Scientists have 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.
The presentation was part of the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on April 7.
Walter Rakitsky, Ph.D, 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. Solazyme’s breakthrough biotechnology platform unlocks the power of microalgae, achieving over 80 percent 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. 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. Rakitsky is with Solazyme, Inc., of South San Francisco, Calif., one of the largest and most successful of those companies, which in 2011 supplied 100 percent microalgal-derived advanced biofuel for the first U.S. passenger jetliner flight powered by advanced biofuel.
In a keynote talk at the ACS meeting, 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.
“For the first time in history, we have unlocked the ability to completely design and tailor oils,” he said. “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.”
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.
Sugar from traditional sources such as sugarcane and corn has advantages for growing microalgae, especially their abundance and relatively low cost, Rakitsky said. The company’s first fit-for-purpose commercial-scale production plant is under construction with their partner Bunge 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. In addition, the company has a production agreement with ADM in Clinton, Iowa, for 22,000 tons of oil, expandable to 110,000 tons. Ultimately, cellulosic sources of sugars from non-food plants or plant waste materials, like grasses or corn stover, may take over as those technologies reach the right scale and cost structures. … Read more
This is from Feb 22, 2008:
It’s not the first to turn to algae and biomass as a source of fuel, but upstart Solazyme seems to think it’s got a leg up on other biofuel makers and its apparently lining up the deals and big bucks to prove it. As Technology Review reports, that includes Chevron, which is now in a “testing agreement” with the start-up, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which dished out a $2 million grant to the company. The trick that’s attracted all that interest, it seems, is the company’s particular way of using algae to convert biomass into fuel, which takes the apparently unorthodox approach of growing them in the dark, which causes them to produce more oil than they do in the light. What’s more, Solazyme’s method also apparently allows them to use different strains of algae to produce different types of oil, including a mix of hydrocarbons that’s similar to light crude petroleum. Needless to say, all of this is still quite a ways away from finding its way into your car’s tank, but the company has demonstrated its algae-based fuel in a diesel car, so it’s at least moved beyond the lab. …link
Wikipedia says it has been calculated that using only 1/2 the land area of Maine for production, algae fuel could replace all the petroleum fuel in the United States.
Algae fuel, algal biofuel, or algal oil is an alternative to liquid fossil fuels that uses algae as its source of energy-rich oils. Also, algae fuels are an alternative to commonly known biofuel sources, such as corn and sugarcane. Several companies and government agencies are funding efforts to reduce capital and operating costs and make algae fuel production commercially viable. Like fossil fuel, algae fuel releases CO2 when burnt, but unlike fossil fuel, algae fuel and other biofuels only release CO2 recently removed from the atmosphere via photosynthesis as the algae or plant grew. The energy crisis and the world food crisis have ignited interest in algaculture (farming algae) for making biodiesel and other biofuels using land unsuitable for agriculture. Among algal fuels’ attractive characteristics are that they can be grown with minimal impact on fresh water resources, can be produced using saline and wastewater, have a high flash point, and are biodegradable and relatively harmless to the environment if spilled. Algae cost more per unit mass than other second-generation biofuel crops due to high capital and operating costs, but are claimed to yield between 10 and 100 times more fuel per unit area. The United States Department of Energy estimates that if algae fuel replaced all the petroleum fuel in the United States, it would require 15,000 square miles (39,000 km2), which is only 0.42% of the U.S. map, or about half of the land area of Maine. This is less than 1⁄7 the area of corn harvested in the United States in 2000.
In 2009 an algae fueled Prius was supposed to be able to drive from coast to coast using only 25 gallons of fuel and no modifications to the gasoline engine.
Just yesterday San Francisco saw the unveiling of the world’s first algae fuel-powered vehicle, dubbed the Algaeus. The plug-in hybrid car, which is a Prius tricked out with a nickel metal hydride battery and a plug, runs on green crude from Sapphire Energy — no modifications to the gasoline engine necessary. The set-up is so effective, according to FUEL producer Rebecca Harrell, that the Algaeus can run on approximately 25 gallons from coast to coast!
What became of the Algaeus?
This vehicle is the first to cross America on a new, renewable fuel made from algae. Enorsed by the US Department of Energy as a critical component of the road to American Energy Independence, this new technology is now on the road. Working closely with engineers at Toyota, and with Sapphire Energy, the ALGAEUS is the first cross-country test of a gasoline vehicle powered by algae fuel.
At one point in 2012 the US Navy was going to be using algae fuel by 2016.