Yes, indeed, Solazyme is producing algae oils, a renewable energy source to fly you around the world, power your car, create products to reduce the wrinkles on your face, and fry the falafel at your local Halal truck. CEO and co-founder Jonathan S. Wolfson will present his innovation at the Clinton Global Initiative’s (CGI) Sixth Annual Meeting next week. Wolfson is the second CGI innovator I am featuring this week. (See Elizabeth Hausler from Monday.)
Here are Wolfson’s responses in a personal interview we had earlier this evening:
Alice Korngold: What inspired you to devote yourself to this particular mission?
Jonathan S. Wolfson: We were inspired by the need for better solutions and the drive to build something meaningful and profitable. Any technology new or old is judged on the depth of the problems it solves, there are few greater needs that our society will face than reducing carbon pollution and finding a solution to petroleum, finding sustainable alternatives for natural oils like palm and even providing new healthy sources of food – Solayzme’s renewable oil producing technology does exactly that.
What was a key turning point in the success of your enterprise?
Initially we focused our technology on direct photosynthetic growth of algae. We quickly realized that while this is an alluring solution, it was not going to be commercially relevant for many years. That is when we made a breakthrough to grow our algae heterotrophically, or put it another way in the dark.
And what made that moment so instrumental in advancing your purposes?
This was a game changing innovation for us, particularly because we can now rely on standard industrial fermentation equipment to make our drop in solution for transportation fuels and replacements for a host of natural oils. This in turn allows us to hire the best talent in R&D, manufacturing and in our commercial business units, accelerating our path to commercialization.
What’s the next great challenge in advancing your work?
Our focus is on scaling up to be able to produce billions of gallons of renewable oils annually. Our strategic investors are an example of how we are working to meet this objective. We have made great strides with our partnerships with large agribusiness such as Bunge who provide insight and the relationships to access affordable feedstock. We have also solidified relationships with companies like Unilever where our palm oil replacements provide an attractive avenue for environmental sustainability and financial growth in many of its end markets.
What will success look like? And how will the world be a better place?
Our mission is to provide a renewable sustainable source of oil for food, fuels, chemicals, and many other products including personal care and cosmetics. Our fuels reduce carbon emissions by over 85% compared with petroleum-based fuels, and this enormous environmental benefit will not only slow the pace of global warming, but also levy huge health benefits to people all over the world. Using Solazyme’s renewable fuels will also decrease the United States’ reliance on foreign oil, and our hope is that this will eventually bring increased geopolitical stability.
What’s the value of your presenting at CGI?
CGI provides an incredible forum for us to showcase our solution to the world’s climate and health issues. We are also looking for people of like minds who seek to bring out new energy technologies in this highly regulated energy industry that favors old energy technologies. We’d like to see either and increase in subsidies for new technologies or a decrease in subsidies for old technologies; either way, the playing field needs to be leveled.
What message do you want to share with my readers?
We are an entrepreneurial culture to the core. If any readers are excited about our mission, we are hiring at a rapid clip and invite you to meet and join us. We’re hiring people with backgrounds in business, applications science, finance, molecular biology, and chemical engineering.
Read about three more innovators on my blog this week, and follow me next week for coverage of CGI’s Sixth Annual Meeting.