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Solazyme's algae diesel ready to hit the road

Company's renewable diesel earns certification as a fuel and gets tested on a Jeep Liberty with a diesel engine.

Tiny algae is ready for some long-haul trucking.

Solazyme, a South San Francisco, Calif.-based company that creates synthetic biological products, said Wednesday that its microalgae-derived fuel is the first renewable diesel to meet the American Society for Testing and Materials' D-975 specifications.

Here is algae being grown in dishes at Solazyme's labs. The oil produced by the algae can be used for fuels, chemical, or food oils. Solazyme

The fuel is chemically the same as petroleum-derived diesel, Solazyme said, so it can be distributed using the existing infrastructure. But it burns cleaner than petroleum-derived diesel, with fewer particulates and sulfur levels.

A 100 percent blend of Solazyme's diesel has been road-tested in a 2005 Jeep Liberty with a diesel engine, the company said in a statement.

Solazyme's certification is a milestone in algae-based fuels, one of the hottest areas of biofuels.

Algae as a feedstock is more desirable than soy because it is not a food crop, yields more oil, and can grow on marginal land.

But, in general, the technology is still experimental and algae-based diesel has not been produced at commercial scale.

Solayzme's process differs from most algae farming in that the microalgae is grown without sunlight in a setting more akin to a brewery than an open pond.

In its fermentation process, the company puts large amounts of algae into a vat, mixes in sugar, and then controls the pressure and other environmental factors inside the vat to induce the algae to metabolize the sugar into oil.

The process can be used to make oils and chemicals from other forms of biomass, including wood chips, corn stover, and switchgrass.