Unilever has long been Solazyme’s development partner — five years to be exact — but I guess the company is now convinced that Solazyme can deliver the goods (tailored algal oil in this case) as it prepares for commercial production to start later this year at the 100 ktpa Solazyme Bunge Renewable Oils facility located in Moema, Brazil.
The companies announced a supply agreement today where Solazyme will initially supply Unilever with at least 10,000 tons of their jointly developed tailored algal oils starting in early 2014. Unilever expects to purchase the full volume within 12-18 months. Product validation trials are scheduled to take place in Q4 2013.
Solazyme said it expects this deal to be the first of many supply agreements with Unilever. The companies did not disclose what particular oils Unilever is interested in but it has been reported before that Unilever were looking to develop algal oils for use in soaps and personal care products. Unilever could also be interested in using algal oils for food application.
Like most global consumer goods and food companies these days, Unilever has been trying to sustainably sourced its vegetable oils feedstock because of environmental groups publishing reports of deforestation and unsustainable farming methods. One of Unilever’s sustainability goals include purchasing all certified sustainably-sourced palm oil by 2015 and all sustainably-sourced soybean oil by 2020.
Sourcing algal oils could help Unilever expand its feedstock portfolio and might help lessen the pressure of sourcing food-based oils, albeit Solazyme currently uses sugar to feed the algae in order to produce the oils. But the beauty of these algal oils is that Solazyme can tailor the fatty acid profile to whatever composition the customer requires whether its high lauric oil or myristic oils for use in detergents and personal care, or high oleic oils for use in food application.
Oleochemical manufacturers can only get a set amount and type of fatty acids in typical vegetable oils. The composition of the fatty acids contained in these particular vegetable oils usually determines the use of these oils — e.g. coconut and palm kernel oils to produce lauric acids.