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Solazyme abandons algal biofuels, refocuses on food

Solazyme, a Californian algae-based bio-product producer, has abandoned its biofuels business and will be focusing its algae oil production on food and personal care industries.

Renamed TerraVia, the company lists the current extremely low oil prices, changing sentiment around the benefits of biofuels, and uncertain US government policies as reasons behind the business restructuring.

In 2012, Solazyme/TerraVia had $20 million (€17.7m) in grants to build a factory to make biofuels in Illinois and broke ground on a biofuel plant in Brazil through a joint venture with Bunge.

But the around $30 per barrel oil prices, combined with the fluctuating approach in the US towards the country’s Renewable Fuel Standard regulations and Solazyme/TerraVia’s falling stock prices, ultimately spelled doom for the company’s biofuel ambitions.

"We are moving forward with a strong business foundation and clear vision," said Tyler Painter, CFO and COO at Solazyme/TerraVia.

"We have invested significant time and capital in the development of our innovation platform and large-scale manufacturing capability. We enjoy long-standing commitments from partners, led by Bunge and Unilever, who have helped bring our vision to life,” he continued.

According to Painter, through its biofuels venture the company “learned significant lessons” in scale-up and commercialisation, which he believes will help it in the food market.

Solazyme’s co-founder and longtime CEO Jonathan S. Wolfson will shift his focus from daily operations to strategy and special projects including those with a consumer focus and he has been appointed chairman of the board.

The company is currently seeking a new CEO and Wolfson will remain in the role until a replacement is found.

“By unlocking the power of algae, the mother of all plants and earth's original superfood, we are bringing much-needed innovation in food and nutrition,” Wolfson said in a statement. “Today the pieces are in place for Solazyme to fulfil its mission and create substantial value for customers and shareholders."