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CNET News Video: The many faces of algae
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CNET News Video: The many faces of algae

4:00 /

From biofuel to cooking oil and skin care products, algae is becoming the new go-to ingredient for a myriad of products. On a visit to Solazyme, a South San Francisco-based biotech company, CNET News.com's Kara Tsuboi rides in a 100 percent algae-fueled car and samples surprisingly tasty algae cooking oil that rivals any extra virgin olive oil.

^B00:00:00 [ Music ] >> Can you guess what these three things have in common? All of them are made from algae. >> They're really incredible organisms. >> It takes a lot of biotechnology know how to do this. >> Old college friends Harrison Dillon and Jonathan Wilson are the co-founders of Solazyme, a Northern California-based company that creates biofuels, cooking oils, and other products from these marine microbes. >> Algae are single-celled plants. So all of the oil production biochemistry that's inside a canola plant or a soybean plant was first evolved in algae and so that oil production capability is in algae and very robust. >> Robust in that it takes a fraction of the time to prepare an algae crop for fuel production in comparison to other fuel sources like corn. >> Using biotechnology and single-celled organisms that have a life cycle of hours rather than, you know, six months, like a corn plant, can very rapidly optimize the production process. >> Here's an example of a fermenter that's running right now. It was incredibly dilute; the whole canister wouldn't really even look green at all. It would look clear, just about. It's so dilute, you know, there's almost no algae in there. But it doubles so quickly that in a span of a few days, it gets incredibly dense and makes a tremendous amount of oil. >> One of the tricky parts is finding the right strain of algae. >> There are literally millions of different species of algae out there, so we start out by looking at them in a screening process to determine which ones are really good at making the oils that we want. >> But then the processing is very similar to that of ethanol. >> We take these carbohydrate feed stocks, like cellulose materials, sugar cane. We feed them to the algae. And the algae convert those carbohydrates directly into oil. >> Solazyme is five years old, has submitted more than 50 patent applications, is not yet commercially viable, and still has a lot of proprietary secrets. >> We don't actually talk about that publicly. >> No, we don't talk about that. >> Can you tell me? >> Not right now. >> But what the company is happy to show off are the final products. >> What you're looking at right here is an actual barrel of oil produced by algae. >> The question is how does it drive? >> This is 2005 Jeep Liberty diesel. We actually bought it used. So it's been running on 100 percent of our fuel now. One of the greatest things about this fuel is that it has a fantastic carbon footprint compared to regular petroleum-based diesel. So for every mile driven, you'll produce far less carbon dioxide. >> But algae can make more than fuel. How about health supplements and skin care products? >> It has an alga material, which the algae make to protect themselves from the sun and from dryness. >> That makes sense. All right. >> Yeah. So why don't -- you can put a little on your hand, on your face. >> So a little squirt? >> All right. Let's try -- oh, so it's like a gel, almost. >> Yep. >> It rubs in nicely. Wow. And soon to hit the market could be algae cooking oil. >> This is an algae oil, which has a profile very similar to, and actually a little better than olive oil, from a nutritional standpoint. >> It's a little darker than your average olive oil, even extra virgin. It's kind of brownish in color. >> Mm-hmm. It isn't actually an extra virgin. >> I think I'm smelling focaccia bread here, but -- >> Maybe. But you'll taste the algae oil. >> And it tastes like -- all right. >> Try it. >> Hmm. >> It's wonderful. And -- >> Mm-hmm. It's pretty good. >> The algae itself, not just the oil, can also be used as powdered substitute for the fats in baked goods. >> It smells like an oatmeal raisin. >> It's just algae. >> And it looks like an oatmeal raisin. >> Well, the rest of the recipe, I think is oatmeal and there's raisin. But there's -- >> The traditional. >> Yeah. >> Interesting. >> Yeah. >> Cheers. And it's pretty darn good. >> Uh huh. >> Not bad. Thanks, Jonathan. >> You bet. >> I'm Kara Tsuboi, CNET News.com, enjoying an algae cookie. ^M00:03:57 [ Music ]

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