be a large scale solution. however for those that do have backyards of course something is better than nothing.


Now if they grow this in saltwater, we have a chance.Otherwise we trade an oil shortage for a water shortage.

Healthy Breeze


A New York Times Journalist did an experiment to see if he could live on his own food products for a month. He invested more than $2,000.00. He maxed the fertility of his Brooklyn back yard. He had chickens, ducks and small pigs. He lost more than 20 pounds, and said butchering the animals in his basement really grossed him out. It was a bad month. If you think about how little produce is produced per acre, and how much one person needs for a year, it's not a suprise.

Jesse 67

You're right, the average apartment dweller would be doing pretty good to grow some herbs in a pot on the balcony. Now if buildings other than those used for living in opened up their roofs to gardening in trays or conversion to actual green roofs, that would be something. Think employee owned rooftop garden on top of a large industrial building, the produce goes to the employees or can be sold for profit or given to charity, the business gets reduced cooling load in the summer due to water evaporation and a "green image". The employees get to go outside and do something different on coffe breaks. I would love to get away from my computer for once, most of the time I end up reading things like this!

As for the actual topic of the post, biodiesel, I'd like to see the ratio of energy in to energy out, I imagine it would really depend on where the sugar comes from, anyone find any answers to what they are proposing as glucose feedstock?

Jesse 67

Ha! good points there Healthy Breeze, Its not realistic to provide all your food needs from your backyard, but for example I easily grew all the potatoes I needed for a year in a patch about 10m square. Corn and beans are pretty easy too. Grain is hard to do yourself though and as for livestock, well you can get eggs from some chickens but butchering in your basement is a bit... creepy for the neighbours!

Jesse 67

Ha! good points there Healthy Breeze, Its not realistic to provide all your food needs from your backyard, but for example I easily grew all the potatoes I needed for a year in a patch about 10m square. Corn and beans are pretty easy too. Grain is hard to do yourself though and as for livestock, well you can get eggs from some chickens but butchering in your basement is a bit... creepy for the neighbours!


Many farmers in developing countries produce very intensively and productively on small plots of land without resorting to vats of green muck, at least until industrial agriculture comes along to 'enlighten' them. Also, here in Australia there's a guy that's come up with a great aquaponics system You get all the fish and vegies you want in a fairly small space and don't have to deal with so much messy butchery as mentioned above.
The American lawn is a massive waste of resources. If only people produced even 25% of their own food with all that fertiliser and water, there would be massive benefits all round in terms of health and reduced carbon emissions.



I'm too busy working for a living. I don't have time to be a subsistence farmer, too. This is the whole reason we have civilization in the first place. We produce enough surplus food so that people like you and me can sit on GCC and gab instead of struggling with keeping the weeds out of the beans.

Jesse 67

And yet somehow even in north america with our "civilization" many thousands go hungry every day (don't even mention the rest of the world) just so the rest of us can sit on our buts eating a bag of processed crap that traveled thousands of miles to our grocery store so that when we run out we can drive our SUVs 4 blocks to get some more. (or 20 miles, different issues, both bad)

Maybe if we all didn't consume so much we wouldn't have to work so hard to buy all this crap! Goverments can legislate all they want and companies can brag for days about their new "green" processes that will save the world but if we don't change our habits on an individual, consumer level we're never going to get anywhere.

Less talk more action!

Nataly Short

Very interesting to see an algae to grow like a mushroom. I do hope this new fuel will come soon enough to help against the growing gas price.

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