The number 2 oil producer in the USA, Chevron, has signed an agreement with San Francisco based startup Solazyme to develop and test an industrial process for deriving biodiesel from algae. The Solazyme process is reported to solve one of the major obstacles to industrial production of biodiesel from algae. Algae usually rely on photosynthesis for energy to consume CO2 and produce oils. Biodiesel can be harvested from the algae, which can be composed of up to 50% oily matter. But getting sunlight to the algae in industrial-scale processes is difficult. So how does Solazyme solve the problem?
By growing a special strain of algae in the dark. Harrison Dillon, President and CEO of Solazyme, claims that algae are 1000 times more efficient at producing oils from sugar compared to growth by sunlight. Gas 2.0 questions whether using sugar to produce biodiesel makes sense. Why not just produce ethanol-based fuels directly from the sugars? The inconclusive conclusion: Solazyme will combine cellulosic-ethanol processing, which uses sugars that are not part of the human food supply, with their algal process. This avoids the use of fuels required for conversion and distillation of alcohol-based fuel. Inconclusive, because details on the efficiencies of the process are not disclosed. But in theory, Solazyme's claim may have merit. Distillation is an energy-intensive process.
Solazyme demonstrated their "Soladiesel" fuel at Sundance 2008, tooling around Park City, Utah in a Soladiesel-powered Mercedes Benz C320 Diesel, allegedly an off-the-floor model (Mercedes did not participate in the gimmick). The stunt coincided with the premier of Josh Tickell's film Fields of Fuel, a documentary about renewable fuel.