San Diego’s Sapphire Energy Producing Green Crude From NM Algae Farm

8/27/12Follow @bvbigelow

San Diego’s Sapphire Energy says today it has harvested 81 tons of algal biomass from its farm in Columbus, N.M., less than two months after the first phase of its “green crude farm” became operational.

The venture-backed company, which financed the project with a combination of private and public funding, says the demonstration proves that Sapphire can harvest algae from commercial-scale ponds—totaling 100 acres so far—and produce ready-to-refine crude oil. The project features at least one 2.2-acre pond that is one-eighth of a mile long, and ranks as the largest algae pond ever built.

“There are a bunch of firsts,” Sapphire Energy spokesman Tim Zenk told me this morning by phone. “Nobody has ever used two-acre ponds before. We use a wet extraction process [to produce crude oil from algae], and the volume is significantly larger than anything else.”

Aerial View of Algae Ponds

Once harvested, the solution is about 1 percent algae and water. Most of the water is recycled, yielding an algae concentrate, or sludge. Since June, the plant has produced about 21 million gallons of algae by volume, equal to 81 tons by weight. The extraction process has produced “barrels” of green crude oil from the algae sludge so far, but Zenk added, “I don’t know how many.”

While Sapphire also refers to its green crude farm as “an integrated algal bio-refinery,” Zenk explained that the final product is a “green crude oil” that is equivalent to crude oil pumped out of the ground. Sapphire’s demonstration project does not include a conventional oil refinery that … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jcomeauictx John Comeau

    where’s the water coming from? I hope not the Mimbres aquifer!