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Biofuel by California

June 24, 2014
A look at some of the Golden State biotechnology companies that are contributing to the development of biofuels and renewable chemicals


Cellana uses the most productive plants on earth—marine microalgae—to develop bioproducts. Algae photosynthetically produce a line of Omega-3 EPA and DHA oils, animal feed, and biofuel feedstocks. Cellana’s patented system of serial photobioreactors coupled with open ponds, enables low-cost, continuous production of diverse strains of microalgae. Since 2009, Cellana has operated a 6-acre, state-of-the-art production and research facility where to date, over 20 metric tons of whole algae (dry weight) have been produced. Cellana’s ALDUO™ process is one of the most flexible, thoroughly tested, and validated outdoor algae production technologies in the world.


Genomatica is a technology leader for the chemical industry. It delivers new manufacturing processes that enable its partners to produce the world’s most widely-used chemicals from renewable feedstocks, with better economics and greater sustainability than petroleum-based processes. Genomatica’s first process, for 1,4-Butanediol (BDO), is now commercial and multiple companies have confirmed that it is the ‘exact same’ chemical as petro-based BDO. This means that it can be used the exact same way to make downstream materials and products as petro-chemicals, simplifying and accelerating adoption. Genomatica is developing processes for other chemicals; the next is for butadiene.


Sapphire Energy has built a platform to convert algae into a renewable, sustainable and scalable source of energy, known as Green Crude. Algae is the perfect candidate for energy production: Millions of years ago ancient algae blooms transformed into the crude oil we use today in our cars, trucks and planes. Taking a cue from nature, Sapphire’s applied advanced biotechnology and modern farming techniques produce Green Crude oil from algae in a matter of weeks. The Sapphire platform encompasses the full value chain of producing oil on a large scale – from strain development to cultivation, to harvest and finally to conversion into Green Crude.


SGB is an agricultural biotechnology company that enables the production of high quality, low-cost and sustainable plant oil, protein and biomass as sources for industrial materials, energy and food. The company’s plant genomics, breeding and agronomy platform improves and domesticates existing and emerging crops by maximizing total yield, reducing input costs and enhancing production efficiencies. These technologies help customers secure large volumes of sustainable, low cost plant oils, protein and biomass for the industrial materials, food and energy markets; develop high-performing crops; and commercialize traits, genetics and other proprietary technologies.


Solazyme has pioneered an industrial biotechnology platform that harnesses the prolific oil-producing ability of microalgae. It uses standard industrial fermentation equipment to efficiently scale and accelerate the microalgae’s natural oil production time to just a few days. The platform is feedstock-flexible and can utilize a wide variety of plant-based sugars, such as sugarcane-based sucrose, corn-based dextrose, and sugar from other biomass sources including cellulosics. By growing the microalgae in the absence of light using fermentation tanks to convert photosynthetic plant sugars into oil, Solozyme is in effect utilizing “indirect photosynthesis.”


Aimed at developing breakthrough genomic-driven solutions for major global issues, Synthetic Genomics (SGI) is currently focused on energy and chemical solutions. SGI is currently working in three broad projects areas: renewable fuels and chemicals (to develop algal biofuels), microbial-enhanced hydrocarbon recovery and sustainable agricultural products. Specifically, the company is:

  • Designing metabolic pathways for the production of biochemicals and next generation biofuels from a variety of feedstock.

  • Developing biological solutions to increase the conversion and recovery rates of subsurface hydrocarbons

  • Developing advanced plant feedstocks and microbial agents for agriculture