Algae ‘Green Crude’ test plant now running

Source: Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A California company working to turn algae into oil can now start running its demonstration plant.

San Diego-based Sapphire Energy said yesterday that it has finished initial development of its “Green Crude Farm” in Luna County, N.M., after 14 months of work. The company plans to grow algae in ponds and produce a petroleum substitute.

“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,” Cynthia ‘CJ’ Warner, company CEO and chairwoman, said in a statement. “What was once a concept is now becoming a reality and model for growing algae to make a renewable crude oil for energy.”

Funding for the Green Crude Farm includes $85 million in private money and a $50 million grant from the Department of Energy. Sapphire also had a $54.5 million Department of Agriculture loan guarantee.

Total support for the plant, which Sapphire says is the world’s first commercial demonstration-scale algae-to-energy facility, tops $300 million. Investors in the project include Monsanto Co., which last year partnered with Sapphire on a multiyear algae research collaboration.

Venture capitalists, including Bill Gates’ financing arm, earlier in the company’s work infused it with a combined $100 million.

The cultivation area built to date consists of 1.1-acre and 2.2-acre ponds that are one-eighth of a mile long, Sapphire said. The initial phase also includes mechanical and processing equipment needed to harvest and extract algae and recycle water for the 300-acre Green Crude Farm.

When finished, the facility will produce 1.5 million gallons per year of oil, the company said.

“Sapphire Energy is on target to make algae-based Green Crude a viable alternative fuel solution capable of significantly reducing the nation’s need for foreign crude oil, which will serve as the blueprint for scalable algae biofuel facilities globally,” Sapphire said in a statement.

The company said it harvested its first crop in June without any system difficulties and has since harvested 21 million gallons of algae biomass totaling 81 tons.

The Green Crude Farm is preparing to transition operations to a winter variety of algae while cultivation, harvest and extraction activities continue, the statement said.