vw jetta tdi solazyme diesel

As we learned when we visited last fall, Solazyme is doing some interesting things in its South San Francisco lab. Now, our friends over at Translogic put together a video showing the algae-derived diesel being used in a Volkswagen Passat TDI – as well as getting burned by the US Navy.

Translogic's Bradley Hasemeyer interviewed Graham Ellis, vice president at Solazyme, to understand the process at work here. When making the algae-derived diesel (it's not right to call it biodiesel), they start from sugarcane and take in a couple million tons into the front end of their plant. That sugar is then processed through fermentation. The algae sits there and eats, growing big and fat, becoming little round oil balls. The lab workers dry and extract the oil, which is then turned into diesel. It's a drop-in replacement – which means it works like regular diesel – and Ellis calls it a "fantastic premium material." You can watch the video below.

Solzyme provided algae jet fuel to United Airlines for a flight between Houston and Chicago.

Solzyme provided algae jet fuel to United Airlines for a flight between Houston and Chicago. It worked very well, Ellis said. The Navy has sponsored the company to produce its first biofuels. It was also tested at the Rim of the Pacific (Rimpac) Exercise last year, which is the world's largest international maritime warfare exercise. The Navy is going with a blend of 50/50 between Solazyme's fuel and regular fuels, but that number could go higher.

During a test drive, Hasemeyer heard more about what's been learned from the Volkswagen Passat TDI project. They've found it combusts much faster than running it on regular diesel and it produces less particulate matter, less soot and less C02.

Solazyme's primary plant in Peoria, IL, produces over 500,000 gallons of oil annually. The company also has a large plant in Brazil that's coming online soon. That plant will, conveniently located near sugarcane, will produce over 100,000 tons of oil a year.

Will algae-derived diesel take over the market? Ellis doesn't think so, saying the end result will likely be more of a "silver buckshot" than a silver bullet, meaning algae diesel could be one of a number of solutions.