For a company that's gaining the most of its headlines over its promising biofuels, it's encouraging see that renewable oils company Solazyme (SZYM) finds it opportunistic to expand into the more profitable markets of cosmetics, foods, and chemicals. With the capability to engineer unique drop-in oils with lucrative margins (once its production capacity is operational), Solazyme is a practical commercial solution to addressing the need for resources as the world's population continues to grow. Armed with a single process utilizing a single feedstock, Solazyme's technology retains the ability to address solutions to multiple industries. Through the use of genetic modifications on microalgae systems, the company has continued to seek innovation in areas of research atypical for companies most often associated with advanced biofuels.
As is the case with most companies with a highly active research and development department, the opportunity for spill-over technologies stands much more likely. Yet some of the more surprising patents applications being filed by Solazyme suggest the company's ability to have a significant impact on the world could surpass even the most ambitious of expectations. The following applications show signs of some unique areas of research that might surprise many investors in this budding company:
- Devices and Solutions for Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. The patent filing provides compounds and methods of culturing microalgae to produce unique polysaccharides that have a high levels of antiviral activity. Further development of this concept sounds like it could lead to some innovative medical solutions in a growing health concern.
- Light utilization alteration of photosynthetic microorganisms. This patent filing includes methods that improve upon the efficiency of light utilization by microorganisms capable of photosynthesis. For a company that specializes in a heterotrophic process (read: dark fermentation), it stands likely that someone at the company is thinking outside of the box on this one. It's difficult to comprehend how this discovery could improve the company's own process offhand. Yet for a world becoming ever more reliant on the sun's power, technology that improves light utilization at the scale of microorganisms might offer some interesting spin-off capabilities down the road.
- Methods and compositions for joint lubrication. Included in this filing are compositions used for the lubrication of joints in mammals to treat diseases such as osteoarthritis. Love these polysaccharide molecules yet? The company looks as if it might be able to address some of the common aging woes found in humans. This technology sounds useful for exploring additional medical solutions that address a large population.
- Methods and compositions for cholesterol reduction in mammals. As the title suggests, the patent filing includes compositions and methods used to formulate neutraceutical solutions that will help reduce the amount of cholesterol in mammals. This invention sounds like a natural expansion of the company's food & nutrition sector. With cholesterol being closely identified with heart disease, this technology could address a growing concern in a very large population.
- Methods of Inducing Satiety. As another health-related patent filing, this application includes methods of inducing the feeling of "no longer being hungry" through the use of the company's microalgae-based foods. With obesity becoming a large area of concern from both a medical and cosmetic perspective, this technology addresses another very large audience. Can you imagine low-fat diet foods made from the company's algae-based flour that satisfy hunger faster than the alternative? I can.
It's important to remember that patent applications aren't filed without some consideration. With complex applications costing in the tens of thousands of dollars to file along with several years of time before their approval, they often are serious ideas that are taken to the next level. For Solazyme, even some of these odd patent filings appear to provide unique opportunities into very lucrative markets. Of the ones I've listed, we see here the markets of obesity, cholesterol-reduction, osteoarthritis, photosynthesis efficiency, and even STDs.
In my last article, I was surprised by the number of skeptics who continued to cast stones without first exploring the company's process. Despite merely reiterating a quote from the CEO regarding the $3.1 trillion market opportunity that stands before the company, disbelief appeared to precede rational thought. Regardless of whether you see this company as an investment opportunity or not, I do implore the readers of this article to consider the wide expanse of markets this one single technology is able to address as seen even through their off-shoot research focuses.
By manipulating microalgae strains and fitting the process into a cost-effective business model, not only does this unlock a new market in itself, but it actually has the capacity to revolutionize a fundamental process of how industry functions on oil extraction. Instead of pulling it up from the ground or growing it on the vine, it's taking but a few days to create oils that are ready for processing inside of an industrial tank. Think about the efficiency. Think about the scope of flexibility. Think about the implications.
Disclosure: I am long SZYM.