Why You Should Care About Solazyme: It's Algae

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Solazyme is not the only bio-engineering company trying to put a dent in the world’s energy troubles with biofuel. However, it may be the closest to actually becoming a game-changer when it comes to what we fuel our vehicles with.

Solazyme recently announced that its algal-based biodiesel passed the American Society for Testing and Materials D-975 specification. This doesn’t mean much to those of us who don’t pick up the ASTM manual for light summer reading, but it actually marks a significant breakthrough for biofuels.

“This means we are the first company in the world to make renewable diesel from a microbial process,” Solazyme president and co-founder Harrison Dillon (pictured left beside, co-founder Jonathan Wolfson) told KickingTires. “Meeting the D-975 specification also means that we don’t have to go through any regulatory process to get the fuel approved to be sold as biodiesel.”

In other words, Solazyme’s fuel is ready to go straight into your tank if you own a diesel car, truck or SUV. Unlike ethanol or biodiesel, it is not subject to any blending law, which leads to fuels like E85 and B20.

“You can put it in your diesel vehicle at 100% without watering it down,” Dillon said.

The question now is how Solazyme will get its product into fuel tanks. With diesel prices hovering around $4.76 a gallon, truck drivers are getting creamed and clean-diesel passenger vehicles are not catching the public’s attention. Relief from renewable biodiesel, however, is still two to three years away. Solazyme has partnered with Chevron to incorporate its fuel into existing infrastructure and hopes to sell it commercially as soon as possible.

“Transportation fuel has to be manufactured at a low-enough cost that it can compete with petroleum,” Dillon said. “Right now it’s a matter of either building or retrofitting the manufacturing plants, which will take time.”

That time is on Solazyme’s side, considering there’s a trillion-dollar market waiting for its product.

Most heartening about Solazyme’s carbon-neutral diesel is that, as Dillon puts it, “We’re not food versus fuel. We’re food and fuel.”

The technology is versatile and can use almost anything for feedstock, including wood chips. Through this process, Solazyme can create other oil-based products — everything from plastics to jet fuel to cooking oil.

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