First Heavy-Duty Diesel Powered By Algae Biodiesel, Solazyme's "Soladiesel"

  • Published on April 17th, 2008 by
 

Solazyme LogoIt looks like Solazyme will be making algal biodiesel for the US military, after a test-drive demonstrated the fuel’s superior cold-weather properties when compared to commercially-available biodiesel.

Former Director of Central Intelligence and Under-Secretary of the Navy R. James Woolsey tested the fuel himself by driving to the Worldwide Energy Conference & Trade Show in an unmodified 2008 Ford F450 fueled by 100% algal biodiesel.





Solazyme is a synthetic biology company using novel methods to produce algae biodiesel. I reported on the company back in January, when they made head turns with their algal-powered Mercedes at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. While the Mercedes was only powered by B20 (20% biodiesel), Solazyme was already highlighting the cold-weather benefits of their fuel. It looks like Wolfson was also impressed:

“The DoD’s requested testing of the Soladiesel fuel showed superior performance especially in terms of its cold temperature properties,” said Wolfson. “Greater performance in cold temperatures means our biodiesel and other algae-based fuels could help the military in remote northern locations like Alaska and North Dakota, as well as in hot climates, while reducing dependence on petroleum. We look forward to continuing to work with the DoD on Soladiesel and other algal based fuels, and are pleased to be presenting at the DESC conference.”

Solazyme has already been working with Chevron, after their “biodiesel feedstock development and testing agreement” was established in January. What isn’t apparent is when Solazyme’s algal biodiesel will be commercially available, and how it compares to other production methods (like the algae biodiesel facility that went online April 1st in Texas) in terms of energy balance, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.

Solazyme’s novel method grows algae in the absence of light. Since algae need light to make sugar to then make oil—which is how the organisms store energy—Solazyme just feeds them sugar, skipping the entire photosynthetic process.

While this achieves a 1000-fold increase in productivity, it has two obvious problems: no carbon is sequestered in the growing process, and it requires a source of sugar. That source is currently sugarcane, but Solazyme says cellulosic feedstocks could also be used at some future date.

I’m in contact with Solazyme now, and if more information becomes available I’ll be adding it in another post. See Solazyme’s press release here.

For more on Solazyme’s algae biodiesel production, see:






About the Author

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.

  • Hey — linked to your post at my blog: http://greenpostcards.typepad.com/green_postcards/2008/04/eco-travel-head.html

    It will be interesting to see where algal biodiesel goes. The sugar is a problem, though. Would bagasse (sugar cane byproduct) work? (Maybe that’s the cellulosic material they are talking about?)

  • Hey — linked to your post at my blog: http://greenpostcards.typepad.com/green_postcards/2008/04/eco-travel-head.html

    It will be interesting to see where algal biodiesel goes. The sugar is a problem, though. Would bagasse (sugar cane byproduct) work? (Maybe that’s the cellulosic material they are talking about?)

  • Sarah,

    Thanks for the link. I’m not sure how I feel about this whole idea because it doesn’t sequester carbon. That being said, it still offers another way to make fuel, and I understand why the department of defense is interested in it.

  • Sarah,

    Thanks for the link. I’m not sure how I feel about this whole idea because it doesn’t sequester carbon. That being said, it still offers another way to make fuel, and I understand why the department of defense is interested in it.

  • Sarah,

    Thanks for the link. I’m not sure how I feel about this whole idea because it doesn’t sequester carbon. That being said, it still offers another way to make fuel, and I understand why the department of defense is interested in it.

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  • Uncle B

    Put a very small amount of bio-diesel in a VW turbo bio-diesel electric hybrid that gets 100mpg and shove it right up OPEC’s soft spot! Then get GM to mass produce an improved copy and we are away!

  • Uncle B

    Put a very small amount of bio-diesel in a VW turbo bio-diesel electric hybrid that gets 100mpg and shove it right up OPEC’s soft spot! Then get GM to mass produce an improved copy and we are away!

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  • Bruce Campbell

    The carbon has already been sequestered in the sugar (with varying degrees of efficincy depending on whether the sugar comes from corn (worst), sugar cane, (better) switchgrass or other cellulosic crop(better still), or agricultural/ sylvicultural waste (such as bagasse or wood chips) where cellulosic sugar is an added value by-product beyond the primary agricultural/forestry products(best).

    The big life-cycle question is how much water and soil fertility is required to sustain yields of the cellulosic feedstocks? If one needs to use industrial fertilizers to maintain soil fertility that needs to be factored in (i.e., what is the fossil carbon footprint in Soladiesel? and how does it compare to the footprint of the Petrosun (or other big-solar-pond process)?

  • Bruce Campbell

    The carbon has already been sequestered in the sugar (with varying degrees of efficincy depending on whether the sugar comes from corn (worst), sugar cane, (better) switchgrass or other cellulosic crop(better still), or agricultural/ sylvicultural waste (such as bagasse or wood chips) where cellulosic sugar is an added value by-product beyond the primary agricultural/forestry products(best).

    The big life-cycle question is how much water and soil fertility is required to sustain yields of the cellulosic feedstocks? If one needs to use industrial fertilizers to maintain soil fertility that needs to be factored in (i.e., what is the fossil carbon footprint in Soladiesel? and how does it compare to the footprint of the Petrosun (or other big-solar-pond process)?

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