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Solazyme: Generating Renewable Oil

Posted on the 28 November 2011 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

Solazyme: Generating Renewable OilSan Francisco based Solazyme may have the answer to the future of fuel. Many of the companies working to generate oil from algae or other photosynthetic organisms have huge inputs of water or take up vast tracts of land. As mentioned in a post last month, the University of Texas is placing a large bet on algae, which they are “farming” in large tubes instead of open ponds to reduce land use and water consumption. Other companies have focused on ethanol derived from corn. Solazyme takes a “variety of different feedstocks” such as cellulosic materials, switch grass, wood chips, and sugar cane and feeds it to algae instead of sunlight, which according to co-founder Harrison Dillon is 1,000 times more productive than making oil from algae using sunlight. See the video below for an overview of the company’s efforts and products.

The company has already worked with United Airlines, which recently flew the first commercial flight in the United States using the their bio-fuel blend. Solazyme’s “unique technology transforms low-cost plant sugars into . . . high-value renewable oils.” This conversion of “low-cost plant sugars” into oil represents an important component of fuels from plant material. One of the biggest issues with biofuels today derives from the use of food-based plant material to produce oil, thereby creating a conflict between food and fuel. Using “virgin” plant material only heightens the problem. In addition, producing plants for the sole purpose of generating fuel drives up the price of food by reducing the amount of food grown.

According to their website, “Solazyme oils address many of the challenges associated with traditional oils, such as constrained supplies, volatile pricing, and potentially negative and irreversible environmental effects. The ‘drop-in’ nature of our tailored oils enables compatibility with existing production, refining, and distribution infrastructure in each of our target markets.” This second point is vital for the seamless integration of biofuels into the existing oil infrastructure. Many of the feedstocks are grown on land that would not produce viable agriculture.

Solayme’s oil serves as replacements for marine, motor vehicle, and jet fuels. Last year the company “delivered over 80,000 liters of algal-derived marine diesel and jet fuel to the U.S. Navy, constituting the world’s largest delivery of 100% microbial-derived, non-ethanol biofuel. Subsequently, we were awarded another contract with the U.S. Department of Defense for production of up to 550,000 additional liters of naval distillate.” The company began a mere seven years ago in a garage, much like another revolutionary technology company.

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