Bill Gates Jumps into Pond Scum: Sapphire Raises Over $100M

Bill Gates joins Martin Tobias as a fan of the algae-to-fuel startup Sapphire Energy. The San Diego, Calif.-based startup is working on squeezing green crude from algae for high octane fuels and today says that it has more than doubled its funding to over $100 million.

Gates’ Cascade Investment joined ARCH Venture Partners, Wellcome Trust and Venrock in the investment round. This new funding, for which the specifics were not disclosed, makes Sapphire one of the best-funded startups looking to squeeze fuel from pond scum.

Founded just last year, Sapphire has moved quickly. Earlier this year the company said it produced ASTM-certifiable 91 octane gasoline — the premium stuff at the pump. But Sapphire’s plans for a commercial scale plant are still three to five years away. When the plant is completed, the company hopes to produce what it calls “green crude” for $50 to $80 per barrel on the scale of 10,000 barrels a day.

The idea is that by combining photosynthetic microorganisms, sun, CO2 and water through proprietary processes we can continue to get our greasy oil fix — but from algae. Sapphire says it has a solution that can scale.

Biocrudes have been seeing a lot of investment action recently. South San Francisco-based Solazyme raised $45.4 million in series C for its sunlight-less fermentation process. Emeryville, Calif.-based Amyris Biotechnologies has over $110 million in capital and a partner in Brazilian ethanol distributor Crystalev to develop jet fuel, gasoline and diesel fuel from sugar cane. Meanwhile, LS9, also in South San Francisco, has raised $20 million to use synthetic biology to create “renewable petroleum.”

Previously, Sapphire had raised $50 million from ARCH Venture Partners, the Wellcome Trust and Venrock.

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