Solazyme produces algae-based jet fuel

By Erin Voegele
Web exclusive posted Sept. 12, 2008 at 9:40 a.m. CST

California-based renewable oil producer Solazyme Inc. announced Sept. 9 it has produced the world's first microbial-derived jet fuel, which was created from algae oil. The Southwest Research Institute analyzed the fuel and found it met the eleven most challenging specifications needed to meet the ASTM D1655 standard for aviation turbine fuel. Areas that were tested include the key measurements for density, thermal oxidative stability, flashpoint, freezing point, distillation and viscosity. The SwRI report said the fuel has passed the most important hurdles needed to successfully develop a commercial and military jet fuel that is consistent with existing engines and infrastructure.

According the Harrison Dillon, Solazyme's president and chief technology officer, the process for making jet fuel is significantly more complicated than biodiesel production. The process involves using a lot of technologies used at traditional oil refineries. In order to develop the fuel, Solazyme has leased access to facilities that have these kinds of technology available.

The jet fuel is derived from 100 percent algae oil. Solazyme's algae production differs from many of the algae technologies available today. Instead of using a photosynthesis process, the company uses specific species of algae that can convert carbohydrate materials, such as cellulose and industrial waste products, into oil without sunlight or additional carbon dioxide inputs. Dillon said Solazyme can produce a wide range of oils. Some algae strains produce oil similar to palm oil; others produce oil similar to petro-crude oil. Specific algae strains are selected for manufacturing specific products, whether it's jet fuel, biodiesel, edible oil or plastic products.

Solazyme plans to test the fuel in a jet engine, but has not set a date. Dillon said the company will continue moving forward through the process of certifying the jet fuel.