Investors Fuel Algae-Biofuel Maker Solazyme with $52M

John Davis

Algae-biofuel maker Solazyme has garnered $52 million in venture capitol from the likes of Morgan Stanley and Chevron.

This article from the New York Times says the San Francisco-based company is using the money to commercialize its green fuel:

Solazyme is one of the most successful companies working on algae, along with generously-funded Sapphire Energy. While most of its competitors struggle to scale, it already has a contract with the U.S. Navy to supply jet fuel made entirely of algae derivatives. The Navy agreed to fund the company in exchange for 20,000 gallons of fuel for its ships, valued at $8.5 million. It has already received 1,500 of these gallon.

What makes Solazyme special? It relies on a fermentation process that allows a certain type of bioengineered algae (which grows in the dark) to convert sugars directly into oils. Short and relatively easy, this procedure uses existing industrial equipment, saving money on what has proved to be an otherwise expensive, multi-phase operation. The company is able to produce a full replacement for petroleum-based fuel, not simply an additive.

Like many other biofuel companies, including those that use microbes to convert feedstocks, Solazyme is also applying its process to generate industrial chemicals, including food additives and cosmetics. This chemical business has proven to be a lot more lucrative than selling fuels for companies like LS9, Amyris Biotechnologies and Mascoma. But Solazyme seems to be closer to making its fuels profitable, perhaps in the next two to three years.

The article goes on to say that to be successful, Solazyme will have to be able to build a plant big enough to achieve reasonable scale. That size of facility could cost up to $100 million. An algae-based rival, Synthetic Genomics, has just opened its own test facility in Southern California with about $600 million from ExxonMobil. That explains Solazyme’s wooing of the Chevron money.

algae, Biodiesel