The company -- which produces algae through a fermentation process -- wants to raise $100 million through an initial public offering. Like other biofuel/green chemistry companies, Solazyme is currently losing money. It generated revenues of $38 million in 2010 and lost $13.7 million. Still, other biofuel companies like Amyris and Gevo have gone public, quite successfully, while losing money in recent months. Amyris has nearly doubled in price since last year -- $100 a barrel oil does that. The rising price of oil and the earlier IPOs could work to Solazyme's advantage: algae can produce more oil per acre than other forms of biomass, according to proponents, creating yields of 4,000 to 8,000 of gallons of oil per acre per year.
Expect to see fundraising efforts out of rival Sapphire Energy, which says it will be able to demonstrate its process for making biofuel out of GMO algae grown in ponds in a little over a year.
Unlike most other algae companies, Solazyme does not grow algae through photosynthesis. It has created genetically modified microbes that feed on sugar in large fermenting kettles. When the algae get fat, Solazyme squishes them to extract the oil. Although sugar adds costs, Solazyme does not have to extract algae from water to extract the oil, which is an arduous, expensive process that photosynthesis-based companies face.
Despite the additional cost of the sugar, Solazyme has actually produced far more algae fuel than its competitors. Last year, the U.S. Navy ordered 150,000 gallons of algae-based jet fuel from Solazyme after an earlier trial.
The company was also one of the first to expand from producing fuel to making food additives, chemicals and cosmetics. Dow Chemical recently signed a deal with the company to develop organisms to produce algae that can make oil for transformers and other grid equipment. Dow may buy up to 20 million gallons in 2013, but that number will take some scaling up to achieve.
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