Sapphire Energy: The Gorilla of Algae Fuel?

sapphirelogoWhoa, algae fuel startup Sapphire Energy is more than a little confident of its production schedule. The company, which is working on squeezing green crude from algae for high-octane fuels and was just founded in 2007, said today that it is ramping up its production estimates to 1 million gallons of algae-based diesel and jet fuel per year by 2011 — just 2-3 years from now. In addition, by 2018, Sapphire says that it will crank out up to 100 million gallons per year. By 2025, that number will soar to 1 billion gallons per year, which would be about 3 percent of the U.S. renewable fuel standard!

Why all the bravado? The startup is one of the most well funded in the algae fuel industry, with more than $100 million raised from the likes of Bill Gates’ investment firm Cascade Investment, as well as ARCH Venture Partners, Wellcome Trust and Venrock. And so far it has tested its fuel with two commercial airlines: Continental and JAL. It’s definitely leading the pack.

But in an uncertain economic climate and at a time when the biofuel industry is struggling across the board, Sapphire’s new gameplan is aggressive to say the least. GreenFuel Technologies, the Cambridge, Mass.-based algae-producer, likely had some pretty daring production estimates until it overestimated costs, struggled to raise funding and recently cut nearly half its staff. As Martin Tobias, former CEO of biodiesel maker Imperium Renewables and now CEO of, said recently at our Green:Net conference, the alternative fuel market is just a numbers game, making it extremely difficult for startups to tackle.