Amyris, Solazyme partner with Volkswagen on renewable fuel tests

By Bryan Sims | March 22, 2012

In a collaborative partnership to promote the use of renewable diesel and advanced methyl ester solutions in its current and next-generation clean diesel passenger vehicles, Belmont, Calif.-based Volkswagen of America Inc. has partnered with instate biorefining firms Amyris Inc. and Solazyme Inc. to evaluate emissions reductions and demonstrate the performance of Volkswagen’s TDI Clean Diesel technology.

Under the respective agreements, Volkswagen will provide each company with two products—a new 2012 Passat TDI and a 2012 Jetta TDI—in order to closely examine the effects that the fuels produced by Amyris and Solazyme will have on Volkswagen clean diesel technology and the environment.

“Partnering with two leaders in advanced biofuel technology supports Volkswagen’s goal of offering a competitive suite of technologies that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve fuel efficiency and fit the diverse needs of our customers,” said Jurgen Leohold, head of Volkswagen Group Research. “In order to achieve our long-term desire of bringing CO2-neutral mobility to the market, advanced gasoline and diesel engines like TDI Clean Diesel technology must play a major role; and renewable energies to power these advanced powertrains are needed on a large scale.”

Emeryville, Calif.-based Amyris has developed a synthetic biology platform that converts plant sugars, primarily derived from sugarcane, into a class of hydrocarbon compounds called isoprenoids. Amyris is currently focused on commercializing a 15-carbon hydrocarbon called beta-farnesene—trademarked Biofene by the company—which, through various finishing steps like hydrogenation, can be further converted into fuels like renewable diesel, as well as into specialty chemicals used in pharmaceutical, lubricant and surfactant applications.

Last year, Amyris’s Brazilian subsidiary, Amyris Brasil S.A., began supplying 160 city buses in the Brazilian city of São Paulo with renewable diesel derived from sugarcane, known locally as Diesel de Cana, to run on a blend of 10 percent of Amyris’ renewable diesel with the balance made up of biodiesel and petroleum diesel supplied by Petrobras Distribuidora. The supply contract runs through the end of this year.

“Amyris’ renewable diesel’s proven superior cold weather performance, high cetane and comparable energy density to petroleum diesel have enabled us to obtain one of the highest blending registrations certified by the U.S. EPA,” stated Mario Portela, chief operating officer of Amyris. “Our partnership with Volkswagen, like our work in Brazil, where nearly 200 buses are running on various blends of Amyris diesel, is another important milestone in expanding OEM acceptance by showing our fuels eliminate the performance challenges of first generation biofuels while still enabling significant reductions in greenhouse gas and tailpipe emissions.”

Conversely, Solayzme employs a proprietary biotechnology platform to produce algal oils which, through various finishing steps, can be further refined into algal-derived fatty acid methyl esters (FAME), Soladiesel BD, and renewable diesel, Soladiesel RD. While the majority of the San Francisco-based company’s renewable diesel recently has been supplied to the military for marine and flight testing purposes on 50/50 blends with petroleum-based distillates, the collaboration with Volkswagen will enable the company to expand testing and validation parameters to resume on-road testing last conducted on the fuel in 2009.

“Volkswagen has continually been at the forefront of automotive innovation providing safe, quality and environmentally sound vehicles to consumers,” said Rogerio Manso, chief commercialization officer for Solayzme. “Solazyme’s 100 percent drop-in renewable diesel is compatible with existing infrastructure and vehicles, and provides the world-class engine manufacturer with an advanced diesel replacement that drives significant greenhouse gases, as well as ground-level emission reductions.”

The duration of the collaborative partnership is set to last one year and will equip Volkswagen engineers with valuable data that will aid in the ongoing enhancement of TDI Clean Diesel technology and help the brand develop more efficient, cleaner burning diesel powertrains for future products. Additionally, Volkswagen will measure environmental impacts from the use of renewable diesel formulas.