Walter Rakitsky, Ph.D gave a keynote talk at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) yesterday, April 7th.  The presentation described technology that accelerates microalgae’s ability to produce many different types of renewable oils for fuels, chemicals, foods and personal-care products within days using standard industrial fermentation.  This is not your sunlit algae farm; Solazyme has gone straight to the fully industrialized method and is busily making market share in niche and specialty oil products with their bio oils.

Rakitsky explained that microalgae are the original oil producers on earth, and that all of the oil-producing machinery present in higher plants resides within these single-cell organisms.

In the keynote talk Rakitsky described Solazyme’s technology platform that enables the company to produce multiple oils from heart-healthy high-oleic oils for food to oils that are tailored to have specific performance and functionality benefits in industry, such as safer dielectric fluids and oils that are the highest-value cuts of the barrel for advanced fuels. The benefits of these oils far surpass those of other oils that are currently available today.

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.

Producing custom-tailored oils starts with optimizing the algae to produce the right kind of oil, and from there, the flexibility of the fermentation platform really comes into play.

Solazyme is able to produce all of these oils in one location simply by switching out the strain of microalgae they use, Rakitsky explained. Unlike other algal oil production processes, in which algae grow in open ponds, Solazyme grows microalgae in total darkness in the same kind of fermentation vats used to produce vinegar, medicines and scores of other products. Instead of sunlight, energy for the microalgae’s growth comes from low-cost, plant-based sugars. This gives the company a completely consistent, repeatable industrial process to produce tailored oil at scale.

A very proud and justifiably so, Rakitsky said, “For the first time in history, we have unlocked the ability to completely design and tailor oils. 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.”

Without using sunlight the Solazyme process isn’t as efficient, but has the ability to get to market at much closer to competitive prices.  Rakitsky explained sugar from traditional sources such as sugarcane and corn has advantages for growing microalgae, especially their abundance and relatively low cost.

The company’s first fit-for-purpose commercial-scale production plant is under construction with their partner Bunge, the huge international food and agribusiness firm, next to a sugarcane mill in Brazil.  Initial production capacity will be 110,000 tons of microalgal oil annually, expanding up to 330,700 tons.

Add to that the company has a production agreement with ADM, another huge agribusiness firm in Clinton, Iowa, for 22,000 tons of oil, expandable to 110,000 tons.

Solazyme’s biotechnology platform unlocks the power of microalgae, achieving over 80% oil within each individual cell at commercial scale while changing the triglyceride oil paradigm with their ability to tailor the oil profiles by carbon chain and saturation.

The ability to produce multiple oils in a matter of days out of one plant location using standard industrial fermentation is a game-changer. Solazyme’s patented microalgae strains have become the workhorses of a growing industry focused on producing commercial quantities of microalgal oil for energy and food applications.

Solazyme, Inc. is headquartered in South San Francisco, Calif.  So far its one of the largest and most successful of micro-organism based companies.  In 2011 Solazyme supplied 100% microalgal-derived advanced biofuel for the first U.S. passenger jetliner flight powered by advanced biofuel.

Its American Chemical Society national meeting week!  There should be some of the year’s best new stories come out in the next few days.


3 Comments so far

  1. Benjamin Cole on April 8, 2013 1:18 AM

    Well, I hope it works, but without a price mentioned, I get skeptical.

    Seems like they are targeting upscale boutique oils, not energy.

  2. Matt Musson on April 8, 2013 7:41 AM

    Using the new fast pyrolysis technology to extract sugars from biomass might have a significant effect on the cost structure. Cheap suger could mean cheaper bio oil.

  3. RESEM Pyrolysis Plant on April 9, 2013 12:14 AM

    Well, I hope it works, but without a price mentioned, I get skeptical.

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