Oil Report

INTERVIEW-Solazyme sees pond scum fuel in 2 to 3 years

NEW YORK, Sept 9 (Reuters) - U.S. biofuel company Solazyme, Inc should be making motor fuel from the scum that normally grows on ponds cost competitive to petroleum products in two to three years, its chief executive said.

“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 in an interview. The company recently got $45 million in funding from venture capital firms.

Companies are racing to find economic ways to turn algae, one of the planet’s oldest life forms, into vegetable oil that in turn can be made into biodiesel, jet fuel and other fuels. Such fuels are considered to be net carbon neutral because the algae absorbs greenhouse gases when it grows.

One problem with growing algae has been “layering” or the tendency of algal cells to slow their internal process of making oil once they multiply quickly in a pond, or in specially made containers.

To get around the problem, Solazyme says it has discovered a way to feed algae with renewable resources such as waste sugars and starches, so they can make oil without sunlight and no matter where they are in a container.

Wolfson said the process makes the individual cells “morbidly obese,” and makes a much thicker soup that can be turned into fuel.

Plant waste rich in cellulose, or the tough woody bits that make up most of plants such as trees, canes and grasses, also can be fed to the algae, he said.

California-based Solazyme said on Tuesday it has produced the world’s first jet fuel derived from microbes. Airlines are keen to discover green fuels because they are less likely than cars to run on batteries or other alternative fuels in the future.

Solazyme’s jet fuel passed initial third party specifications. Wolfson said it will take at least a year for it to get public and private jet fuel certification that would legally allow it to be burned in planes.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Gregorio