Solazyme may well be Peoria’s best-kept secret. Its facility on the Illinois River, purchased from PMP Fermentation Products in 2011, has been retrofitted into a fully-integrated renewable oil production plant—the San Francisco-based company’s first demonstration plant in the U.S. Solazyme transforms plant sugars into renewable oils for products in the food, home and personal care, and fuels industries, but claims it can sustainably produce virtually any type of oil, from mimicking natural oil profiles to creating entirely new compositions unachievable in nature. The company produces its novel algal food ingredients at scale right here in Peoria, in addition to ongoing development of its renewable oils. iBi spoke with Bryan Colvin, Solazyme’s Peoria operations manager, about the company and its groundbreaking technologies.
Please provide a brief summary of Solazyme. How did the company get its start?
Jonathan Wolfson, chief executive officer of Solazyme, had a vision: to take one of the smallest organisms in the world—microalgae—and use it to revolutionize some of the biggest industries, in the process creating a healthy, more sustainable, more resource-secure future. Eleven years after founding the company, that vision is a reality. With facilities around the globe, Solazyme is using microalgae to transform plant sugars into renewable oils and sustainable ingredients that will serve as the building blocks of entirely new classes of better-performing and healthier products. From food ingredients, to home and personal care products, to industrial and chemical applications, to advanced fuels, Solazyme is committed to developing healthier, safe and sustainable solutions that benefit business, our products, global society and this planet.
When did Solazyme come to Peoria? How does Peoria fit into the company’s global operations?
Solazyme began evaluating the Peoria facility in March 2011 and selected it because of its central location to service North American customers. In addition, the facility had existing equipment, including large-scale fermentation assets, which Solazyme could leverage, making it a capital-efficient way to gain capacity in the U.S. to continue to scale the company’s technology.
The Peoria facility is Solazyme’s first wholly-owned and fully-integrated renewable oil production plant, and its first demonstration plant in the U.S. It serves as a critical operations hub for Solazyme, allowing the company to not only service large-scale customer orders, but to help scale new products commercially. For example, Solazyme now produces its novel algal food ingredients at scale at its Peoria facility, in addition to ongoing development work performed on its renewable and sustainable algal oils. Also, the Peoria facility, from technology, manufacturing and commercial standpoints, has been a critical plant in terms of helping the organization more efficiently scale to larger commercial operations at other locations.
Solazyme’s Peoria facility serves customers both domestically and globally. The plant has a nameplate capacity of over two million liters of renewable algal oils annually, and provides an important platform for continued work on feedstock flexibility and scaling of new oils and ingredients across multiple industries and applications. It employs a world-class manufacturing and engineering team, whose job it is to commercialize the company’s groundbreaking technology. Careers at Solazyme Peoria range from process technicians and engineers to quality experts and manufacturing specialists. Currently, the facility has 40 employees.
Provide an overview of the processes and technologies for producing and refining your oils.
Solazyme’s technology platform enhances the oil-producing nature of microalgae at the cellular level to produce amazing oil profiles the world has never seen before. While most microalgae produce nutrients by using sunlight in a photosynthetic process, Solazyme’s proprietary microalgae are heterotrophic, meaning they consume plant sugars that have already harnessed the sun’s energy, and thus the organism can grow in the absence of light via Solazyme’s fermentation process. Solazyme uses standard industrial fermentation equipment, like the equipment used in the Peoria facility, to efficiently scale and accelerate microalgae’s natural oil production time to just a few days and at commercial levels.
What are the environmental and nutritional benefits of Solazyme’s oils?
Solazyme is committed to developing healthy, safe and sustainable products with the potential to change the world. The company’s proprietary technology frees oil production from seasonality and geography, eliminating unpredictable costs and reducing environmental damage from traditional sources of oil. Solazyme’s oils are fully traceable back to their source of origin and require lower water consumption than virtually any other plant-based oil. Solazyme’s oils provide a lower GHG profile than other conventional sources of oil, have a low water footprint, and a low land-use impact, in addition to being highly efficient.
In regards to Solazyme’s foods division, Solazyme’s portfolio of algae-based food ingredients includes oils and powders that allow product developers to meet health and wellness concerns of their consumers by formulating with less fat and providing a non-allergenic alternative to simplify their ingredient labels. These ingredients can provide significant improvement in nutritional profiles when compared to similar ingredients, deliver the same sensory experience consumers demand in various applications, provides an alternative to allergenic ingredients, are sustainable, vegan, non-allergenic and gluten-free.
Why are algae-based products well suited for anti-aging and health products? What about food and fuel?
Algae are incredible natural resources that can provide a multitude of solutions, and Solazyme is able to tap into their natural capabilities and leverage them for a wide range of industries. Following extensive research and development, Solazyme discovered alguronic acid, a powerful regenerative algal compound that functions to protect and regenerate the organism in harsh environmental conditions. When scientifically tested, alguronic acid demonstrated significant anti-aging properties, helping to rejuvenate the skin for a more youthful appearance.
In regards to Solazyme’s food ingredients, these include both oils and whole-food proteins and lipids, which provide a significant improvement in nutrition and broad functionality, while helping to reduce costs for major food processing companies. Solazyme’s industrial oils are drop-in alternatives to other plant and petroleum-based oils, allowing large incumbent industries to shift to a more sustainable, higher-performance solution without changing their manufacturing or supply chain infrastructure.
Who are some of Solazyme’s major partners and companies using its products?
Solazyme is a global supplier to a long list of blue-chip partners, including ADM, Bunge, Mitsui, AkzoNobel, Sephora, Unilever and the U.S. Department of Defense. However, many of Solazyme’s customers request to remain anonymous.
In which cases have you created your own brands, rather than finding a commercial partner?
One example is Solazyme’s Algenist, an award-winning skincare line, which was internally developed and launched in 2011. However, outside of skincare, you will primarily see Solazyme partnering with customers to integrate their ingredients into products. Other Solazyme brands include SoladieselRD, a 100-percent algal-derived renewable diesel, and Solajet, a 100-percent algal-derived jet fuel.
Who are your main competitors?
Solazyme’s unique, proprietary technology platform is unlike any other. It can not only create tailored oil compositions, it can develop and manufacture entirely new oil profiles at unprecedented rates. While many industries have tried to accomplish new oil profile development through conventional routes such as seed agriculture, Solazyme’s process can expedite this process and improve it to create products and ingredients never before achievable. There is currently no other company in the world capable of this type of technological breakthrough.
Solazyme went public in 2011. When do you expect to reach profitability?
Solazyme’s IPO provided the company necessary capital to continue to scale its technology platform commercially. Solazyme’s management has guided to being cash flow-positive in 2015.
Anything else you’d like to add?
In addition to Solazyme’s U.S. manufacturing operations, the company will open a commercial facility with partner Bunge in Orindiúva, São Paolo State, Brazil in April, marking an important milestone to further position Solazyme to supply new classes of innovative, sustainable products to its growing list of blue-chip partners. Solazyme is also manufacturing and producing oils commercially in Clinton, Iowa. iBi
For more information, visit solazyme.com.