Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge: 2014 Greener Synthetic Pathways Award

Solazyme, Inc.


Tailored Oils Produced from Microalgal Fermentation

Innovation and Benefits: Vegetable oils derived from plants can replace petroleum as building blocks for many industrial chemicals. Solazyme has engineered microalgae to produce oils tailored to customers’ needs that can mimic or enhance properties of traditional vegetable oils. These micro-algae-derived oils are consistent regardless of season, geographic origin, and feedstock source.

Summary of Technology: For thousands of years, civilization has used approximately 12 natural triglyceride vegetable oils, including palm, soy, peanut, corn, olive, sunflower, and coconut, for food, energy, and as building blocks to make a wide variety of chemicals. However, those oils may not have the ideal composition for any particular use. Vegetable oils are isolated from their source, refined, fractionated, distilled, and often chemically modified. Achieving the desired compositions from plant oils is often energy intensive, expensive, can be wasteful, and, in some cases, requires use of hazardous chemicals.

While some companies have turned to traditional biotechnology organisms, such as E. coli and Saccromyces, to engineer to produce triglyceride oils, Solazyme recognized that the pathways that make oil in canola, soybean, palm, and coconut first evolved in microalgae. Solazyme took advantage of the inherent oil-producing ability of microalgae and developed a process to make oils via fermentation.

Solazyme’s technology combines the innate oil-producing machinery of algae with genetic engineering to express the unparalleled diversity of oil production genes. Consequently, Solazyme has the potential to produce a nearly unlimited variety of differentiated triglyceride oils while dramatically reducing the time required to produce these oils. Solazyme has screened tens of thousands of microalgae to identify the unique oils they produce with a broad array of chemical and physical properties. In several commercial applications, Solazyme demonstrated that their oils and lubricants reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions and waste compared to use of regular vegetable oils. Solazyme’s oils are currently being tested and sold commercially for use in a broad array of applications, including food, fuel, home and personal care, and industrial products.

Oils produced at Solazyme’s joint venture facility in Brazil are expected to have a lower carbon and water footprint than many current triglyceride oils and have a far lower environmental impact than the petroleum-based products they replace.

Podcast on the technology:

(MP3, 973KB, :49 seconds), Narrator: Dr. Richard Engler, US EPA

Read the text of this podcast.

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