Solazyme is continuing to move away from the pack in algae oil.
The South San Francisco-based company has raised $45.4 million in a Series C funding, according to PE Hub.
Investors included Braemar Energy Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Harris & Harris group. The total includes $6.4 million in convertible securities. That brings the total raised by Solazyme, when grants and everything is mixed in, to close to $70 million by some estimates.
The company is both one of the oldest algae oil companies (dating way back to the first half of the decade) and one of the most novel. Rather than grow algae in ponds or closed-in water tubes called bioreactors through phototsynthesis, the company has identified species that grow by feeding off sugars in the dark. Solazyme effectively puts these algae and discarded plant matter into kettles and brews up algal blooms. The algae is then harvested for oil. Solazyme also genetically optimizes the natural strains of algae.
By eliminating the need for water, Solazyme doesn't have to worry about separating the algae from the water to harvest oil, a big problem. It can also control the growth of algae. The company initially tried to grow algae through photosynthesis but switched. (See further explanation of the company's technology and business plan from founders Harrison Dillon and Jonathan Wolfson in this masterpiece of cinema
Solazyme also likes to point out that it has made oil, barrels of it, unlike many of the twenty plus algae companies out there today. It also has a development deal with Chevron. The company will also sell oil to the cosmetic industry and likely the food industry. I actually tried some brownies made with algae oil. They were good. The money will be used to scale up their existing manufacturing facilities. (Right now, the company is housed in a building that once served as an ice cream factory.)
Critics, though, note that sugar isn't free, and say that the ecomonics of growing algae with water and free sunlight may win out. So we must wait and see
The company also isn't the only one working on novel extraction or growing techniques. OriginOil
is concocting a system that will force feed algae and then extract oil from the hapless critters with microwaves. Synthetic Genomics, meanwhile, is working on genetically modified algae that will expurgate their own, like sea cucumbers.