Super-Green, Algae-Derived Jet Fuel Passes Tests With Flying Colors

By Eliza Strickland | September 10, 2008 1:31 pm

algaeA green technology company has created a jet fuel from algae and announced yesterday that the new product meets vigorous aviation standards. The California-based company, Solazyme, said it’s near to creating cost-competitive fuels: “The end goal is to be at or less than the cost of fossil fuel and my best guess is we’ll be at that point within 24 to 36 months,” Jonathan Wolfson, the company’s chief executive, said [Reuters]. The company’s technology uses genetically modified algae, which convert the cellulose from materials like wood chips, switchgrass, or sawdust into oil.

Solazyme had its new fuel tested by an independent company to ensure that its product has the same density, thickness, and freezing point as conventional jet fuels. “This is not like conventional biodiesel, where you can take french fry grease from McDonald’s and turn it into oil in your garage,” said [company president] Harrison Dillon…. “Planes will fall out of the sky if you don’t have a high-quality fuel that meets strict standards. … What Solazyme has done is demonstrate the first-ever manufacture of high-quality jet fuel from algae” [San Francisco Chronicle].

Several other companies are experimenting with ways to make biodiesel for airplanes, working with oils derived from plants such as soybeans and the weed-like jatropha. But Solazyme thinks it has picked a winner with algae oil, which is surprisingly versatile. “We are continuing a lot of work on bringing down the cost of making oil and using our oil as raw materials for all different types of products,” said Dillon, adding that the company’s algal oil will likely first appear on the cosmetic market in less than a year as an ingredient in anti-wrinkle products. Soon after the cosmetic-market debut, Solazyme expects to see its product in edible oils. Commercializing aviation fuels will likely take a lot longer [GreenTech Media].

Solazyme’s jet fuel has some hurdles to overcome—it still costs more than fossil fuel and Solazyme doesn’t own the infrastructure to produce much of it. “If we had our own equipment we could make millions of gallons,” says CEO Jonathan Wolfson. But the “capital involved in owning that equipment is massive” [Scientific American]. However, the company recently gathered $45 million in investments from venture capital companies, so it may be getting ready to increase production.

Learn more about the potential of algae-derived fuels and other promising biodiesels in the recent DISCOVER article, “The Second Coming of Biofuels.”

Image: flickr/Spigoo

Related Post: Poisonous Seeds Can Be Turned Into Jet Fuel

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
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