Published on April 10th, 2013 | by James Ayre


Breakthrough In Microalgae Oil Production, Accelerated Ability To Produce Variety Of Different Oils

April 10th, 2013 by  

A breakthrough in microalgae oil production has been made by researchers at Solazyme. The new technology accelerates the ability of microalgae to produce a variety of different types of renewable oils in the same location; for use in fuels, food, personal-care products, or in the chemical industry. The improvements are possible simply as a result of utilizing standard industrial fermentation (as opposed to open ponds) in combination with Solazyme’s new patented microalgae strains.

We’ve covered the continuing developments of Solazyme’s biotechnology a lot here on CleanTechnica, from its pioneering 2011 100% biofuel-powered US passenger jetliner flight, to the opening of its first commercial scale algae bio refinery in Peoria last year (and a lot in between). It seems to be continuing its growth at an impressive pace — it’ll be interesting to see what comes next.

"New technology enables microalgae to produce oil, like these droplets, faster and in greater quantity." Image Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

“New technology enables microalgae to produce oil, like these droplets, faster and in greater quantity.”
Image Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

“Solazyme’s breakthrough biotechnology platform unlocks the power of microalgae, achieving over 80% oil within each individual cell at commercial scale while changing the triglyceride oil paradigm by their ability to tailor the oil profiles by carbon chain and saturation,” a press release from the American Chemical Society notes. “The ability to produce multiple oils in a matter of days out of one plant location using standard industrial fermentation is a game-changer.”

“For the first time in history, we have unlocked the ability to completely design and tailor oils,” says Walter Rakitsky, Ph.D and employee of Solazyme. “This breakthrough allows us to create oils optimized for everything from high-performance jet and diesel fuel to renewable chemicals to skin-care products and heart-healthy food oils. These oils could replace or enhance the properties of oils derived from the world’s three dominant sources: petroleum, plants and animals.”

Solazyme is currently in the process of constructing its first fit-for-purpose commercial-scale production plant in Brazil, with its partner Bunge. The facility is located right next to a sugarcane mill. It will use sugar from the mill to grow the algae. The initial production capacity is expected to be an impressive 110,000 tons of microalgal oil annually. Capacity is expected to be raised over time to around 330,700 tons.

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

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  • Incremental progress relates to improvements in established processes. The term “breakthrough” relates to new processes such as this one, that have never been done before. But why quibble over it. Good news is good news; more power to them!

  • James Wimberley

    I wish you and other writers on this fine site would be more selective in using the word breakthrough, or copying it from press releases. A breakthrough is something like inventing the solar cell or EGS geothermal or bringing the first hybrid EV to market, and happens once a decade with luck. The progress you report here is clearly incremental. That’s fine; incremental progress, slightly better mousetraps, has made renewables competitive, and will continue to do most of the work in getting us where we want to go.

    • I think the universities (and we) are using the term correctly, as Walter notes below. I think the issue is that the common populous equates breakthroughs with something bigger than they are. Below me, we’d use a stronger word for something like the invention of the solar cell.

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