algal oil

Palm oil alternative or a new business model? Solazyme to supply Unilever 3 million gallons of algae oil for soaps and toileteries

19 October 2015: Palm oil alternative or a new business model? Solazyme to supply Unilever 3 million gallons of algae oil for soaps and toileteries

Editor's note: The peat smog haze is driving up palm oil's coverage in international media  and online. Is the solution a new business model? Better certification? Banks acceding to sustainability rules? Or algal oil? Is 3 million gallons = 13,600 tonnes?
Yes, palm oil is destructive — but scientists are creating compelling alternatives September 19, 2015 · 11:30 AM EDT  By Shannon Kellehe; ...Palm oil comes from the clusters of brilliant orange fruit of the tree Elaeis guineensis. It’s grown in plantations that span millions of acres across southeast Asia; companies often clear-cut forests that are home to endangered orangutans and Sumatran tigers to plant these trees. Between 1990 and 2010 an area of forest the size of 2 million football fields was cleared to make way for oil palms. Doug Boucher, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ tropical forest and climate initiative, says palm oil presents uniquely sinister problems because “substantial areas of southeast Asia have very carbon-rich soils, peat soils, with sometimes quite thick deposits of peat."..... These dangers of palm oil have caused companies to seek out substitutes. Scientists at the University of Bath in the UK are developing an oil from a common type of yeast that can grow on almost any feedstock. And the California company Solazyme has begun extracting an oil with similar properties from microalgae. Jill Kauffman Johnson, Solazyme’s Global Sustainability Director, says they prepare the oil in much the way other companies brew beer. “We feed sugar to the algae, and then put that all into a large fermentation tank,” Johnson says. “The algae then convert the sugar into oil, and it allows us to produce large amounts of oil in a matter of days.” Solazyme has a contract to supply the sustainability-minded company Unilever with 3 million gallons of this algae oil for its soaps and toiletries. “We’re also finding in a recent study that we’ve had done that has been third-party reviewed,” says Johnson, “the greenhouse gas emission profile with the algae oil produced at our plant based in Brazil, where  he sugar source is sugarcane, has a lower carbon footprint than that of palm oil and palm kernel oil.” But despite palm oil’s problems and the promising alternatives, Boucher says the crop does have some advantages. “It actually accumulates carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the process of growing. So if you produce it in areas that are not forested, but rather you use already-cleared land, you can actually have a positive benefit from it.”...

Sustainability: Paying farmers and preserving forests 9/16/2015 -  by Jeff Gelski; Barry Callebaut, Zurich, Switzerland, issued its own sustainability report for 2013/14, which found 60% of cocoa farmers in Cóte d’Ivoire are living below the poverty line. Barry Callebaut pays a premium for “sustainable beans,” which it defines as being produced either according to a certification scheme such as Utz Certified or Rainforest Alliance or to Barry Callebaut’s own Quality Partner Program.  Under the Cargill Cocoa Promise, farmers receive a premium by selling Utz, Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade certified cocoa beans, said Taco Terheijden, sustainable cocoa manager for Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate. Under the Cargill Cocoa Promise, $19 million was paid to farmers in Cóte d’Ivoire, Brazil, Cameroon, Ghana and Indonesia in 2014....As of April, 35% of the palm oil sourced by IOI Loders Croklaan was certified by the R.S.P.O. and traceable to the mill and plantation level, according to the company, a palm oil supplier and R.S.P.O. member with a North American office in Channahon, Ill. IOI Loders Croklaan added 96% of the palm oil and 65% of the palm kernel oil that it sources is traceable to the mill level.   Archer Daniels Midland, based in Chicago and an R.S.P.O. member, issued a commitment to no-deforestation this year. The commitment includes no deforestation of high carbon stock or high conservation value areas, no development of peatlands, and no exploitation of people and local communities. .... Bunge has a global palm oil sourcing policy that involves the protection of high conservation value areas, the protection of peat areas, and the prohibition of forced and child labor.   Cargill provided an update on supply chain traceability for the first half of 2015. Cargill has completed 9 of 11 planned supplier field assessments in its palm oil supply chain. The Forest Trust conducted the field assessments. The goal is to achieve 100% traceability to the mill by December of this year and to provide palm oil that is 100% traceable to sustainably managed plantations by 2020....

A new business model for palm oil? The recent haze in Southeast Asia has sparked renewed calls for alternatives to palm oil products. In this interview, Forum for the Future founder Jonathon Porritt tells Eco-Business why the industry - which is also provides thousands of livelihoods worldwide - needs a new business model, not boycotts.  By Vaidehi Shah Friday 16 October 2015

Why Sustainable Palm Oil Is Possible by The Nature Conservancy Posted: 10/14/2015 2:36 pm EDT   Updated: 10/14/2015 2:59 pm EDT

Can REDD save Indonesia’s peatlands from burning?   By Chris Lang 14 October 2015

Hit companies where it hurts by Henry Barlow Oct 1, 2015, 5:58 pm SGT The contributors to the haze appear not primarily to be the larger oil palm plantation operators but relatively small estates, owning perhaps only one or two mills, or independent mills depending largely, if not exclusively, on fruit submitted from smallholders. Many such operators and smallholders have no wish to comply with sustainability principles. Could the Monetary Authority of Singapore instruct banks operating in Singapore not to extend financing and trading facilities to companies linked to mill owners who are not in compliance with agreed sustainability principles as required by the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) or Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) standards? These companies should also be required to provide independently certified reports that they have assisted all mill owners and smallholders submitting fruit to their mills in complying with the sustainability principles of ISPO or RSPO. Other central banks in he region could also adopt similar measures.


Algal vs palm oil. Coming soon?

The use of algal oil to partially replace palm oil in home and personal care (HPC) is being planned by some companies. The first major brand which stated such a plan is Unilever. Ironically, the company is a key leader in the RSPO which says it promotes the use of sustainable palm oil (but a few RSPO members have taken this to be insufficient and instead pledge no palm oil usage; and much to the consternation of other RSPO members).

Ecover recently reports plans to produce algal oil in Brazil and then in its own factory in Belgium, for a new laundry liquid for launch in Europe in a few months time. Thus, we have a company in HPC pledging "no palm oil" eventually, starting with 7% replacement [1]. Francophone Europe has faced heavy negative palm oil campaigns and various food producers feature products with "no palm oil." Algal oil technology is still evolving and costing needs to be improved [2], but things can shift with many researchers working on this. An update on costing is needed. So far, it sounds like an early higher cost partial substitute for premium HPC products. Thus, we see Unilever still planning a new production facility in Sumatra for the use of palm kernel oil for oleochemicals in its HPC products. At the same time, in a separate and yet related trend, another key HPC brand, P&G is facing pressure from Greenpeace.

[1] News item: Ecover adopting algae-based laundry liquid to cut palm oil use, The Guardian, Wednesday 2 April 2014,; Ecover, the green cleaning company, will launch the algae-based laundry liquid in Europe later in 2014, as part of its pledge to ultimately replace all palm oil.... “Through our research into palm oil replacements, we discovered that algae are capable of producing one of the purest and cleanest oils available,” said Dirk Develter, Ecover’s Head of Research and Development. “Algal oils have a much smaller ecological footprint than most tropical oils, such as palm oil, making them ideal for home products, where tropical oils are widely used.”... At the start, 7% of the oil ingredients in the laundry liquid will come from algae, Ecover said, with the intention of raising that proportion as more is learned about its use. The first algal oil will be produced in Brazil from sugarcane, which is an efficient feedstock with a relatively low carbon and water footprint..... Ecover said it would be producing algal oils close to its Belgian factory in three years and was examining different feedstocks, including agricultural and forest waste, to identify which was the most sustainable feedstock of those locally available.... Ecover is also researching the use of bacteria to convert organic material into useful chemicals and, in 2013, the company committed to using plastic waste retrieved from the sea to create sustainable and recyclable plastic bottles.... Algae, and seaweed, are being developed as biofuel sources by numerous companies and the US Navy has tested algal fuel in its ships.

[2] Khor Reports at 2012 conference on algal biofuels; I am in Singapore... at the "Biofuel 2012 - alternative aviation fuel in Asia conference and Asean algae biofuel initiative conference."... How does this touch on palm oil? First, a positive. There's a potential use for POME in the cultivation process. Second, a competitive concern: the likes of global giant Unilever says it hopes to replace palm oil in its Dove soap and some other skin care products with algal oils, with a target date 2017... How about the economics of production? ..... Read more here: /khorreports-palmoil/2012/02/conference-algal-biofuels.html 

Algal oil researchers:

SGI, founded by J.Craig Venter; newslink below on his R&D on algae for biofuels: (thanks to a reader for this link!)

Conference - algal biofuels

I am in Singapore the next 2 days, at the "Biofuel 2012 - alternative aviation fuel in Asia conference and Asean algae biofuel initiative conference."

Khor Reports notes and comment:

Why are we attending? Every senior scientist we've met (from lipid technologists to energy specialists) is excited about the prospect of algal oils - microalgae are the most productive 'plants' on earth (oil yield potential could be 5 x that of palm oil on a per hectare basis), a wide range of metabolites, and its genetic engineering possibilities.

Right now, we're seated with microbiologists and transport energy consultants. We are hearing about:
o R. opacus is high in palmitic and oleic acids and there are odd chain fatty acids.
o A 2.5ha demonstration plot with USD80 million investment at Kona, Hawaii with photobioreactors.

How does this touch on palm oil? First, a positive. There's a potential use for POME in the cultivation process. Second, a competitive concern: the likes of global giant Unilever says it hopes to replace palm oil in its Dove soap and some other skin care products with algal oils, with a target date 2017.

There are significant scientific and engineering challenges to overcome. They include the selection and optimizing the best strains (development of GM strains), choice of feedstock for sugars (issues in availability and performance) for fermentation, and extraction (the cost of drying the algae or wet extraction - the separation of oil from an aqueous solution), and large scale cultivation technology issues (biological contaminants, lipid enhancement - optimization to enhance productivity and yield, Co2 sources).

How about the economics of production? The demonstration plot at Kona shows that it's not commercially viable for biofuels - capex and opex is too high for lipid output alone (28% of the algae biomass). There is need for production of co-products - protein and carbohydrate and omega-3 fatty acids (PUFAs). With all products, revenue USd4818/MT and production cost USD1389/MT, and gross margin USD2792. From this study, the biofuel is a co-product! But costs could be lower in Asia versus this demonstration plot feasibility study (Hawaii has high costs).