Come take a look at the first phase of Sapphire Energy’s algae farm in New Mexico. When eventually built out it will produce 100 barrels of algae biofuel a day, and currently the five-year-old startup is making algae fuel on ponds across about 100 acres.

Sapphire Energy New Mexico

Updated: Is algae biofuel finally getting ready for primetime? Algae energy startup Sapphire Energy says the first phase of its first planned massive commercial-scale farm in Luna County, New Mexico is up and running.

The first phase of the farm now has algae ponds and processing equipment spread across about 100 acres about 1/8 of a mile — that includes sizes of 1.1-acre pond and a 2.2-acre pond. Eventually the entire farm is supposed to spread across 300 acres and make 1.5 million gallons of the algae biofuel per year. Five-year-old Sapphire says it’s already harvested 21 million gallons of algae through the farm and the facility is supposed to be done and producing 100 barrels of algae biofuel a day by the end of 2014.

This first portion of the farm took a year to build, used 634 full time construction workers, and required $85 million from Sapphire, backed by a USDA loan guarantee, as well as a $50 million grant from the Department of Energy.

The rest of the farm will require a lot more money. Sapphire is raising another $144 million from investors, including agriculture company Monsanto. Sapphire has already raised $300 million from investors including Bill Gates’ investment firm Cascade Investment as well as the public funds.

Sapphire has had a relationship with Monsanto for at least a year. Monsanto wants access to Sapphire’s genetic research technology to use it for its own agricultural development. Using Sapphire’s genetic technology, Monsanto says it can isolate traits in algae (like high yields and stress traits) that could be used to tweak its other crops. Monsanto’s CTO Robb Fraley said in a release last year that algae is an “excellent discovery tool,” for agricultural genetic research.

Because the New Mexico farm is outside, and exposed to the environment, in a couple months Sapphire will move into using a variety of algae that will respond and perform as well during the winter months. In contrast other companies like Solazyme use closed tanks to grow algae so the algae is not effected by the environment.

Solazyme has also recently been moving aggressively into the biofuel market, after making specialty chemicals, personal care products and food for years.


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  1. Interesting update on this normally quiet firm. Question – is the 100 Barrels / day in the opener correct? Somehow that figure seems low to me. Thanks!

    1. Katie Fehrenbacher guest Monday, August 27, 2012

      This is from their press release: By the end of 2014, the Green Crude Farm will produce 100 barrels of Green Crude per day.

  2. any word on how they separate water from biomass? that is the key thing here… boiling is too expensive.

    are they evaporating the water using the arizona sun?

    i wonder what their cost per barrel is?

  3. Why is this in New Mexico? Undoubtedly they are using fresh water algae, putting greater demand on scarce fresh water supplies. I can’t believe they couldn’t use one of the many varieties of algae that happily grow in much more plentiful saltwater.

  4. Your kidding me. Is this a joke????

    Cost is about $500 million. To produce 1.5 Million barrels a year.

    So over 10 years that’s 15 million barrels at a cost of 33 million per barrel.

    1. 500 / 1.5 = 335 per barrel

      And it won’t be $500 mil per year going forward

    2. They haven’t mentioned anything about when they plan/hope to break-even. Even for a 100 year period, the cost per barrel would come down to 3 million per barrel !!! I wonder based on what kind of analysis so many investors/investing firms invested so much money in this project. Although I like the fact that its green !

  5. The costs are insane. Start with $135 million from Sapphire ($85 mil loan guarantee and $50 mil DOE grant). They still need $114 million. Total: $239 million. To produce 100 barrels a day, or 36,500 barrels a year? That translates to about $6,822 a barrel! Of course, they are going to make up for it on volume. Have any of the investors done the math on this?

    Hit break even when they get to 10,000 barrels a day in 2054? Per barrel only $68 then. Maybe competitive. In the interim, they can sell the high-priced fuel to the Navy to really help the defense budget. It is amazing how the media have been sucked into this without doing their homework.

    1. considering Bill Gates is the investor i would say yes they did the math

      1. He must need a BIG tax loss.

  6. this is a very confusing entry. It states 1.5 million GALLONS a year. Also the 100 barrels a day by 2014 equals 1.52 million gallons..

  7. Have been hearing about green crude for the last 5 years. Where is the “green crude”? All ponds in New Mexico have crashed due to the heat. Where can I buy some of theat green crude? Isn’t the word crude used in the oil patch? Never heard of it in the nutraceutical industry.

  8. based upon my estimates…..in order for them to become profitable it will take 400+years (including the gov’t subs)!!! haha!!!!

  9. The North Coast Curmudgeon Tuesday, August 28, 2012

    I wonder what they mean by “barrels?”

    The buckets in the image accompanying this piece appear to be 5 gallon buckets, not 42 gallon barrels typically used in industry.

    The US Navy recently paid over $26.00 a gallon for biofuel.

    In any case, let’s hope the technology matures and the price of production goes down.

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