Note: See the precursor to this post, BREAKING NEWS: First Cars Run on Algae Biodiesel; Breakthrough Production Possible.
Today I had a few minutes to speak with Harrison Dillon, President and CTO of Solazyme. But with all the publicity around the film Fields of Fuel (see earlier post), I didn’t have much of a chance to get into a detailed discussion. When I approached him, Harrison was surrounded by a group intent on elucidating the not-so-subtle points of using biodiesel (such as, does it require conversion to run in a diesel engine?).
In our brief conversation I was able to learn that Solazyme is going to combine cellulosic ethanol and algae biodiesel production technology, which they think provides a more positive energy balance than either one alone (Harrison said that algae are 1000 times more efficient when fed sugar vs. grown by sunlight). Solazyme will be buying sugar, including cellulosically-derived sugar produced by cellulosic ethanol companies, to feed to their algae. They’re basically short-circuiting the cellulosic ethanol process and diverting the sugar to what they say is a more efficient process: growing micro-algae.
I asked why they thought the energy balance of using that sugar for algae production vs. fermenting it into ethanol was more favorable. This doesn’t seem like the whole story, but Harrison said harvesting materials for cellulosic ethanol production requires diesel machinery, and using biodiesel in this equipment helps decrease the energy and carbon balance of the whole process. By producing biodiesel from the algae and then sending this biodiesel back to the cellulosic ethanol producers, they can close part of the loop and improve the whole process.
I intend on trying to get more details out of Solazyme, but in the mean time I’d be interested to hear your thoughts…
Chevron Backs Solazyme’s Algae Biodiesel Production Process (+Video)
The Latest on Cellulosic Ethanol: