Algae Biofuel Facility Begins Operations

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted August 29, 2012

The first phase of Sapphire Energy Inc.’s Green Crude Farm, the first commercial demonstration algae-to-energy plant, has begun operations. Sapphire is one of the world’s foremost operations in production of crude oil from algae.

Construction on this first phase began last year on June 1 and met its projected timeframe and budget, the Sacramento Bee reports. Upon completion of the facility, it will generate roughly 1.5 million gallons of crude and use 300 acres of algae ponds and processing units. Sapphire hopes to demonstrate through this the viability of algae-based green crude.

Both private and public funding went into creating the Green Crude Farm, otherwise called the Integrated Algal Bio-Refinery. Sapphire put in $85 million in private investment, backed by both a USDA loan guarantee and a $50 million grant from the Department of Energy.

This initial phase also includes all mechanical and processing equipment required for harvesting algae and recycling water for the entire 300 acre farm.

The farm’s ponds were seeded with algae in March, and as of now, farming operations are exceeding Sapphire’s productivity goals as far as biomass yield is concerned. Clearly, large-scale algal operations are more than feasible. The first harvest occurred in June of this year; thus far total harvest is slightly over 80 million tons. The farm will soon transition to winter varieties of algae in order to maintain continuous production.

From the Sacramento Bee:

“Bringing our Green Crude Farm online is not only an important accomplishment for Sapphire Energy, but a critical step toward a viable alternative energy future,” says Cynthia ‘CJ’ Warner, CEO and chairman of Sapphire Energy. “What was once a concept is now becoming a reality and model for growing algae to make a renewable crude oil for energy. We look forward to sharing our progress as the Green Crude Farm moves to its next stage.”

AMEC Project Engineering teamed up with Sapphire to develop the first phase, which involved hiring 634 full-time employees during construction and a further $16 million invested directly with New Mexico contractors. Sapphire expects to produce 100 barrels of green crude per day by 2014.

Sapphire Energy is based in San Diego and develops photosynthetic microorganism-based fuels in an effort to revolutionize both the clean energy and fuels sectors. The Green Crude Farm demonstration facility is under development in Columbus, New Mexico, and Sapphire also runs a research facility in Las Cruces.

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