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Biofuels algae

Published on August 20th, 2008 | by Ariel Schwartz

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Solazyme Hopes to Mass-Produce Algae Biodiesel in Three Years



algae

I’ve often thought that algae could be one of the keys to our energy future, and now I’m more convinced than ever. In a conference call earlier today, Solazyme CEO Jonathan Wolfson said that his company is capable of producing millions of gallons of biodiesel derived from algae within 3 years.

Solazyme is the first company to produce algae diesel that meets US standards, but until today their production timeline was unknown.

“The technology is moving a lot quicker than some people would expect,” Wolfson said.

Most companies working with algal fuel grow algae in open ponds, harvest the plant, and squeeze the oil out, but Solazyme takes a different approach. The company grows algae in the dark in large tanks by feeding it with biomass. The algae then eat the biomass and turn it into natural oils.

According to Wolfson, the logic behind this approach is that it works with the existing biofuel infrastructure. “We produce oils on the fuel side that can go straight into the refining structure,” he said.

With so many fuel technologies having excruciatingly long timelines, it’s encouraging to see a company working on the fast track.

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About the Author

was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a senior editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine, and more. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.



  • M S

    Ade sumantri…..this is my email add : anugrah_joshindo@yahoo.co.id….and yours???. about algae we can discuss….I am engineer also.

    The main issue about algae is how to cultivate.

    just send letter to my email add…thanks

  • M S

    Ade sumantri…..this is my email add : anugrah_joshindo@yahoo.co.id….and yours???. about algae we can discuss….I am engineer also.

    The main issue about algae is how to cultivate.

    just send letter to my email add…thanks

  • http://www.runescape.co.uk zena

    this is great + helpful what is the green stuff?

  • http://www.runescape.co.uk zena

    this is great + helpful what is the green stuff?

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  • http://www.boredquiz.com/ BoredQuiz

    This sounds like the same story we’ve heard time and time again.

  • http://www.boredquiz.com/ BoredQuiz

    This sounds like the same story we’ve heard time and time again.

  • http://www.water4gas-scam.bestdealsreviews.com Chuck

    So what are you saying? you need more energy to extract the biodiesel than it can actually produce?

  • http://www.water4gas-scam.bestdealsreviews.com Chuck

    So what are you saying? you need more energy to extract the biodiesel than it can actually produce?

  • Raj

    List folks, Solazyme will be out of business in three years, five years max. These folks are running a scam, I have met several of them in various places and it just does not feel right.

    They sure put on a good front but mark my words every investor will loose their ass and never see a return on their money. I have seen these types way too many times and know a scam when I see one.

  • Raj

    List folks, Solazyme will be out of business in three years, five years max. These folks are running a scam, I have met several of them in various places and it just does not feel right.

    They sure put on a good front but mark my words every investor will loose their ass and never see a return on their money. I have seen these types way too many times and know a scam when I see one.

  • stevenjay

    Hawkins -

    It’s not clear to me which algae-based process will be the most efficient. Photosynthesis-based algae production, such as Valcent, hits an upper limit based on available sunlight. When you add in the cost of building the facility and extracting the oil from the water, it may not be a winner.

  • stevenjay

    Hawkins -

    It’s not clear to me which algae-based process will be the most efficient. Photosynthesis-based algae production, such as Valcent, hits an upper limit based on available sunlight. When you add in the cost of building the facility and extracting the oil from the water, it may not be a winner.

  • http://www.valcentproducts.com Hawkins

    Why bother with this company when it is already being done? Check out Valcent Products. They are creating Algea Farms that are vertical and can be built in the desert in order to manufacture Biodiesel from Algae. they have the process down to a T, they are just trying to create the perfect algea species that will yield the most algea oil.

    Old News . . .

  • http://www.valcentproducts.com Hawkins

    Why bother with this company when it is already being done? Check out Valcent Products. They are creating Algea Farms that are vertical and can be built in the desert in order to manufacture Biodiesel from Algae. they have the process down to a T, they are just trying to create the perfect algea species that will yield the most algea oil.

    Old News . . .

  • Wearymicrobe

    Now wait a second, what about extraction, it will still require enormous amounts of Hexane to get all the oil out. Press extraction is not efficient, and unless they have somehow modified the bacteria, because its sure not algae with growth rates like that, for extraction this is all waporware.

  • Wearymicrobe

    Now wait a second, what about extraction, it will still require enormous amounts of Hexane to get all the oil out. Press extraction is not efficient, and unless they have somehow modified the bacteria, because its sure not algae with growth rates like that, for extraction this is all waporware.

  • James

    @Mark: What would we use to torch the sky, oil?

  • James

    @Mark: What would we use to torch the sky, oil?

  • Mark

    You get that slimey stuff in aquariums when the water is too clean. :P

    You can just turn off the aquarium lamp and throw a blanket over it and within a week its all gone.

    So if we had some potentially dangerous spread we can always torch the sky. :)

  • Mark

    You get that slimey stuff in aquariums when the water is too clean. :P

    You can just turn off the aquarium lamp and throw a blanket over it and within a week its all gone.

    So if we had some potentially dangerous spread we can always torch the sky. :)

  • Mark

    It says Algae but it’s not really Algae. I believe it is a Cyanobacteria.. AKA Blue-Green Algae.

    The stuff isn’t REALLY algae. It’s bacteria. This is why it grows so fast.

  • Mark

    It says Algae but it’s not really Algae. I believe it is a Cyanobacteria.. AKA Blue-Green Algae.

    The stuff isn’t REALLY algae. It’s bacteria. This is why it grows so fast.

  • stevenjay

    Jason:

    So if Solazyme does succeed in breeding an algae which is 40 percent diesel by weight, what happens if it is leaked into the wild and becomes 10 percent of the algae in a body of water? Is it possible that the 4 percent diesel content in low-level plant matter will be toxic to microscopic animal life, having a ripple effect on the food chain above it?

    I agree that algae _blooms_ occur in shallow, stagnant or nutrient-heavy water. But algae is present everywhere in natural water, and is a vital part of the ecosystem. I’m not a biologist, but there should be people analyzing the possible risks who are at least as bright and knowledgeable as those at Solazyme.

  • stevenjay

    Jason:

    So if Solazyme does succeed in breeding an algae which is 40 percent diesel by weight, what happens if it is leaked into the wild and becomes 10 percent of the algae in a body of water? Is it possible that the 4 percent diesel content in low-level plant matter will be toxic to microscopic animal life, having a ripple effect on the food chain above it?

    I agree that algae _blooms_ occur in shallow, stagnant or nutrient-heavy water. But algae is present everywhere in natural water, and is a vital part of the ecosystem. I’m not a biologist, but there should be people analyzing the possible risks who are at least as bright and knowledgeable as those at Solazyme.

  • http://dailytech.com Jason

    –stevenjay

    It’s basically just regular algae, albeit genetically modified to be a bit oilier. Current varieties are only about 1 percent diesel by weight. This could be upped to as much as 40 percent, but it still shouldn’t be a problem.

    Typically algae growth requires shallow-er stagnant water. So in oceans, lakes and streams where there’s deep or running water you shouldn’t see any growth anyways.

    -Jason @ DailyTech.com

  • http://dailytech.com Jason

    –stevenjay

    It’s basically just regular algae, albeit genetically modified to be a bit oilier. Current varieties are only about 1 percent diesel by weight. This could be upped to as much as 40 percent, but it still shouldn’t be a problem.

    Typically algae growth requires shallow-er stagnant water. So in oceans, lakes and streams where there’s deep or running water you shouldn’t see any growth anyways.

    -Jason @ DailyTech.com

  • stevenjay

    With numerous modifications to the algae used for production of various oils, is anyone concerned about the “green goo” problem? Could there be any problems if they are accidentally (or intentionally) released into the wild?

  • stevenjay

    With numerous modifications to the algae used for production of various oils, is anyone concerned about the “green goo” problem? Could there be any problems if they are accidentally (or intentionally) released into the wild?

  • http://dailytech.com Jason

    Some more background for Mr. Sumantri and other readers:

    Solazyme actually is joining several other startups –Bionavitas, GreenFuels, and PetroAlgae as startups seeking to market this tech.

    The algae used are typically proprietary, but are micro-algae. Of the 1500 or so applicable species according to ASU Professor Milton Sommerfield, who has identified and bred many of the strains, about 100 to 200 can produce significant amounts of oil. These are typically bred and modified more to produce even more oil You should be able to order unmodified samples of these species of algae.

    Contact Professor Sommerfield for more info:

    milton.sommerfeld@asu.edu

    (480) 965-6376

    Some other cool stuff to note is that this type of biofuels, while virtually identical to diesel in chemical composition, has none of the sulfates or nitrates found in diesel that make it smell and create air pollution and acid rain.

    Also as the carbon is taking from the air to make the fuel, there’s no net impact on global warming.

    This (along with EGS and solar) certainly seems to be one of the most promising energy developments. Even Chevron and Shell have large investments in algae-fuel production.

    Nice article, Ariel!

    -Jason @ DailyTech.com

    Additional reading:

    http://www.dailytech.com/Algae+May+Solve+Ethanol+vs+Gas+Dilemma/article11671.htm

  • http://dailytech.com Jason

    Some more background for Mr. Sumantri and other readers:

    Solazyme actually is joining several other startups –Bionavitas, GreenFuels, and PetroAlgae as startups seeking to market this tech.

    The algae used are typically proprietary, but are micro-algae. Of the 1500 or so applicable species according to ASU Professor Milton Sommerfield, who has identified and bred many of the strains, about 100 to 200 can produce significant amounts of oil. These are typically bred and modified more to produce even more oil You should be able to order unmodified samples of these species of algae.

    Contact Professor Sommerfield for more info:

    milton.sommerfeld@asu.edu

    (480) 965-6376

    Some other cool stuff to note is that this type of biofuels, while virtually identical to diesel in chemical composition, has none of the sulfates or nitrates found in diesel that make it smell and create air pollution and acid rain.

    Also as the carbon is taking from the air to make the fuel, there’s no net impact on global warming.

    This (along with EGS and solar) certainly seems to be one of the most promising energy developments. Even Chevron and Shell have large investments in algae-fuel production.

    Nice article, Ariel!

    -Jason @ DailyTech.com

    Additional reading:

    http://www.dailytech.com/Algae+May+Solve+Ethanol+vs+Gas+Dilemma/article11671.htm

  • Da Who

    The tip of greatness has arrived, this has so much mass potential-how do I get in on investments? The marketing capabilities are unlimited. Questionn is are you going to be selfish and greedy or worldly compassionate with responsible business frugalitiy?

  • Da Who

    The tip of greatness has arrived, this has so much mass potential-how do I get in on investments? The marketing capabilities are unlimited. Questionn is are you going to be selfish and greedy or worldly compassionate with responsible business frugalitiy?

  • Ade Sumantri

    Dear Madam,

    First,I would like to appreciate that you and your colleague for continuing save the Earth, also what you have done for our the Earth. I will follow you to develop the potential source energy, unfortunately I’m an engineer, that’s why I have unknown what type of Algae can produce become bio-diesel.

    Would you like to send a detail of Algae type?

    Can I found in tropic area like in Indonesia?

    Thank you for attention and you have done for me before.

    Best regard,

    Ade Sumantri

    Indonesia

  • Ade Sumantri

    Dear Madam,

    First,I would like to appreciate that you and your colleague for continuing save the Earth, also what you have done for our the Earth. I will follow you to develop the potential source energy, unfortunately I’m an engineer, that’s why I have unknown what type of Algae can produce become bio-diesel.

    Would you like to send a detail of Algae type?

    Can I found in tropic area like in Indonesia?

    Thank you for attention and you have done for me before.

    Best regard,

    Ade Sumantri

    Indonesia

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