September 25, 2013
Unilever to Buy Oil Derived From Algae From Solazyme
By DIANE CARDWELL
In a sign of the growing mainstream acceptance of products derived from algae, Unilever, the consumer products giant, has agreed to buy large amounts of oil from Solazyme, a start-up that bioengineers algae to produce oils, proteins and complex sugars, executives said Tuesday.
Unilever said it would use the oil for its personal care products, which include Dove and Brylcreem. The agreement, under which Unilever plans to buy roughly three million gallons of the algae-produced oil over 12 to 18 months starting early next year, is part of its aim to double the size of its business while reducing its overall environmental footprint. Toward that end, Unilever has said it will use only sustainable agricultural raw materials by 2020, a goal it met last year in its purchases of palm oil from sustainable sources.
For Solazyme, the agreement represents an important step as it ramps up to commercial-scale production. Originally conceived as a fuel business, Solazyme has focused on making oils for products with higher profit margins like personal care, food and petrochemicals.
The Unilever oil, developed in a five-year partnership with Solazyme, will be made at a plant it built in Brazil with Bunge, a leading agribusiness and food company. When fully operational, the plant could produce roughly 30 million gallons of oil a year.
“This is the first oil that was jointly developed that’s going to a product sale,” said Jonathan S. Wolfson, Solazyme’s chief executive. “We’ve laid out the path for years, and now we’re closing the first big loop about where a big chunk of this oil goes coming out of one of these plants.”
Solazyme, based in South San Francisco, Calif., has developed several strains of microalgae that can produce oils, proteins and complex sugars with specific characteristics to perform a variety of functions. Though it still plans to mass-market fuel, it has entered into partnerships with established companies to help it increase manufacturing capacity for its several product lines.