Several thousand gallons of bio diesel fuel that meets ASTM specification D-975 have been produced, road tested in diesel vehicles and declared ready for volume production, according to Harrison Dillon, President and Chief Technology Officer, Solazyme, Inc. South San Francisco, California.
Automotive Industries interviewed Mr. Dillon in his office recently and was treated to inspection of the firms laboratory where Solazyme’s patented method of fermenting a combination of sugar and unique strains of algae in closed tanks without addition of CO2 into a bio oil for diesel fuel has been developed.
Dillion points out that almost any fermentation facilities can be used for production of the firm’s oil suited for hydrotreating into high quality diesel fuel on a batch system basis in only 3 to 5 days. He said this compares with other methods of producing algae based oil with sunlight and CO2 which take 6-8 weeks. The facilities utilization factor is a key reason why the firm’s product termed “soladiesel” has good economics. The process is free from any production restrictions due to weather, time of day or availability of CO2 .
Dillon said the firm’s algae provided with sugar, grows 1000 times faster than by other methods. . .
A sample of “soladiesel”shown to Automotive Industries in a glass container was water clear and had no noticeable odor. Needless to say, derived from sugar and algae, the fuel represents a significant contribution to the environment compared with petroleum fuel..It can be blended with and distributed in the same manner as petroleum diesel. No engine modifications are needed. These properties are essential for commercialization of bio fuel, according to the Chevron Oil Company which is cooperating with Solazyme.
Although aimed initially at the diesel fuel market, Dillon said that modified versions of the oil can meet the requirements for Jet-A turbine aircraft fuel and can be catalytically cracked into gasoline. Versions of the oil can further be used in foods and cosmetics . He did not, however, indicate the economics of gasoline. Dillon’s estimate of diesel fuel cost at $2.00/gal was indicated to be an overall average not tied to any one source of sugar. He did say, however, that sugar represents about half of the product’s total cost.
Earlier this year Dillon told Automotive Industries that the firm was on track to achieve oil cost in the $40-$50/bbl range when it is fully optimized and in high production volumes.
Possibly the largest source of minimum cost sugar is Brazil sugarcane which is currently the object of new commercial interest for bio fuels other than ethanol. BP, for instance, has invested $60 million in a 50% stake in the Brazil firm Tropical BioEnergy and has indicated it may invest more. Two refineries at a reported cost of $1 billion will produce 115 million gallons/yr each of alcohol which industry sources expect will be butanol (for BP). . Butanol has much higher energy content per gallon than ethanol, can be shipped via pipeline and requires no engine operation changes. . BP and DuPont are jointly developing butanol fuel.
Another Brazil venture is reportedly under way by Amryis Biotechnologies which plans to produce diesel fuel from sugar. The Amryis program is headed by ex-BP US Fuels Operations Manager, John Melo. Also, a joint venture by Chevron and the large forest products company Weyerhaeuser are developing ways to produce large quantities of bio materials containing sugars for bio fuel production.
A dynamic aspect of the Solazyme “soladiesel” product pointed out by Dillon is the ability to produce it in almost any facility with suitable fermentation capabilities which include some current ethanol plants. This suggests that the race is on among the developers of new fermented bio fuels to utilize as much existing production capacity as possible. A number of ethanol plants have been closed and plans for new ones cancelled.. .
Unknown is the percentage of U.S. imported petroleum oil that may be replaced with bio fuels produced in North and South America that are not based on critical food commodities.
Bob Brooks, member: SAE