Friday, March 09, 2012

Solazyme Aims to Get the Most Out of Algae

Solazyme's proprietary biotechnology platform creates renewable oils by harnessing microalgae's prolific oil production capabilities. Through world-class molecular biology and chemical engineering capabilities, we're able to cost-effectively produce high-value tailored oils. _SolazymeTechnology
Solazyme Technology

Al Fin analysts and consultants have been telling biofuels startups for years to focus on products with early profitability, while perfecting their processes for high volume, competitively priced biofuels -- which may not be ready for market until 2020 or later, in the case of algal oil-based biofuels.

It seems that algal oils company Solazyme may be listening. Instead of solely focusing on algal oil biofuels, solazyme is looking at a wide range of algal based products. Besides cosmetics, nutritional supplements, and industrial chemicals, solazyme is also developing algal food oil products, algal flours for bread and other baked goods, and even algae ice cream.
Solazyme has already found success in the cosmetics industry with its Algenist line of beauty products (tagline: "biotechnology from San Francisco), which rely on "alguronic acid," a compound produced by microalgae that can protect algae--and incidentally, human skin--from the environment. Since launching less than a year ago, Algenist products have become best-sellers at Sephora stores across the country.

...Solazyme’s algae-derived flour, which has a similar lipid profile to olive oil, can be used to create strikingly tasty foods.

The Almagin flour, a yellowish powder containing algae oil, can go anywhere butter, eggs, and oil are used. "It’s like having an oil on steroids," explains Morgan. "It acts like more oil than it is. You can take out three pounds of oil and put in one pound of our product."

... ice cream containing the algae flour, for example, has less fat and fewer calories than a traditional ice cream. It also contains more protein and dietary fiber. So while half a cup of regular ice cream contains 17% butter fat and 260 calories, that same ice cream made with algae flour has 6% total fat and 160 calories. Take it from someone (me) who has compared the algae ice cream with an ice cream from a big-name manufacturer: The algae stuff tastes almost exactly the same.

...Solazyme is currently testing whether the algae flour helps to extend the shelf life of certain foods. Proof of this ability was sitting in the kitchen: a half loaf of algae flour bread that had been on the counter for 12 days was still in decent shape. Not good enough to eat without toasting it first, but not moldy, either.

Morgan expects to have products containing the algae flour on store shelves by the end of this year (they will be sold by food manufacturers, not Solazyme). Products containing algae protein are already available.

Ultimately, Solazyme’s bet outside the biofuel business may be the thing that allows it to survive--and maybe even outlast other algae fuel-producing companies. _FC
This is the type of creative thinking that allows some companies to survive under general economic conditions that would destroy most other startups in the same general classification. First, look to the bottom line, while always keeping in mind your long-term goals.

The idea of eating algae as a staple food may seem odd to those of us accustomed to thinking of it as a fuel feedstock, but if it can be done profitably, why not? Algae certainly does not compete for prime farmland with regular food crops, at least not the way Solazyme grows it.

What human societies currently suffer from is a shortage of human ingenuity, as well as a growing shortage of skilled craftsmen and creative engineers with practical skills. Human ingenuity is the ultimate resource which needs to be developed.



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