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By Robert Rapier on Oct 23, 2011 with 74 responses

Visit and Conversation With Executives at Solazyme

Jonathan S. Wolfson (L), Chief Executive Officer, and Harrison F. Dillon, Ph.D. President & Chief Technology Officer of Solazyme.

Jonathan S. Wolfson (L), Chief Executive Officer of Solazyme.

On October 13, 2011 I paid a visit to Solazyme’s headquarters in San Francisco. For those who are unfamiliar with Solazyme, they produce oil from genetically modified algae. The company was founded in 2003 by two college friends, Jonathan Wolfson and Harrison Dillon. I had previously visited with Dr. Dillon at the 2009 Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy in Honolulu. Harrison is Solazyme’s Chief Technology Officer, and he filled me in on some of what the company was doing at that time.

This time I was going to have a chance to interview Solazyme CEO Jonathan Wolfson. A lot has happened since that meeting with Harrison in 2009. Solazyme has delivered hundreds of thousands of gallons of algae-based fuel for testing to the U.S. military (which I wrote about here and here). I don’t believe any other algal oil company can make that claim. They also took their company public earlier this year, and raised nearly $227 million with the IPO. Solazyme had also announced that they were diversifying away from a primary focus on fuels and into chemicals, nutritional products, and into skin care products.

How Solazyme’s Process Differs From Common Algae Production

Most algae is commercially produced from either open pond systems or in photobioreactors (PBRs). An open pond system is usually an artificial pond. These often take the form of a raceway system in which water is constantly circulated around the raceway by means of large paddlewheels. Open pond systems are relatively simple, and capital and operating costs are lower than for other algae systems. However there are disadvantages to this approach. Variations in the weather can stunt algal growth. Wild strains of algae can invade and overtake strains that have been developed for high oil yields. Evaporation in closed ponds may necessitate the addition of fresh water to maintain level. Finally, light penetration beneath the surface of the ponds is minimal.

A PBR is a reactor that contains algae, water, and nutrients, but is transparent to allow light to reach the algae. The primary advantage of the PBR is that contaminants are easier to control. Therefore, a high oil-yielding strain of algae could be grown without the likelihood that it will be out-competed by wild strains. The big disadvantage is that capital costs per barrel of oil are prohibitive.

Both open pond systems and PBRs are ultimately limited by the amount of light that can be utilized by the algae. A third algal production system utilizes heterotrophic algae — and that is Solazyme’s approach. These algae must receive nutrients and a supply of food, but are not dependent upon solar energy as is the case with autotrophic algae. Instead of ponds or PBRs, these algae — which have been genetically modified in Solazyme’s case — do their work in industrial fermenters. The conditions in the fermenters can be controlled and changed rapidly as needed, and the algae can produce oil at far greater concentrations than in the other types of reactors.

The Interview

The interview took place with Jonathan Wolfson, co-founder and CEO of Solazyme, and Jeff Webster, who is Solazyme’s recently hired Chief Operating Officer. Jeff had been recently hired from Tyson, where he was involved with Tyson’s renewable energy efforts. The interview started with a short discussion of the partnership between Tyson and my former employer ConocoPhillips to commercialize a green diesel process. I expressed my annoyance that Congress had effectively killed the project by attempting to pick technology winners (or perhaps by simply caving to the biodiesel lobby).

Jonathan began the discussion of Solazyme by talking about how he and Harrison had first kicked around a number of ideas in the mid-90′s before deciding to try producing hydrogen from algae. He said that Solazyme was ultimately formed from these efforts in a garage, and some of the early ideas — like producing hydrogen — were unsuccessful. To hear Jonathan (and previously Harrison) describe their early work conjured up images in my mind of Bill Gates and Paul Allen, working together to create Microsoft, or Larry Page and Sergey Brin working together to create Google.

After some trial and error, they found an idea that they felt would work: Production of fuel from algae grown in fermenters. They felt that there were a couple of major advantages to doing so. One is that fermenters are hundreds of times more productive than algae grown in open ponds. The second is that the oil concentration in the algae can be pushed to 80%, while in the wild most algae have an oil content below 10%.

The key to the high production is that algae have a logarithmic growth phase in which they rapidly produce biomass but little oil, but when starved of nutrients they shift into an oil production phase. In a fermenter, it is easy to push the growth phase until sufficient biomass has formed and then change conditions to induce the oil production phase. This can be done in two days in a fermenter, but would be much more challenging to accomplish in an open pond system.

I had been under the impression that Solazyme’s algae were producing hydrocarbons, but Jonathan clarified that the algae produce triglycerides, which are a category of lipids. Vegetable oils, such as soybean oil, canola oil, palm oil, and olive oil, are also lipids consisting largely of triglycerides. The figure below, taken from my Renewable Diesel Primer, shows the general form of a triglyceride, used in that example to produce biodiesel and glycerol, a byproduct.

The process that Solazyme uses to make fuel is different from the process shown above. They are using a process like that used in the short-lived COP/Tyson venture, which is to hydrogenate the triglyceride. In the figure above, R1, R2, and R3 refer to hydrocarbon chains. For instance, R1 might be a twelve-carbon chain, which if removed would be a hydrocarbon in the diesel range. This is exactly what the hydrogenation process does – snips off those “R” chains as hydrocarbons which are chemically identical to hydrocarbons found in conventional gasoline or diesel. Hence, the product is superior in performance to biodiesel, which has some properties that limit how much can be blended with conventional diesel. And instead of glycerol, the byproduct of this process is propane.

So the Solazyme process for fuel production involves the production of algae, and they then extract the oil in an old canola facility. The oil is next hydrotreated in a tolling arrangement using UOP hydrotreating technology to remove the oxygen and produce hydrocarbons. (Incidentally, in addition to being a major provider of technology and equipment for the oil industry, UOP is well-positioned to have a key role in both triglyceride to fuel production and pyrolysis oil to fuel production).

Jonathan informed me that their triglycerides can be tailored to have very specific chain lengths without too much variation, and as such they are actually worth more as triglycerides than they would be if they were converted into fuel. Thus, my interpretation is that until they saturate that market they are unlikely to devote the bulk of their efforts to fuel production (and it explains why they diversified into consumer products).

I asked about the scalability of the process, and was told that it is linearly scalable. In other words, a 7-liter fermenter performs at the same rate as a 75,000-liter fermenter. However, when I inquired about building a facility the size of an oil refinery — my example was a billion gallons a year which is equivalent to 65,000 barrels per day (a smallish oil refinery) — I was told that this would not be possible due to logistical issues (an issue I have discussed in relation to cellulosic ethanol). Jonathan felt like a 100 million gallon per year facility might be achievable, which is about the size of a corn ethanol plant.

One potential knock on Solazyme’s process is that they feed sugar to their fermenters. Sugar conjures up inevitable food versus fuel arguments. So one of the things I asked was whether they had any success in using cellulosic feedstocks to produce algal oils. I was told that they have used around 8 different cellulosic feedstocks — such as bagasse and beet pulp — as the source of sugars for their algae. This process is similar to that of cellulosic ethanol; the sugars are released from the cellulose prior to feeding them to the algae.

Regardless of whether cellulosic feedstocks had worked, I don’t view a sugar requirement as a deal breaker. After all, I consider sugarcane ethanol to be a potentially sustainable source of fuel (in tropical locations with ample rainfall) because sugarcane isn’t that hard on the soil and the residue provides heat for the ethanol process. There is the potential with sugarcane ethanol to produce food and fuel, which is an ideal situation. If instead of using yeast to ferment sugar to ethanol, you used algae to ferment sugar to oil, I think that can also be a potentially sustainable way to produce fuel. And in fact, Solazyme has teamed up with Bunge to build a facility in Brazil.

Conclusions

I have long been intrigued by Solazyme’s process. They have demonstrated that they can deliver respectable quantities of oil from algae, and they estimate that they can produce oil in a built-for-purpose commercial plant at below $3.44 a gallon. That isn’t competitive with oil at current prices, but is far below costs cited by other algal oil producers. Diversification into other markets will help to ensure that Solazyme remains in business even if oil prices remain too low for their fuel to be competitive.

So how much is Solazyme worth? In a previous essay, I wrote that I didn’t believe KiOR is a $2 billion company. So is Solazyme a $550 million company (its market cap at the time of this writing)? Solazyme’s closing price on the day of its IPO was $20.71 — which gave it a market cap of over $1 billion — but it presently trades at $9.27. In fairness, this plunge has not been limited to Solazyme; other cleantech companies with IPOs this year like Gevo and Amyris has also seen their values sharply decline in recent months.

On the one hand, I believe that Solazyme will still be in business in ten years. On the other, whether they are a multi-billion dollar company is likely to depend on oil prices. I could be wrong, because I just don’t know about the potential market of the non-fuel businesses that Solazyme recently entered. I don’t know how much they would be worth if their primary market was production of algal oils for cosmetics. Obviously, that is a much smaller market than for transportation fuels, but one that undoubtedly has much higher profit margins.

The bottom line is that I am convinced Solazyme has a workable technology, so from a technical due diligence point of view I believe the company is solid. The market cap is going to be determined in large part by the new markets they are entering, with a strong potential upside if oil prices move sharply higher (or if we continue to subsidize next generation fuels). But before investing in the company, I would want to have a much better understanding of the scale and potential profits of their non-fuel businesses.

Previous Posts Discussing Solazyme

Scientists Create Ethanol From Hydrogen They Created From Ethanol

The U.S. Navy and Biofuels – Part I

U.S. Navy Pays Big Bucks for Biofuels

Solazyme CEO Clarifies Costs

The DOE Funding Recipients

  1. By Walter Sobchak on October 24, 2011 at 8:46 am

    When I saw the headline for this post in rss, I thought it was about Solyndra.

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  2. By Walt on October 24, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Robert Rapier said:

    Jonathan began the discussion of Solazyme by talking about how he and Harrison had first kicked around a number of ideas in the mid-90′s before deciding to try producing hydrogen from algae. He said that Solazyme was ultimately formed from these efforts in a garage, and some of the early ideas — like producing hydrogen — were unsuccessful. To hear Jonathan (and previously Harrison) describe their early work conjured up images in my mind of Bill Gates and Paul Allen, working together to create Microsoft, or Larry Page and Sergey Brin working together to create Google.


     

    You have to love the garage start-ups!

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  3. By Walt on October 24, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Robert Rapier said:

    A lot has happened since that meeting with Harrison in 2009. Solazyme has delivered hundreds of thousands of gallons of algae-based fuel for testing to the U.S. military (which I wrote about here and here). I don’t believe any other algal oil company can make that claim. They also took their company public earlier this year, and raised nearly $227 million with the IPO. Solazyme had also announced that they were diversifying away from a primary focus on fuels and into chemicals, nutritional products, and into skin care products.


     

    I’m not sure how much they have raised totally (beyond the $130 million and $227 million) or how much they have spent, but certainly anything over $100 million on R&D/demonstration scale is a lot of money for clean tech.  People need to look closely at technology development that don’t burn through so much money and get such glowing reviews.  This review reads like a PR piece as I got toward the bottom…but little is said about the costs, how much money they spent compared to others in the sector, etc. 

     

    If someone wants to look at a technology that does get a lot of press, but I personally think has been very sharp with the pen in spending money and growing mostly organically from within, I would encourage people to watch this video here:

     

    http://vimeo.com/29119783

     

    Go to 14:24 on the video and see they have raised $10.5 million dollars to date since 2007.  This is very impressive to build what they have done compared to others out there who have raised and spent tens of millions.

     

    This report from RR on Solazyme is glowing…but little is mentioned how much they spent, how much it costs to build these plants at profitable scales, and how they can get to $3.44 a gallon in terms of costs.  It is indeed impressive they have made so much product, and were started in the garage like Bill Gates and others, but the PR piece is disappointing.

     

    I hope they spend the $227 million wisely!  For those interested to see how they raised revenues and funds from investors, see here:

    —————————-

    Sources and Uses of Capital

    Since
    our inception, we have financed our operations primarily from an
    aggregate of $129.3 million raised from private placements of
    equity securities, $16.9 million from government program revenues, $15.0
    million of license fee revenues, $12.2 million of collaborative
    research and development funding, and $12.9 million of borrowings under
    various financing arrangements.

    Gross proceeds from sales of our convertible preferred stock since inception were as
    follows:

    Dates

       Amount      Financing  
         (In thousands)  
    December 2005 – June 2006

       $ 3,021         Series A   
    February 2007 – April 2007

         8,663         Series B   
    July 2008 – February 2009

         57,585         Series C   
    May 2010 – August 2010

         60,000         Series D   
               
    Total

       $ 129,269      
               

     

    Our
    primary uses of
    capital resources to date have been to fund operating activities,
    including research and development, manufacturing expenses and spending
    on capital items.

     

    Since
    our inception, we have incurred significant net losses, and, as of
    December 31, 2010, we had an accumulated deficit of $52.8
    million. We anticipate that we will continue to incur net losses as we
    continue our scale-up activities, expand our research and development
    activities and support commercialization activities for our products. In
    addition, we may acquire additional
    manufacturing facilities and/or expand or build-out our current pilot
    manufacturing facility. We are unable to predict the extent of any
    future losses or when we will become profitable, if at all. We expect to
    continue making significant investments
    in research and development and manufacturing, and expect selling,
    general and administrative expenses to increase as a result of becoming a
    publicly-traded company. As a result, we will need to generate
    significant product sales, collaborative
    research and development funding, government programs revenues, license
    fees and other revenues to achieve profitability.

     

    In
    March 2011, we entered into an agreement to purchase the Peoria
    Facility. We currently expect the transaction to close in the second
    quarter of 2011. We expect to begin fermentation operations at the
    Peoria Facility in 2011 and integrated production of microbial oil in
    the first half of 2012. In connection with the closing of the Peoria
    Facility acquisition, we expect to enter
    into a promissory note, mortgage and security agreement with the seller
    in the initial amount of $5.5 million. The promissory note will be
    interest free and will be paid in two lump sum payments, one on March 1,
    2012 and the second on
    March 1, 2013. The note is secured by the real and personal property to
    be acquired from the seller. The purchase agreements do not contain
    financial ratio covenants, nor any affirmative or negative financial
    covenants, other than a prohibition
    on creating any liens against the collateral as defined in the
    agreement.

     

    Similar
    to our Roquette joint venture, we expect to scale up additional
    manufacturing capacity in a capital-efficient manner by signing
    agreements whereby our partners will invest capital and operational
    resources in building manufacturing capacity, while also providing
    access to feedstock. We are currently negotiating with multiple
    potential feedstock partners in Latin America and the United States to
    co-locate oil production at their mills.
    Depending on the specifics of each partner discussion, we may choose to
    deploy some portion of the equity capital required to construct our
    production facility, as such capital contribution may influence the
    scope and timing of our relationship. We
    expect to evaluate the optimal amount of capital expenditures that we
    agree to fund on a case-by-case basis. As such, we believe that having,
    or having access to, capital to fund capital expenditures will better
    position us to achieve our business
    objectives. These events may require us to access additional capital
    through equity or debt offerings. If we are unable to access additional
    capital, our growth may be limited due to the inability to build out
    additional manufacturing capacity.

     

    In
    January 2010, we obtained a grant from the DOE
    to receive up to $21.8 million for reimbursement of expenses incurred
    towards building, operating, and optimizing a pilot-scale integrated
    biorefinery. Under the terms of the grant, we are responsible for
    funding an additional $5.4 million.

    ————————————————-


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  4. By Wendell Mercantile on October 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    I’m still puzzled by how its possible to accelerate a naturally occurring process that turned algae and plankton into oil over millions of years, and do it profitably. To accelerate the process, someone has to add energy that nature otherwise would provide free of charge.*

    Perhaps I lack vision, but it would seem that until we either run out of natural oil, or the price of natural oil becomes much dearer than it is today, manmade oil from algae cannot be competitive.
    ____________
    * The cheapest way to make oil from algae would be to bury the algae and wait several million years. Obviously not practical, but it takes energy and money to accelerate that process.

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  5. By Benny BND Cole on October 24, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    $3.44 a gallon is good, but how many times have we seen promises evaporate in the biofuels sector? The movement into other industries (cosmetics) is almost always a very bad sign
    I wish this company all the best, but look iffy right now.

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  6. By perry1961 on October 24, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    This doesn’t sound any different than making biodiesel from soybeans, or biofuel from palm oil. Except that they’re getting their triglycerides from algae. I like the idea of doing it without using a lot of fertilizers and land that could grow food. 100M barrels per year doesn’t sound bad either. That’s 30,000 bpd or thereabouts. Each plant could replace 3000 stripper wells.

    Most people don’t realize the average US oil well produces 10 bpd. What we won’t do to keep those ICE’s plugging along…..

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  7. By Optimist on October 24, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    This sounds like a standard food->plastics process (they won’t be making fuel soon). These processes are very popular right now, until the industry figures out it is a crime against humanity to use food to make chemicals. Hopefully that will happen soon.

    Comparing Solazyme (what a misleading name) to other algal companies would be unfair to the other guys, who use diffuse sunlight to produce renewable products. Solazyme is using sugar as a feedstock – renewable, yes, as long as you do it at small scale only. I would also say that it is misleading to call Solazyme an algal company: algae are associated with photosynthesis. Using algae as fermenters (usually performed by yeast or bacteria) makes it very similar to sugar-ethanol.

    The question would be: does sugar make more sense as a feedstock than lipids. I have my doubts. There are companies out there that are converting sewer grease (lipids) into liquid fuels. That would be way more sustainable than what Solazyme does.

    I don’t get why you are so impressed with this technology, RR. You’re pretty hard on corn ethanol, and rightly so. These guys are sugar-chemicals, which is not too different from corn ethanol: taking expensive food and converting into a cheap commodity chemical. I suspect you are gullible to the use of GMOs, which does have a nice high-tech buzzword sound to it.

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  8. By rrapier on October 24, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Optimist said:

    Comparing Solazyme (what a misleading name) to other algal companies would be unfair to the other guys, who use diffuse sunlight to produce renewable products. Solazyme is using sugar as a feedstock – renewable, yes, as long as you do it at small scale only. I would also say that it is misleading to call Solazyme an algal company: algae are associated with photosynthesis. Using algae as fermenters (usually performed by yeast or bacteria) makes it very similar to sugar-ethanol.


     

    And sugarcane ethanol has been something that I believe can be done sustainably for reasons cited in this essay and previous essays.

    The question would be: does sugar make more sense as a feedstock than lipids. I have my doubts. There are companies out there that are converting sewer grease (lipids) into liquid fuels. That would be way more sustainable than what Solazyme does.

    Agree that waste is low-hanging fruit that should be used to the greatest possible extent.

    I don’t get why you are so impressed with this technology, RR. You’re pretty hard on corn ethanol, and rightly so. These guys are sugar-chemicals, which is not too different from corn ethanol: taking expensive food and converting into a cheap commodity chemical.

    I consider corn and sugar to be quite different. Sugar has much lower fertilizer requirements, and produces a lot of biomass that is generally used to produce steam for the process. A sugarcane plant can produce sugar and ferment the molasses that is left over to ethanol.

    Just to summarize, these guys are producing a product that there is a demand for, and they are getting good prices for their lipids. That differentiates them from most of of their competitors. They may not make money at fuel unless oil prices go much higher, but there is a market for what they are making. But whether they are ultimately a niche company or something much larger will depend, IMO, on their ability to sell fuel.

    RR

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  9. By art on October 28, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Hi RR,

    so the million dollar question is the what is the EROEI of the solazyme proces? for ethanol i read thet it is 1.4 to 1. (and oil used to be 100:1)

    @ Walt Thanks for the links. I would not boot you off the blog for this posts and links but it certainly diverges from the topic…..
    If I understand RR correctly solazyme can earn money but the point is that their energy claims are as good or bad as the bioethanol industry. Avoiding the destillation in the case of solazyme may improve the eroi situation but then on the other side the metabolic losses of lipid synthesis negate this effect,

    I suspect in the end solar energy, wind energy, nuclear energy, coal and tarsands have better EROEI then heterotrophic algae to biodiesel route..

    please find this article to explain my questions about the eroi

    http://gigaom.com/cleantech/th…..ergy-trap/

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  10. By rrapier on October 28, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    art said:

    Hi RR,

    so the million dollar question is the what is the EROEI of the solazyme proces? for ethanol i read thet it is 1.4 to 1. (and oil used to be 100:1)


     

    I don’t have a good answer for that, and I have never seen a life cycle assessment for the process. On the one hand, the separation is certainly less energy intensive since the lipids are not soluble. But the lipids then require additional processing, and that processing requires hydrogen. The hydrogen is produced from natural gas. If you draw an energy balance around the entire process, I am not sure how it shakes out.

    It is a very important question, but one I just can’t answer right now.

    RR

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  11. By Walt on October 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    art said:

    Hi RR,

    so the million dollar question is the what is the EROEI of the solazyme proces? for ethanol i read thet it is 1.4 to 1. (and oil used to be 100:1)

    @ Walt Thanks for the links. I would not boot you off the blog for this posts and links but it certainly diverges from the topic…..

    If I understand RR correctly solazyme can earn money but the point is that their energy claims are as good or bad as the bioethanol industry. Avoiding the destillation in the case of solazyme may improve the eroi situation but then on the other side the metabolic losses of lipid synthesis negate this effect,

    I suspect in the end solar energy, wind energy, nuclear energy, coal and tarsands have better EROEI then heterotrophic algae to biodiesel route..

    please find this article to explain my questions about the eroi

    http://gigaom.com/cleantech/th…..ergy-trap/


     

    If you want to read the nuts and bolts go to the IPO S-1 document.

    They state on page two in a chart that their cost of production has fallen to about $1,000/mt while their sales prices for their products have a low end range of $1,000-$2,300/mt for fuels to a high of $20,000-$1 million/mt for skin and personal care items.  Obviously, the company is making money in 2011 per this chart, and as they scale up volumes the $500 million+ they spend will prove RR and Wall Street has picked a winner.

    Who knows, if they need to raise another $500 million for larger scales it will likely come from the equity markets, our government or their partners who are who’s who in chemicals and feedstock supply.  The numbers above have nothing to do with the merits of the technology.  The technology is barely even mentioned in the S-1 filing document and I could find nothing about the capex, opex, etc. to reach their cost of production estimates.

    When I paid Nexant to do our methanol and GTL study they drilled down on the details of capex, opex and cost of production.  All three are dependant on one other…and when I sit down with a counterparty we walk them through capex, opex and cost of production for various scales.  We have ranges broken down while using scaling factors Nexant provided as industry acceptable.  I’m sure Solazyme does the same.

    All I can really say in conclusion is that if you have raised/earned ~$500 million since start-up, and you are THE algae superstar on the block, I hope the technology works as advertised.  It sounds like everything will be fine, however, I’m putting my bet on OriginOil who has spent a tiny fraction at ~$25 million, and in my opinion, has a far superior business case in the space.  The CEO is managing the company with a sharp pen.  If you gave OriginOil ~$500 million rather than ~$25 million, I would like to see where they would be compared to Solazyme.  

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  12. By sameer-kulkarni on October 29, 2011 at 11:14 am

    art said:

    Hi RR,

    so the million dollar question is the what is the EROEI of the solazyme proces? for ethanol i read thet it is 1.4 to 1. (and oil used to be 100:1)

     


     

    Solazymes’ route is to take feedstock X (sugar, starch) convert that to an intermediate feedstock Y (microalge) & process that to product Z (biodiesel, renewable diesel)

    Conventional approach is processing feedstock X (sugar, starch) to Z (ethanol).

     

    In heterotophic cultivation algal density reaches at around 150 g/l with estimated 55% lipid content i.e 82.5 g/l oil.

    Energy yield from processed oil is 0.0825 X 41 = 3.382 MJ/L

     

    In ethanol processing the concentration of alcohol goes to around 150 g/l.

    Energy yield is 0.15 X 30 = 4.5 MJ/L

     

    In ethanol it is possible to recycle the culture (yeast cream) whereas in algal it is not.

     

    Now in fermentation mash Ethanol is easy to separate but requires an energy intensive process of distillation & molecular sieve dehydration. What gets left behind is a water suspension of unconverted sugars, enyzmes, DDGS etc.

     

    Adding microalgae to the above leftover mash would be the resultant yield of Algal fermentation process. Separating algae from a clear liquid (read Phototrophic cultivation) poses an easy challenge but separating it from mixture would result in losses.

     

    Downstream processing of algal broth shall govern to what extent the process is feasible notwithstanding the fact that the separated algal biomass is subjected to further processing.

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  13. By sameer-kulkarni on October 29, 2011 at 11:18 am

    SAM said:

    art said:

    Hi RR,

    so the million dollar question is the what is the EROEI of the solazyme proces? for ethanol i read thet it is 1.4 to 1. (and oil used to be 100:1)

     


     

    Solazymes’ route is to take feedstock X (sugar, starch) convert that to an intermediate feedstock Y (microalge) & process that to product Z (biodiesel, renewable diesel)

    Conventional approach is processing feedstock X (sugar, starch) to Z (ethanol).

     

    In heterotophic cultivation algal density reaches at around 150 g/l with estimated 55% lipid content i.e 82.5 g/l oil.

    Energy yield from processed oil is 0.0825 X 41 = 3.382 MJ/L

     

    In ethanol processing the concentration of alcohol goes to around 150 g/l.

    Energy yield is 0.15 X 30 = 4.5 MJ/L

     

    In ethanol it is possible to recycle the culture (yeast cream) whereas in algal it is not.

     

    Now in fermentation mash Ethanol is easy to separate but requires an energy intensive process of distillation & molecular sieve dehydration. What gets left behind is a water suspension of unconverted sugars, enyzmes, DDGS etc.

     

    Adding microalgae to the above leftover mash would be the resultant yield of Algal fermentation process. Separating algae from a clear liquid (read Phototrophic cultivation) poses an easy challenge but separating it from mixture would result in losses.

     

    Downstream processing of algal broth shall govern to what extent the process is feasible notwithstanding the fact that the separated algal biomass is subjected to further processing.

     

    I believe that it is a neck to neck competiton between heterotrphic algae & yeat fermentation.

     

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  14. By Art on October 29, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Hi RR,

    thanks for the answer, sam made some calculations tha seem on the right track, seems that heterotrophic algae and yeast are op par with respect to eroei… So here it makes sense.
    Back to dsm/martek, Delivering volumeoutput like solazyme is aiming for in combination with foodgrade oils is a different game martek/dsm is playing, if i understand correct martekoils are mainly for the nutraceutical market.

    So does solazyme have an fda and novelfoods registration on the process?

    I,ll try to find some answers here but the pattern of biofuels startups switching in foodgrade algae operations is a returning theme…

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  15. By rrapier on October 29, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Art said:

    So does solazyme have an fda and novelfoods registration on the process?

    I,ll try to find some answers here but the pattern of biofuels startups switching in foodgrade algae operations is a returning theme…


     

    Since they are aiming at the food and cosmetics markets, I presume they would have to have those registrations.

    When you see algae firms turning to nutraceuticals, they are moving in the direction of the established algae industry. After all, algae has been commercially produced for the food industry for decades. See the report I did two years ago today: Interview with an Algae CEO.

    RR

    [link]      
  16. By art on October 30, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    thanks,

    I read that interview at the start of my job in an (phototrophic) algae project and quickly found out the metrics and financials of algaefarming indeed are not very favourable for biofuel ….. so feed and food are the main targets now…

    Solazyme plans to launch their so called algalin line of products but I can find any eu novel foods application nor an FDA GRAS..

    http://www.foodnavigator-usa.c…..lgal-flour

    http://www.solazyme.com/media/2011-10-24

    http://www.foodnavigator-usa.c…..lgal-flour

    [link]      
  17. By sameer-kulkarni on November 1, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    art said:

    thanks,

    I read that interview at the start of my job in an (phototrophic) algae project and quickly found out the metrics and financials of algaefarming indeed are not very favourable for biofuel ….. so feed and food are the main targets now…

     


    Robert said:

     

    When you see algae firms turning to nutraceuticals, they are moving in the direction of the established algae industry. After all, algae has been commercially produced for the food industry for decades.

     

    It is obviously a matter of choice of an individual whether he wants to breed a Hen which lays a Golden egg or a simple plain egg.

     

     

    [link]      
  18. By fatalgae on October 25, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Solydra story is opening a huge can of worms at the DOE LOAN GURANTEE LOAN PROGRAM. Its not just about the Solar loan guarantee program. Look at all the millions in fees collected by the DOE LOAN GUARANTEE PROGRAM with projects 20% completion. Also, an audit needs to be done on DOE GRANTS to individuals from the DOE that are now working in private industry. Very incestuous. There needs to be an audit on each individual loan program for amount funded and results!

    The US taxpayer has spent over $2.5 billion dollars over the last 50 years on algae research. To date, nothing has been commercialized by any algae researcher.

    The REAL question is: Does the DOE BIOMASS PROGRAM really want the US off of foreign oil or do they want to continue funding more grants for algae research to keep algae researchers employed at univesities for another 50 years?

    In business, you are not given 50 years to research anything. The problem is in the Congressional Mandate that says the DOE can only use taxpayer monies on algae research, NOT algae production in the US. So far, research has not got the US off of foreign oil for the last 50 years!

    [link]      
  19. By Wendell Mercantile on October 25, 2011 at 9:58 am

    …you are not given 50 years to research anything.

    We’ve been researching fusion power at least that long. Are you suggesting that someday cracking the secret of practical fusion power is not worth the effort — even if it takes more than 50 years?

    [link]      
  20. By Walt on October 25, 2011 at 10:08 am

    fatalgae said:

    Solydra story is opening a huge can of worms at the DOE LOAN GURANTEE LOAN PROGRAM. Its not just about the Solar loan guarantee program. Look at all the millions in fees collected by the DOE LOAN GUARANTEE PROGRAM with projects 20% completion. Also, an audit needs to be done on DOE GRANTS to individuals from the DOE that are now working in private industry. Very incestuous. There needs to be an audit on each individual loan program for amount funded and results!

    The US taxpayer has spent over $2.5 billion dollars over the last 50 years on algae research. To date, nothing has been commercialized by any algae researcher.

    The REAL question is: Does the DOE BIOMASS PROGRAM really want the US off of foreign oil or do they want to continue funding more grants for algae research to keep algae researchers employed at univesities for another 50 years?

    In business, you are not given 50 years to research anything. The problem is in the Congressional Mandate that says the DOE can only use taxpayer monies on algae research, NOT algae production in the US. So far, research has not got the US off of foreign oil for the last 50 years!


     

    Well, let’s take a closer look at Solazyme’s investment for meeting the renewable fuels mandates.  This company and its management are heralded above as one of the best chances we have to create the next Bill Gates and Steven Jobs in the Clean Tech Fuels Sector.  The glowing article makes it sound like we have finally found the only serious technology that is justifying the tens of millions of dollars of government support to meet the mandates establised to bring about a renewable fuel.  Fair enough.

     

    In addition to the ~$130 million they raised in four rounds of equity, they have the following breakdown:

    ——————————

    $16.9 million from government program revenues

    $15.0 million of license fee revenues

    $12.2 million of collaborative research and development funding

    $12.9 million of borrowings under various financing arrangements

    January 2010, we obtained a grant from the DOE to receive up to $21.8 million for reimbursement of expenses incurred towards building, operating, and optimizing a pilot-scale integrated biorefinery. Under the terms of the grant, we are responsible for funding an additional $5.4 million.

    ——————————–

    That is almost $80 million dollars in revenues, fundings or borrowings under various means.  I wonder how much is really tied to government supported endeavors to get this technology moving forward to the path of successful implementation and commercialization?

     

    In total, we have ~$130 million, plus another ~$80 million and now the $227 million after the IPO offering.  This is $437 million dollars to play with and or “burn” through as they say in the valley.

     

    I would really encourage people to look at more than just production of liquids when assessing these technologies, and see if the reason for their rise to superstardom has anything to do with the enormous amount of capital employed to rise above the pack.  I was really pleased to see how well managed OriginOil was when doing some research on them….it really blew me away.  I’ve reviewed the Solazyme S-1 filing, and it is lacking on specifics how they will achieve $3.44 a gallon.  I found little on capex and opex, and without this claiming your cost of production will be $3.44 in the future is difficult.  I’m sure they have all the figures in-house, but when people use these types of numbers to raise capital, and get government support it makes little sense.  There must be a better way to evaluate companies beyond the glowing press coverage and media interviews.  The amount of money going into this company, compared to other algae companies, is insane in my opinion…but we will have  to see if any more government funding, loan guarantees or other government support helps this company survive the future.

     

    If they do all their sources of materials in Brazil it will only make me more upset.  It sure seems from their IPO documents they are heading for South America to build all these plants with government backed support, but as RR mentioned:

    “I consider corn and sugar to be quite different. Sugar has much lower
    fertilizer requirements, and produces a lot of biomass that is generally
    used to produce steam for the process. A sugarcane plant can produce
    sugar and ferment the molasses that is left over to ethanol.” 

    If they source everything overseas, I don’t know where the American jobs are going to come from in this technology play.  It seems the Administration said all this money for clean tech is to support American jobs to build these plants here in America.  Is that the objective?

     

    [link]      
  21. By Optimist on October 25, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    And sugarcane ethanol has been something that I believe can be done sustainably for reasons cited in this essay and previous essays.

    Fair enough. But as I recall the reasons had much to do with having a tropical climate and the way things are done in other countries, where a ready supply of fossil fuels may not be available. Can renewable sugar be produced in the US? Or, would renewable sugar be produced anywhere that cheap natural gas is available?

    I consider corn and sugar to be quite different. Sugar has much lower fertilizer requirements, and produces a lot of biomass that is generally used to produce steam for the process. A sugarcane plant can produce sugar and ferment the molasses that is left over to ethanol.

    Again: sugar is different in Brazil and possibly other places. Not sure there is an inherent difference.

    Also: these guys seem to claiming future inputs from cellulosic sugars. Where is the standard RR refrain that cellulosic has (so far) consistently failed to deliver? I know, it is mentioned. But it just seems a bit soft pedaled.

    Even if you could do cellulosic sugar, it would seem to make more sense to sell the product as sugar (maybe animal feed) rather than convert it to cheap commodity chemicals (as long as a confused Uncle Sam supports such silliness).

    Just to summarize, these guys are producing a product that there is a demand for, and they are getting good prices for their lipids. That differentiates them from most of of their competitors.

    Agreed. However, are they doing so for a profit? If they are, good for them. Next question: how big is the market they’re selling into? Is there much room for future growth?

    They may not make money at fuel unless oil prices go much higher, but there is a market for what they are making. But whether they are ultimately a niche company or something much larger will depend, IMO, on their ability to sell fuel.

    How independent of oil are they really? Somehow I don’t see them following the Brazilian model.

    I guess their uniqueness stems from their ability to ferment sugars into lipids. The fact that they use algae, is neither here, nor there. Lipids have several interesting properties, including a similarity to the existing liquid fuel supply, which would potentially allow a gradual and smooth transition to renewable fuels, without any corrosion issues. In stark contrast to the ongoing ethanol headache/hangover.

    So RR, would you support using this technology to convert corn into lipids?

    [link]      
  22. By rrapier on October 25, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Optimist said:

    And sugarcane ethanol has been something that I believe can be done sustainably for reasons cited in this essay and previous essays.

    Fair enough. But as I recall the reasons had much to do with having a tropical climate and the way things are done in other countries, where a ready supply of fossil fuels may not be available. Can renewable sugar be produced in the US? Or, would renewable sugar be produced anywhere that cheap natural gas is available?


     

    I think cheap natural gas is available in Brazil. The issue is that the bagasse ends up at the plant, and has to be disposed of anyway. So it is cheaper than cheap gas; it is negatively priced feedstock. The same situation exists in the U.S. in places like southern Louisiana, but sugar subsidies make it more lucrative to produce sugar. The economics of the molasses are about a push, I have been told, and thus don’t justify changing from the current usage which is to add to animal feed.

    Also: these guys seem to claiming future inputs from cellulosic
    sugars. Where is the standard RR refrain that cellulosic has (so far)
    consistently failed to deliver? I know, it is mentioned. But it just
    seems a bit soft pedaled.

    That’s because I don’t really consider that to be a deal breaker. What I am saying is that something like this might have a chance to produce fuel sustainably in a tropical country. Whether it can do so here in the U.S. is a different matter.

    Agreed. However, are they doing so for a profit? If they are, good
    for them. Next question: how big is the market they’re selling into? Is
    there much room for future growth?

    And those are questions I don’t know the answers to, which is why I can’t really gauge the value of the company.

    So RR, would you support using this technology to convert corn into lipids?

    That is an interesting question. I suppose in some cases I would. Just as I am not opposed to the idea of producing corn ethanol in Iowa for Iowans to use as fuel. But I wouldn’t support it in places where there is insufficient rainfall and aquifers are depleted, or where any fuel produced is exported out of a region that needs fuel.

    RR

    [link]      
  23. By Optimist on October 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    If they source everything overseas, I don’t know where the American jobs are going to come from in this technology play.  It seems the Administration said all this money for clean tech is to support American jobs to build these plants here in America.

    Walt, even if they do everything overseas, Americans would definitely benefit from cheap renewable fuel, assuming it all works as advertised. Cheap fuel would be worth a few jobs, somewhere.

    Remember, the protectionist sentiments you seem to be alluding to hurts everybody and does not tend to create jobs in America. As this headline suggests: 

    Obama And Lee At Orion: Free Trade Sucks, But It Beats The Alternatives

    [link]      
  24. By Optimist on October 25, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    So the Solazyme process for fuel production involves the production of algae, and they then extract the oil in an old canola facility. The oil is next hydrotreated in a tolling arrangement using UOP hydrotreating technology to remove the oxygen and produce hydrocarbons.

    I guess this may be the key: the lipids can be separated from the fermentation broth without the use of much energy, unlike ethanol.

    OTOH, their ability to fine tune the fatty acid chain length seems like an overkill, at least if the aim is to produce liquid fuel.

    And, as ever, the question to be answered for full scale application is feedstock.

    [link]      
  25. By JN2 on October 25, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Walt, please keep your comments short. My eyes glaze over when I page down through multiple pages of a single comment of yours and in truth I don’t read it. Thank you :)

    [link]      
  26. By Ben on October 25, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    I’m inclined to say the review eyes the glass as half-full even with the prospects that there’s a possible leak in the bottom of the cup. So long as companies pump in capital, deflect demands to show marked growth or offer evidence of scaling-related reductions in production costs, they may ride expectations beyond metrics. The cleantech field is littered with those who have achieved short-run successes by managing the musical chairs of market expectations. Alas, the music eventually stops and the discipline of feestock/process energy costs comes home to roost. Specialty chemicals is where 90-plus percent of surviving biofuel companies will likely end up. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a much different public policy benefit for limited subsidies than those reflected in the statutory intent of the US Congress or administrative responsibilities of the executive branch. Perish the thought that we might actually adhere to the requirements of the law and the intended purposes for which it was enacted. That would be a novel development, indeed.

    Thanks for the Vimeo link, Walt. I like the CC focus and collaborative orientation to the business model.

    Thanks, Ben G.

    [link]      
  27. By Terry on October 25, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    I too have a problem with them using sugar as a feedstock. While it may work in tropical countries, will that be enough to scale up to supply the other parts of the world? If they can’t, then it sounds like a niche company as far as fuels are concerned.

    On their website, they seem to imply they can directly feed cellulose feedstocks directly into their algal fermenters but your article seems to contradict that. Robert, could you clarify that a bit? In order for their process to use cellulose feedstocks do they have to run it through a separate process to extract the sugar first? That would seem like a pretty big barrier for them to truly use cellulose feedstocks.

    [link]      
  28. By Walt on October 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    JN2 said:

    Walt, please keep your comments short. My eyes glaze over when I page down through multiple pages of a single comment of yours and in truth I don’t read it. Thank you :)


     

    Reading is a good way to learn. :)   Sorry to have offended your colleagues…not intentional…just looking for some facts.

    [link]      
  29. By Walt on October 25, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Ben said:

    Specialty chemicals is where 90-plus percent of surviving biofuel companies will likely end up.


     

    I tend to largely agree.  As I read ICIS Chemical Business weekly there is a real focus on non-petroleum based chemicals due to the feedstock issues, and while some major names are investing into chemicals I think it is less likely non-petroleum feedstocks will impact the fuels market.

    [link]      
  30. By Walt on October 25, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Robert Rapier said:

    Optimist said: Also: these guys seem to claiming future inputs from cellulosic

    sugars. Where is the standard RR refrain that cellulosic has (so far)

    consistently failed to deliver? I know, it is mentioned. But it just

    seems a bit soft pedaled.

    That’s because I don’t really consider that to be a deal breaker. What I am saying is that something like this might have a chance to produce fuel sustainably in a tropical country. Whether it can do so here in the U.S. is a different matter.

    RR


     

    Optimist, I tried to respond to your other post, but my internet filter kept blocking me.  I’m going to respond to you here.  I’m not opposed to international deals as most of my business today is done internationally.  I’m certainly not a protectionist.  My point is that when I have done DOE grants in the past we had to describe our feedstock sources as well as our customers.  The mass balance came from domestic inputs.  I applied for an $11 million dollar integrated biorefinery and part of the component was algae to make biodiesel, methanol and fertilizers.  This demonstration unit was profitable at market rates for all products.  I see Solazyme was approved for $21.8 million from DOE, plus they are required to add an additional $5.4 million (total $27.2 million integrated biorefinery).  If they argued it needs to be built in Brazil to access the feedstock (which appears likely from their S-1 filing, that would be disappointing…at least to me.

     

    If the model is to build these offshore and import the diesel/jet/gasoline back to the USA…that is fine.  I just want to know the rules of the game.

    [link]      
  31. By rrapier on October 26, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Terry said:

    On their website, they seem to imply they can directly feed cellulose feedstocks directly into their algal fermenters but your article seems to contradict that. Robert, could you clarify that a bit? In order for their process to use cellulose feedstocks do they have to run it through a separate process to extract the sugar first? That would seem like a pretty big barrier for them to truly use cellulose feedstocks.


     

    No, they can’t just throw cellulose into the fermenters. The sugars have to be extracted in conventional ways.

    RR

    [link]      
  32. By art on October 26, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Hi RR,
    how do they use these canola infrastucture ? do the use the oilpress or only the centrifuges ?)
    does the hydrotreatment depend on catalysts ?? if so how do they deal wil poisoning metabolites (N and P)
    I talked recently with some researchers from Neste oil and they explained that algal biomass (be it phototrophically cultures) as feedstock is quite tough for catalysts…it needs extensive pretreatment to get a clean input for the hydrogenation…

    another question i struggle with for the solazyme case is that my biology txtbook learned me that lipid synthesis is less energy efficient compared to ethanol fermetation. For each C to couple some energy is spent by the cell to recycle the metabolic intermediates.. synthesis of ethanol hence is more efficient compared to building long lipids. since cars can use ethanol the sugar to ethanol seems more efficient to me…

    Processes like Algenol or Photanol are based on this last idea.

    in terms of specialty chemicals from algae Martek already has a long standing reputation and is in my opinion much better developed with respect to financial side of heterotrophic algae so here solazyme needs to makeup a large gap….

    [link]      
  33. By rrapier on October 26, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    art said:

    Hi RR,

    how do they use these canola infrastucture ? do the use the oilpress or only the centrifuges ?)


     

    They actually wouldn’t give any details there, besides saying that’s the facility they used.

    another question i struggle with for the solazyme case is that my
    biology txtbook learned me that lipid synthesis is less energy efficient
    compared to ethanol fermetation.

    The synthesis may be less efficient, but the resulting lipids aren’t water soluble (easier to separate) and the final fuel has almost double the energy density of ethanol.

    RR

    [link]      
  34. By Walt on October 26, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    art said:

    in terms of specialty chemicals from algae Martek already has a long standing reputation and is in my opinion much better developed with respect to financial side of heterotrophic algae so here solazyme needs to makeup a large gap….


     

    What you will learn in the industry is that those who often get all the best press coverage and the largest investment are not due to the technology.  Technology does not matter to the media or analysts, but only that the management team has a certain pedigree (eg, “Pedigree can refer to the lineage or genealogical descent of people, whether documented or not, or of animals, whether purebred or not.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedigree) and the ability to raise exhorbant amounts of capital.  Management is the key to access these government programs, as well as their lobby efforts.

    Again, technology does not matter.

     

     

    [link]      
  35. By Art on October 27, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Hi RR,

    Hmmm so the use old infrastucture and dont tell how… I always get suspicious when crucial doors are kept closed.. Fattyacid profiles of canola are hard to distinguish from algae… Does solazyme disclose fattyacid profiles of the algaloil… And which species do they favour?
    And what about the hydrogenation and use of catalysts? No info here as well?
    @walt, i agree with you description of what we call the old boys network…

    [link]      
  36. By Art on October 27, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Hi RR,

    Hmmm so the use old infrastucture and dont tell how… I always get suspicious when crucial doors are kept closed.. Fattyacid profiles of canola are hard to distinguish from algae… Does solazyme disclose fattyacid profiles of the algaloil… And which species do they favour?
    And what about the hydrogenation and use of catalysts? No info here as well?
    @walt, i agree with you description of what we call the old boys network…

    [link]      
  37. By Terry on October 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Robert Rapier said:

    No, they can’t just throw cellulose into the fermenters. The sugars have to be extracted in conventional ways.

    RR


     

    Okay, that makes sense.  I was wondering how they got to the sugars.  This would imply a potential market for someone converting cellulose to sugar to feed this process ( and maybe even a sugar to ethanol process).

    [link]      
  38. By Optimist on October 27, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    how do they use these canola infrastucture ? do the use the oilpress or only the centrifuges ?)

    My guess would be that they use the infrastructure to separate the oil (lipids) from the biomass.

    does the hydrotreatment depend on catalysts ?? if so how do they deal wil poisoning metabolites (N and P)

    I guess it does. But note they are doing hydrotreatment only to lipids (very little P and almost no N).

    I talked recently with some researchers from Neste oil and they explained that algal biomass (be it phototrophically cultures) as feedstock is quite tough for catalysts…it needs extensive pretreatment to get a clean input for the hydrogenation…

    Sounds like Solazyme madde a trade off: lower yield (only using the lipids) in exchange for an easier feedstock.

    Fattyacid profiles of canola are hard to distinguish from algae… Does solazyme disclose fattyacid profiles of the algaloil… And which species do they favour?

    Art, you need to read more carefully. From the original post: Jonathan informed me that their triglycerides can be tailored to have very specific chain lengths without too much variation, and as such they are actually worth more as triglycerides than they would be if they were converted into fuel.

    As I indicated above, chain length specificity won’t mean much if you’re making diesel. For other applications, it may be a significant advantage.

    [link]      
  39. By Walt on October 27, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Art said:

    @walt, i agree with you description of what we call the old boys network…


     

    Art,

    Although this video has not really gone viral as they say, it is a good hollywood type example of different manager styles.  Fair disclosure:  I have not moved my money out of the large money center banks nor am planning to…I accept their lending policies have tightened on small business…so I will deal with it until a better solution for financing small business arrives.  At this point one in clean tech fuels must look for off-take credit risks alone.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…..amp;sns=em

     

     

    [link]      
  40. By Walt on October 27, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    Art said:

    @walt, i agree with you description of what we call the old boys network…


     

    Art,

    I thought a little about your comment after I posted….and decided it would be a good time to introduce two investigators who I think are among the bravest…and one who is bar none the bravest…in America to expose the ‘old boys network’ as you describe them.

    First is Dylan Ratigan…who has been one of the best investigative reporter (on a major network that is getting lots of heat to have him removed) covering “some key aspects” of the financial markets often refused to be discussed in primetime media out of job security.  He has done some of the best in-depth reporting I’ve ever seen, and his interviews have dug deep into claims made by those who are sitting on piles of cash a certain pedigree of underwriters.  He is not a blogger, of course, who have more freedom to rant, but he is opening doors few will walk through.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D…..an_Ratigan

     

    Finally is William Black.  If you don’t know him…here is a man with brass that is unmatched of anyone I’ve read or heard speak.  I’m pleased to say he got his JD from University of Michigan Law School.  The man is fearless.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W…..m_K._Black

     

    Before I get booted off this blog, watch this video and read some of Black’s materials.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…..r_embedded

    [link]      
  41. By Optimist on November 4, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    I believe that it is a neck to neck competiton between heterotrphic algae & yeat fermentation.

    I think you are using the wrong yardstick: Who cares what the energy yield per volume of reactor is? The lipids would be MUCH easier (read: cheaper, more energy efficient) to separate from the fermentation broth than the water-soluble ethanol. The final product from the algae is completely miscible with existing fuels, unlike ethanol.

    So I believe the algae-lipids are well ahead of yeast-ethanol. It’s just that yeast-ethanol is so inefficient that beating it, even cruching it, does not necessarily mean market success.

    [link]      
  42. By art on November 4, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Hi Sam,

    i pondered a while on the calulation you presented and one difference between fermentation sugar to ethanol and fermentation of sugar to oil is that the ethanol route is less depending on maximal oxygen transfer to the high density cultures. the assumption the solazyme is a fed batch proces sugat to ethanol may be more efficient due to the lower oxygen demand. another point is that yeast strains fast growing and highly productive, those algae are much slower growing species. I can be wrong here but it is hard to beat yeast…..

    [link]      
  43. By sameer-kulkarni on November 5, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Optimist said:

     I think you are using the wrong yardstick: Who cares what the energy yield per volume of reactor is? The lipids would be MUCH easier (read: cheaper, more energy efficient) to separate from the fermentation broth than the water-soluble ethanol. 

    So I believe the algae-lipids are well ahead of yeast-ethanol. It’s just that yeast-ethanol is so inefficient that beating it, even cruching it, does not necessarily mean market success.


     

    By feeding sugar at concentration 300 g/l we get 150 gms/l of ethanol & 82.5 gms/l lipids 

    Ethanol yield is 150/0.789 = 190 ml

    Energy yield from Ethanol is 0.190 x 24 MJ/Lit = 4.56 MJ (Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E…..y_density)

    Steam Consumption in Ethanol plant 36,732 Btu/Gal ethanol i.e 10.23 MJ/Lit of Ethanol

    For 190ml Ethanol, energy consumed in distillation is 10.23 x 0.190 = 1.94 MJ

    Net energy yield of Ethanol 4.56 – 1.94 = 2.62 MJ of final end product

     

    Now lipids yield is 82.5 gms i.e 82.5/0.918 = 89.86 ml

    Energy yield 0.08986 x 33 MJ/Lit = 2.96 MJ of an intermediate product which has to be processed further to yield biodiesel. 

    With respect to downstream processing, when the overall energy yield  of refined ethanol is compared to that of unrefined biodiesel, the difference is only (2.96-2.62)/2.62 = 0.13; a meagre 13%. That is the reason why there is neck to neck competition.

    The final product from the algae is completely miscible with existing fuels, unlike ethanol.

     

    Lipids processing yields biodiesel which is blended with petro-diesel whereas ethanol is blended with gasoline. 

    Apples & Oranges !

     

    [link]      
  44. By Walt on November 8, 2011 at 6:50 am

    Congratulations are in order here:

     

    http://www.globalenergywatch.c…..techno.com

     

    If they can get the costs down on producing these 20 million gallons per year, it looks like they have finally done what us critics have warned costs hundreds of millions, if not a billion dollars, to scale to low cost fuels.  I cannot imagine United would pay anything like the government has paid.

     

    Congratulations!  I have to admit it appears my criticism was out of order.  It did take a lot of money, but appears commercially viable.  The government gets the win on this one after all the grants and funding support for sure.

    [link]      
  45. By Walt on November 8, 2011 at 10:16 am

    I found this press release odd when it hit my inbox after the number Algae company Solazyme must be a bright start for them in obtaining government grants and support from the government.

     

    ————————

    National Algae Association Applauds Department of Energy Inspector General’s Recent Comments

     

    National Algae Association was pleased to read in last Thursday’s Politico, http://www.politico.com/news/s…..z1d4ZchNxM, that the Department
    of Energy’s inspector general has launched more than 100 criminal
    investigations related to 2009 economic stimulus spending.

     

    In written
    testimony prepared for delivery to the House Oversight and Government
    Reform Committee on Wednesday, November 2, 2011, Inspector General
    Gregory Friedman said the investigations have involved “various schemes,
    including the submission of false information, claims for unallowable
    or unauthorized expenses, and other improper uses of Recovery Act
    funds.”

    According to the
    Inspector General, the stimulus funding that the Department Of Energy
    received – more than $35 billion – was greater than previous annual
    budgets for the entire agency, most notably its $27 billion in funding
    for fiscal 2011.

     

    “Our reviews have
    identified a fairly consistent pattern of delays in the pace at which
    Recovery Act funds had been spent by grant and other financial
    assistance recipients,” Friedman said.

     

    He also offered a
    critical talking point for opponents of the DOE loan guarantee program,
    which is the subject of a White House-ordered independent review in
    light of the failure of solar manufacturer Solyndra after it received a
    $535 million loan guarantee in 2009, saying that “The Loan Guarantee
    Program had not [been] properly documented and as such could not always
    readily demonstrate how it resolved or mitigated relevant risks prior to
    granting loan guarantees.”

     

    “I applaud the
    candor of the Inspector General in openly addressing some of the issues
    that have caused a lot of frustration, to say the least,” according to
    NAA Executive Director Barry Cohen, “and with the algae program at the
    Department of Energy in ‘transition’, we can only hope that 2012 will be
    the year for industrial algae production, not algae research.   If we
    could just allocate 10% of the DoE’s funding from fiscal 2011 to
    production of strains that would result in algae biofuel production, we
    could be well on our way to energy independence and we would certainly
    make a dent in the national unemployment rate!”

     

    National Algae Association

    [link]      
  46. By sameer-kulkarni on November 10, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Walt said:

    Congratulations are in order here:

     

    http://www.globalenergywatch.c…..techno.com

     

    If they can get the costs down on producing these 20 million gallons per year, it looks like they have finally done what us critics have warned costs hundreds of millions, if not a billion dollars, to scale to low cost fuels.  I cannot imagine United would pay anything like the government has paid.

     

    Congratulations!  I have to admit it appears my criticism was out of order.  It did take a lot of money, but appears commercially viable.  The government gets the win on this one after all the grants and funding support for sure.


     

    A particular advantage Solazyme has is that they have leveraged into both Bulk (diesel, jetfuel) and Speciality (nutrition, health) chemical platforms Also fermentation being primarily a batch process, they construct Multiple product plants. So in a situation where price of sugar shoots up or price of crude plummets, they can reroute the fermentation process to manufacture speciality chemicals in lieu of bulk chemicals. It gives them a flexibility to operate comfortably in volatile feedstock prices.

     

    [link]      
  47. By Optimist on November 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    With respect to downstream processing, when the overall energy yield of refined ethanol is compared to that of unrefined biodiesel, the difference is only (2.96-2.62)/2.62 = 0.13; a meagre 13%. That is the reason why there is neck to neck competition.

    Great calculations, not sure what they tell us. As I have said before, biodiesel is great for DIY. It has no place at the refinery scale.

    Also, you seem to be confusing Solazyme (which produces a hydrocarbon = diesel) with the traditional algae process (which produces biodiesel).

    Lipids processing yields biodiesel which is blended with petro-diesel whereas ethanol is blended with gasoline.

    Solazyme’s lipids processing yields diesel. Period. Way better than either ethanol or biodiesel.

    Apples & Oranges !

    Not so! Liquid vehicle fuels can be compared fairly easily in terms of their ability to move a motor vehicle a certain distance. The (somewhat misleading) volumetric comparison (mpg) obviously favors diesel over gasoline. Even if you do a more accurate BTU comparison, diesel does better due to higher engine compression. So it stands to reason that producing diesel is better idea than producing ethanol. If you then take into account the energy needed to separate ethanol from the fermentation broth there can only be one winner.

    [link]      
  48. By Walt on December 3, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Walt said:

    Art said:

    @walt, i agree with you description of what we call the old boys network…


     

    Art,

    I thought a little about your comment after I posted….and decided it would be a good time to introduce two investigators who I think are among the bravest…and one who is bar none the bravest…in America to expose the ‘old boys network’ as you describe them.

    First is Dylan Ratigan…who has been one of the best investigative reporter (on a major network that is getting lots of heat to have him removed) covering “some key aspects” of the financial markets often refused to be discussed in primetime media out of job security.  He has done some of the best in-depth reporting I’ve ever seen, and his interviews have dug deep into claims made by those who are sitting on piles of cash a certain pedigree of underwriters.  He is not a blogger, of course, who have more freedom to rant, but he is opening doors few will walk through.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D…..an_Ratigan

     

    Finally is William Black.  If you don’t know him…here is a man with brass that is unmatched of anyone I’ve read or heard speak.  I’m pleased to say he got his JD from University of Michigan Law School.  The man is fearless.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W…..m_K._Black

     

    Before I get booted off this blog, watch this video and read some of Black’s materials.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…..r_embedded


     

    This one by Dylan Ratigan has gone wild on the web…with his follow-up on what he means and what to do:

     

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…..Icqb9hHQ3E (the rant)

     

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…..bBQ6MAffyE (follow-up)

     

    [link]      
  49. By paul-n on December 4, 2011 at 5:24 am

    @ Sam – good numbers, but one quibble.  The ethanol process can use any source of heat for distillation.  They mostly use NG, but it could be coal, or even waste heat from a powerplant.  In any case they NEVER use liquid fuel, so I’m not sure how useful your energy calculation is.  

    We can regard ethanol as a roundabout way of converting NG into liquid fuel, and other ways of doing gas to liquids (e.g. methanol) are in use today, so i don;t really have a problem with them using non-liquid (and non food) energy for the distillation

     

    @ optimist

    Even if you do a more accurate BTU comparison, diesel does better due to higher engine compression. So it stands to reason that producing diesel is better idea than producing ethanol.

    If you use the ethanol in a high compression engine( a diesel, or a gas turbine) it gives about the same energetic efficiency as diesel.  The problem lies with American carmakers and gov policies that have restricted the use of diesel cars, so te ethanol is used in the most inefficient way – in gasoline engines.

     

    The 300g of sugar feedstock (which is 5.1MJ) yielded 4.56MJ of ethanol, which is 89% of the feedstock energy.  But the algae yielded  only 2.96MJ of triglycerides.  When you process that (and get propane – a gaseous fuel) the “algal diesel” yield is even lower.  If we put it at 5% loss, then we have 2.8MJ, which is 55% of the feedstock energy.

    So, going the ethanol route, an energy  unit of sugar feedstock will give you 63% (=4.56/2.8) more energy back as liquid ethanol than as algal diesel – so which one, really, is coming out ahead in the production of liquid fuel from limited volumes of solid feedstock?

     

     

    [link]      
  50. By sameer-kulkarni on December 5, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Paul N said:

    @ Sam – good numbers, but one quibble.  The ethanol process can use any source of heat for distillation.  They mostly use NG, but it could be coal, or even waste heat from a powerplant.  In any case they NEVER use liquid fuel, so I’m not sure how useful your energy calculation is.  

    We can regard ethanol as a roundabout way of converting NG into liquid fuel, and other ways of doing gas to liquids (e.g. methanol) are in use today, so i don;t really have a problem with them using non-liquid (and non food) energy for the distillation


     

    ??/ What liquid fuel are you referring to Paul? My calculations highlight energy consumption for producing steam. Because I don’t have the absolute numbers, I have assumed all this steam is used for distillation purpose only. Of course this Steam is produced via combustion of coal, NG, Bagasse etc or could be any other source of waste heat.

    [link]      
  51. By paul-n on December 5, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    What liquid fuel are you referring to Paul?

    Well, the whole idea of these two processess – Solazyme and ethanol fermentation – is to produce a liquid fuel from a solid feedstock.

    Your numbers are good summary comparison of the two processes.

    Your approach is comparing total energy involved, which is valid from a process and thermodynamic point of view.

    but from the poiint of view of producing the most (valuable) liquid fuel from a (cheap) solid feedstock, the external energy inputs, as long as they are not liquid fuel, are secondary.

     

    So, if we have a limited amount of sugar – say one ton – and we want to get the most btu’s of liquid fuel out of that, then ethanol is the better way to go.  Yes, it does involve external energy input, and Solazyme doesn’t, but when NG and Coal are 1/6 and 1/10 the cost of a btu of liquid fuel, that is not a big concern. 

    So I would summarise it by saying that ethanol will yield more liquid fuel for the same amount of feedstock, but it may be possible that Solazyme would be a cheaper process, per btu of fuel produced.

    I say “may” because they are yet to prove themselves, and it doesn’t look like we will see them doing alrge scale fuel production any time soon.

     

     

    [link]      
  52. By art on December 10, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    I say “may” because they are yet to prove themselves, and it doesn’t look like we will see them doing alrge scale fuel production any time soon.

     

     

     

     


     

    hmm the solazymers seem to plan producing some volume…

    http://www.algaeindustrymagazi…..-purchase/

     

    seems the “drop-in fuel” factor also plays a role.  methanol and ethanol are not mentioned by those military green fleet tests?

    RR can witnness the ships passing by at hawaii next summer and smell the fryfat/algae blend of the green fleet..

    i would place my bet on the sugar to oil route,  seems  more favourable in many ways.

     

    [link]      
  53. By Walt on December 10, 2011 at 4:38 pm

     

    At $400 per gallon for gasoline in war zones I can see the willingness to pay any price from algae producers if it works as advertized.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/…..SecondNews

    [link]      
  54. By paul-n on December 12, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Art,

     

    “large scale” is a very flexible term. Your link mentions a planned purchase of 100,000 gallons of fuel.  If that is over a year, it is 274 gallons per day, or the equivalent of 6 barrels of oil, per day.  That is a very small scale oil producing well, and below the US average of (I think) about 15bpd.

    So, they are only “large” incomparison to other biofuels companies – most of which have produced little or nothing.

     

    “large” to me means large enough to make a difference to something – presently, Solazyme is nowhere near that.

     

     

    @ Walt – keep in mind the problem here is the delivery cost, not the source of the fuel.  Airdropping anything into an active war zone is going to be equally expensive.  The real solution is for the forward ops to use less fuel – or not be there in the first place.

     

    [link]      
  55. By art on December 13, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Paul N said:

     

    “large” to me means large enough to make a difference to something – presently, Solazyme is nowhere near that.

     

    .
     


     

    Hi Paul,

     

     thanks the scale betwen solazyme and oilwells !  seems to me they are at least ahead in the race…  looking at their steps the have shown something that may make a difference; a trick to convert sugar to diesel and do it beyond labtable scale.   if  a small oil well does 15 bpd, the are  at 50% of a average industrial smal well, far beyond pilotscale. 

    at this moment the sugar to oil route  is the drop in an ocean of fuel but i think it is scalable to a significant productionlevel.

    I am aware this immediately raise food vs fuel concerns in terms of fertilizer and landuse but keep in mind a large proportion of o relies on phosphates.  one of the problems with phosphate is that it is limited in a special way; a  large proportion of accesible phosphate is radioactive rendering it unsuitable for food. 

    if these phosphates are used for energy crops to accumulate sugar the double refining process (firs will take care of the contaminants. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    [link]      
  56. By paul-n on December 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Art,

    Solazyme is possibly beyond pilot scale, but when a typical ethanol distillery – the one only real biofuel plants operating in the US – does 100million gal/yr – or about 4000 bpd (equivalent energy basis), I still maintain that Solazyme is yet to get to a “commercial” level of production.

     

    The other problem – for both solazyme and ethanol – is that they both need sugar as a feedstock.

    It can only scale as far as there is a sugar supply – and that, presently, means food.

     

    And given the failure of almost all efforts at commercial scale cellulosic production, I can’t see the food v fuel problem being resolved anytime soon.

     

    Solazyme gives a different path to converting sugar into fuel – it is solving the secondary problem.

    The real problem is how to convert cellulosic materials into sugar – cost effectively.

    That is the primary problem, and it remains unsolved

    [link]      
  57. By sameer-kulkarni on December 13, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Paul N said:

    Art,

    Solazyme is possibly beyond pilot scale, but when a typical ethanol distillery – the one only real biofuel plants operating in the US – does 100million gal/yr – or about 4000 bpd (equivalent energy basis), I still maintain that Solazyme is yet to get to a “commercial” level of production.

     

    The other problem – for both solazyme and ethanol – is that they both need sugar as a feedstock.

    It can only scale as far as there is a sugar supply – and that, presently, means food.


     

    art said:

     thanks the scale betwen solazyme and oilwells !  seems to me they are at least ahead in the race…  looking at their steps the have shown something that may make a difference; a trick to convert sugar to diesel and do it beyond labtable scale.   if  a small oil well does 15 bpd, the are  at 50% of a average industrial smal well, far beyond pilotscale. 

    at this moment the sugar to oil route  is the drop in an ocean of fuel but i think it is scalable to a significant productionlevel.

     

    The evaluation doesn’t merely end at the scales of production, nature of feedstock or yield but also in the fermentation process. Conventional Ethanol is an anaerobic fermentation process whereas heterotrophic algal cultivation is an aerobic process requiring oxygen. Fermenters for production of ethanol only require CO2 or any other inert gas blanketing whereas aerobic cultivation requires air/oxygen bubbling in the production fermenters.

     

    Take a look at the fermentation bioreactor at 2:00 in this video http://www.solazyme.com/video-…..LLVzpTWmts. The facility is a bulk drugs production unit which cultivates fungii for biochemical synthesis of antibiotics. The design is nowhere close to the Fermenters commissioned at a conventional ethanol distillery, which appear more like storage vessels in a Tank farm (having low aspect ratios).

     

    The construction of such aerobic bioreactors is highly sophisticated and their size is limited in addition to significant amount of energy consumed in dispersing air inside the Bioreactor. The capital outlay required for installing aerobic bioreactors shall be significantly higher compared to those of an ethanol distillery.

     

     

    [link]      
  58. By art on December 13, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    The construction of such aerobic bioreactors is highly sophisticated and their size is limited in addition to significant amount of energy consumed in dispersing air inside the Bioreactor. The capital outlay required for installing aerobic bioreactors shall be significantly higher compared to those of an ethanol distillery.

     

     


     

    Hi Paul, Sam,

     

    I wondered about the oxygen demand involved with the reactors and agree bioethanol has some advance here…. thanks for confirmation of this oxygen question. aerobic cultivation is always demanding..

    and Paul:   fully agree with the claim cellulosic feedstocks are far from away from practical use…

     

    guess some daredevil entrepeneur has to show which of the two routes sugar to ethanol of oil is effective on true scale (1000 bpd ?)  and sustainability..

     

    to be continued

     

     

     

     

    [link]      
  59. By paul-n on December 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Sam, 

     

    Thanks for the video link.  Those bioreactors do indeed look expensive!

    I used to work in the simplest aerobic fermentation process of all – sewage treatment.

    I would think that these process need to be able to utilise sewage style aerated tanks in order to scale to any large volume, unless the going price is $10/gal or more for the raw oil.

     

    I will not give credence to solazyme’s claim about non food feedstocks until I can see them using, at volume, sawdust and the like, as their feedstock.

    And even then, they have to realise that any dry feedstock, like sawdust/woodwaste, has a value as a combustion energy source – of about $50/ton, so they are not getting their feedstock for free.

    A ton of dry wood waste has about 20GJ of energy.  If their process has a 55% yield, then they get 11GJ,or 91 gal diesel per ton of feedstock.  So before they have even produced anything, it has cost them 55c/gal for their feedstock, and more if they have to transport it any distance to these centralised production plants – most of which are far away from wood/biomass sources.

    Art – the oxygen demand is definitely an energy input, and  cost, but, as long as it is air, and not pur oxygen, this cost is relatively small.  The bigger cost is the nature of the equipment, as Sam has pointed out.

    It is small wonder they are pursuing higher value markets like chemicals/cosmetics etc.  Fuel is the cheapest commodity there is.  If their stuff is as pure as they say it is, then it should be used for higher value purposes.  

    But that doesn’t help us to fuel our vehicles

     

    [link]      
  60. By Walt on December 13, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Paul N said:

    And given the failure of almost all efforts at commercial scale cellulosic production, I can’t see the food v fuel problem being resolved anytime soon.


     

    Paul, this was announced a couple days ago and appears promising:

     

    12/09/2011 – Frontier Renewable Resources and Valero Establish Joint Venture for Commercial-Scale Hardwood Cellulosic Ethanol Facility in Kinross, MI

    http://www.frontier-renewable.com/press/

     

    Although a bit off topic, it does involve some large investment in a relatively large commercial scale plant to make ethanol.

    [link]      
  61. By Walt on December 13, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Paul N said:

    Art – the oxygen demand is definitely an energy input, and  cost, but, as long as it is air, and not pur oxygen, this cost is relatively small.  The bigger cost is the nature of the equipment, as Sam has pointed out.


     

    Paul, it is interesting that they do use O2 as I did not know that in reading their IPO offering documents.  Perhaps I overlooked it.  Without getting some upset, I would like to use our own technology with the experience we face when dealing with O2 as a feedstock to our process.  The biggest objective we face is that we use O2 and not air.  We have run the numbers on each, and looked carefully at each, and found a better carbon efficiency and cost comparison using O2 than air.  While I agree that the “rule of thumb” in industry is to do everything possible to use air over O2 (safety primarily), I think using O2 is preferred in some processes where carbon efficiency vs. cost is evaluated.  If Solazyme is using O2 for their process, then I will be very surprised if they can really achieve the low cost of production they claim in their offering documents.  While I like O2 for some processes, it does cost a lot in CAPEX at any scale.

    [link]      
  62. By paul-n on December 13, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    From that link Frontier/mascoma have been trying for four years now to build that plant!  I wish them well, but still, another “first of its kind” – what could possibly go wrong?

     

    As for the O2 in Solazymes process, I don’t know the specifics, but what I do know is that providing O2 for a biological process – where it can be done by bubbling/diffusing air into a tank/bioreactor, is *much* cheaper than an O2 plant can ever be.  Chemical processes it is s different story, but for bio ones, like sewage treatment, it is very easy.

    I’m still not clear on why the algae need O2, as normally they take in CO2, but that’s probably just part of their trade secret.

     

    What would be interesting is to have a sunlight driven algae process, that uses CO2, next to an ethanol process, that produces said CO2 – that would seem to be a good match.  The distillery could feed the (wet) DDG’s to animals in a feedlot, and then the manure can be used to grow the algae (using the CO2) .  When the algae oil is extracted the residual algae might also be suitable as animal feed.

    Then, out of the original corn, you get ethanol, meat, oil and no CO2 emissions, reduced energy use for no drying of DDG’s and increased energy output from the algae leg, plus waste treatment from the feedlot.

    That would be agood closed system, and the distillery/feedlot part already exists, someone just needs to do the algae part… 

     

     

    [link]      
  63. By Walt on December 13, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Paul N said:

    What would be interesting is to have a sunlight driven algae process, that uses CO2, next to an ethanol process, that produces said CO2 – that would seem to be a good match.  The distillery could feed the (wet) DDG’s to animals in a feedlot, and then the manure can be used to grow the algae (using the CO2) .  When the algae oil is extracted the residual algae might also be suitable as animal feed.
    Then, out of the original corn, you get ethanol, meat, oil and no CO2 emissions, reduced energy use for no drying of DDG’s and increased energy output from the algae leg, plus waste treatment from the feedlot.

    That would be agood closed system, and the distillery/feedlot part already exists, someone just needs to do the algae part… 


     

    Paul, good idea.  Before now, I did not think about it using an ethanol plant, but we developed a similar concept our methanol plant. 

     

    It was submitted in our integrated biorefinery DOE grant application.  We grew the algae in a large greenhouse that was demonstrated by the grant partner on the east coast.  The algae oil was separated from the residual husks and turned into biomethane/CO2 by a digester.  The methane was fed to our plant, and we used the methanol and ethanol blend as “part” of the fertilizer (proven in golf courses in Indiana) to aide in algae growth (often the largest “feedstock” opex expense is fertilizer in algae systems) along with CO2 from the digester and our methanol plant.  The algae oil made ASTM biodiesel by blending in our methanol.  There are several other products we made, and ways to enhance the digester process using some european technology. The plant was not only economically viable at relatively small scales, but it was a carbon sink entirely due to the properly designed CO2 quality required without impurities that can limit plant growth from some processes.  Everything was pilot ready for demonstration as an integrated biorefinery.  It was an amazing mass balance in many respects as an integrated system without having to sell cosmetics or biochemicals to make it economic at small scales. 

     

    Your idea has a lot of merit based upon the work we did and whatever DOE lab will access all the material balances we did.  It was a massive amount of work for 4 of us…as the PFD’s and P&ID’s were over 50 pages as I recall.  We had a local University contribute to the biodiesel plant design and testing plan.

     

    We have improvements now, but it was a good starting concept for an integrated system.  The winners of those grants (I think Solazyme was one of them) are demonstrating their ideas now, and I look forward to see their results.  I really have been a fan of the integrated biorefinery concept for years.  It is the only way in my view to make it work, just like Pearl did in Qatar.  That is the ideal jumbo size integrated project!

     

    Again, if I offended anyone by raising mention of our technology publicly (or the post being too long)  it is not intended…but public complaints are preferred over private ones to the admin.  Change you can believe in!

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  64. By paul-n on December 14, 2011 at 1:00 am

    i think the integrated bioprefinery is the only way to do it.  Just like the original “biorefinery” – the farm – you can’t afford to waste anything, and there is almost always a beneficial use for every “waste” product.

     

    The fact that you have one process that makes (pure) CO2 and another one that benefits from it is a pretty good win, IMO.

    I should add that the CO2 from distilling could also be used in a commercial greenhouse (can treble growth rates), as could the manure from the feedlot – though you would need a *large* greenhouse operation to do this.

    But that’s effectively what an algae operation is – it just doesn’t seem to be *cost* effective at present.  

    Unless you go for higher value products, as Solazyme is doing.

    Someone needs to take on the challenge of groawing algae in open pands at large scale…

    [link]      
  65. By Walt on December 14, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Paul N said:

    Feeding them sugar is just silly.


     

    That is exactly the view of Dr. Nonomura.  Fertilizers are a major cost problem to enhance growth and rapid harvesting to reduce footprint, and open ponds at sewer treatment plants could make sense if contamination does not get into other areas by wind, etc.

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  66. By Walt on December 14, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Paul N said:

    Someone needs to take on the challenge of groawing algae in open pands at large scale…


     

    They have considered it in the Oceans in a Statoil/DOE study.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…..EupG_SypZw

     

    The other issue that shows promise is in the south where they are considering to convert catfish farms into algae ponds.  The farms currently grow algae naturally and they spend a lot of time and money to control algae growth.  With the low cost of catfish coming out of China, etc. there was some talk to convert them to algae fuel farms.  Although I am not the expert, and I would have to defer to Dr. Nonomura on our board, the various species of algae in open ponds to make algae oil can be easily cross contaminated and thus impossible to control easily/cheaply.  Thus, the natural algae growth could be fertilized and harvested to make biomass, or in our case biomethane, and then converted to fuel with our methanol process.  This would not give you biodiesel of course, but would give you a fuel if methanol were ever allowed as a fuel feedstock in America.  Nevertheless, using the algae farms to make biomass very cheaply, or biogas/methane, is wise in my view after studying the numbers.  If one does not like methanol or chemicals, they can easily make electricity or send the biomethane to the pipeline grid.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29638561/

     

    Disclosure: I mentioned are company again that could offend someone…it is not intentional to offend you.  Again, please vent your complaint publicly so I can address it rather than privately to admin.  I will try to make this dislosure in the future to limit the large number of complaints.

     

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  67. By sameer-kulkarni on December 14, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Paul N said:

    As for the O2 in Solazymes process, I don’t know the specifics, but what I do know is that providing O2 for a biological process – where it can be done by bubbling/diffusing air into a tank/bioreactor, is *much* cheaper than an O2 plant can ever be.  Chemical processes it is s different story, but for bio ones, like sewage treatment, it is very easy.

     

    Pure O2 is only used for supplementing the Air that to also by employins pressurized Oxygen cylinders. Whenever there is a drastic reduction in the Dissolved Oxygen (DO), Oxygen is mixed with Air in a Gas mixing station and bubbled to normalize the oygen concentration levels. No need to comission ASU.

     

    I’m still not clear on why the algae need O2, as normally they take in CO2, but that’s probably just part of their trade secret.

     

    Algae need light to fix CO2 during phototrophic growth whereas O2 is required to increase the productivity during dark heterotrophic growth (my conclusion). Art is a Micro guy he can explain it better.

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  68. By paul-n on December 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Walt, the *ideal* place to be growing algae is next to sewage tretament plants in the sunny south.  There you already have water+ nutrients+sunshine.

     

    I think the fact that you are harvesting bulk biomass – instead of oil filled algae – is OK.  Not as nice, but you can;t control the wild algae’s .

    The algae can be dewatered in a similar way to sewage sludge – and the sewage plant will likely already have this equipment.

     

    What to then do with the dewatered biomass is the same question as for woodwaste, switchgrass, etc.  I expect the best option would be to burn for electricity, but there may be other ways, like anaearobic digestio for methane, and then use the residuals as fertiliser and so on.

    The sewage plants are a great resource for large scale water and nuitrients – which algae can use.

    Feeding them sugar is just silly.

    [link]      
  69. By sameer-kulkarni on December 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    Paul N said:

    Walt, the *ideal* place to be growing algae is next to sewage tretament plants in the sunny south.  There you already have water+ nutrients+sunshine.

    The sewage plants are a great resource for large scale water and nuitrients – which algae can use.

    The algae can be dewatered in a similar way to sewage sludge – and the sewage plant will likely already have this equipment.

     

    Here there is a dual benefit of environmental bio-remediation coupled with CO2 sequestration.

     

    I think the fact that you are harvesting bulk biomass – instead of oil filled algae – is OK.  Not as nice, but you can;t control the wild algae’s .

    There shouldnt be any question of control as the selectivity of Algae towards production of Oil is no more a crucial issue.

     

    What to then do with the dewatered biomass is the same question as for woodwaste, switchgrass, etc.  I expect the best option would be to burn for electricity, but there may be other ways, like anaearobic digestio for methane, and then use the residuals as fertiliser and so on.

     

    Anaerobic digestion looks like a good idea compared to burning due to elimination of energy intensive drying step.

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  70. By savro on December 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Walt said:

    Disclosure: I mentioned are company again that could offend someone…it is not intentional to offend you.  Again, please vent your complaint publicly so I can address it rather than privately to admin.  I will try to make this dislosure in the future to limit the large number of complaints.
     


     

    Walt, I don’t get why it’s so difficult to understand. No one gets “offended” when you mention your company; the problem is that you can’t seem to talk about anything to do with energy without drawing parallels to methanol in general, and your company specifically. The issue is one of annoyance rather than something to take offense about. It would be just as annoying if you’d incessantly draw parallels to computers in general, and IBM as a company. People want to read and talk about energy, and you make it very difficult to have a productive conversation when the inevitable outcome is always going to be a discussion about your projects.

    The fact that you keep adding disclosures just makes it even more annoying.

     

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  71. By Walt on December 14, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Samuel R. Avro said:

     

    Walt, I don’t get why it’s so difficult to understand. No one gets “offended” when you mention your company; the problem is that you can’t seem to talk about anything to do with energy without drawing parallels to methanol in general, and your company specifically. The issue is one of annoyance rather than something to take offense about. It would be just as annoying if you’d incessantly draw parallels to computers in general, and IBM as a company. People want to read and talk about energy, and you make it very difficult to have a productive conversation when the inevitable outcome is always going to be a discussion about your projects.

    The fact that you keep adding disclosures just makes it even more annoying.

     


     

    I speak from my experience on certain projects that could be of value.  Thank you for the public criticism.  Received and acknowledged.

     

    I’ll leave the site voluntarily.  No hard feelings.

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  72. By art on December 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Algae need light to fix CO2 during phototrophic growth whereas O2 is required to increase the productivity during dark heterotrophic growth (my conclusion). Art is a Micro guy he can explain it better.


     

    Sam is correct. In photosynthesis  CO2 is used as carbonsource and H20 is coverted in oxygen.

     

    6 CO2 +6 H20 –>C6H1206 + 6 O2

     

     the sugars are used for normal metabolic use, part of the O2 is used and th rest diffiuses out of the cell.

     

    If you grow algae in the dark like solazyme is doing in these very expensive strirred tankreactors sugars are carbonsource and now external oxygen is required to run the  normals metabolic operation.  the good part is that  use of sugar allows you to grow cells at very high densities.

    High density growth is very difficult in light driven reactors, steep gradients of light cause very smal photosynthetic  effective volumes,  the tradeof between effective lightdistribution and maximal cell density is difficult to deal with.

     

    the bad part of growing cells in high density on sugar is that the consumption of of oxygen dependent on density and needs to be monitored continously and adapted with care and attention.   it is more demanding compared to aerobic treatmen of sewage  as many of these sewage microbes are facultative aerobes; the can sustain well for a while with low oxygen.  dark heterotrophic grown algae are obligate aerobe,  the cannot do without oxygen.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  73. By art on December 15, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Paul N said:

    i think the integrated bioprefinery is the only way to do it.  Just like the original “biorefinery” – the farm – you can’t afford to waste anything, and there is almost always a beneficial use for every “waste” product.

     

    The fact that you have one process that makes (pure) CO2 and another one that benefits from it is a pretty good win, IMO.

    I should add that the CO2 from distilling could also be used in a commercial greenhouse (can treble growth rates), as could the manure from the feedlot – though you would need a *large* greenhouse operation to do this.

    But that’s effectively what an algae operation is – it just doesn’t seem to be *cost* effective at present.  

    Unless you go for higher value products, as Solazyme is doing.

    Someone needs to take on the challenge of groawing algae in open pands at large scale…


     

     nice to read these idea’s  !  we are exactly doing those two things right now.  in one project  we colocalize an algaefarm (pilot 1000 M3 volume)  next to a bioethanolplant.  part of the bioethanol is used to add biothanol to the algapaste from a sieve belt.  products are a tincture (mix of ethanol and extracted contents of algae) and after reclaiming the ethanol a dry sterile algaepowder. 

    lowvalues waste heat 50-70 degrees from distillingunit, CO2 and nitrogen/phosphate rich effluents from bioethanolprocess can be useful nutrient inputs for algaefarm.

    in one other project we colocalize an algaefarm with a brewery. breweries produce quite some amounts of effluent; a foodgrade waste stream with N and P is the turned into a feedgrade algaereactor.

    instead of aerobic treatment of effluent (30 w per M3 of airsparging)  illuminate the volume with 30 w/M3 of LED.  same energetic efficiency as an aerobic treatment system with respect to N and P removal but now it consumes CO2 and creates algal biomass with a value.

     

    this is a nobrainer and will definetly change the game if you realize that any foodgrade process with large effluentstreaams rich in N and P can be input for feedgrade algaereactors.

    colocalizing algae farms with sewage treatment is a poor combination,  algal biomass is only suitable fuel or chemical industry, to much hormonse, pathogens and other issuse to create value from sewage grow algae…

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  74. By paul-n on December 16, 2011 at 2:51 am

    Art,

     

    I’m pleased to read that you are involved in these sorts of things -please keep us updated.

     

    Agreed absolutely that any food waste stream is a nutrient rich stream of potentially great value – IF it is in the right place. 

    Unfortunately, many breweries and other food processing plants are located in cities, and there is no land to do anything, and no possibility of piping the waste – othert than into the sewage system.

    Doing algae at STP’s is not necessaitly a poor combination at all.  If you are in the sewage industry – as I once was – algae and constructed wetlands – are actually a very cheap and effective means of sewage treatment – if you have the land (and climate) to do it.

    It would indeed contain hormones, pathogens etc, but then, so does sewage sludge, and something has to be done with that.  

    If the algae biomass was then put through anaerobic digestion, just like the sludge, you would have quite an energy yield from it.

    Sewage effluent and sludge can also be used for irrigation of range and forest land – if it can do this for trees, I’m sure it could grow a lot of algae too.

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     Pathogens do have to be addressed by various means, but that is all established technology.

     

     

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