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First portion of huge algae farm in New Mexico is done

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.

19 Responses to “First portion of huge algae farm in New Mexico is done”

  1. The Dark One

    I look at it as a learning tool. It is a new technology that some one has to pave the road by doing. My question is what else can they do with the algae? Medical, plastics, lubricants? With a new industry now that some one HAS paved the road others should be getting into it so that their niche in the market can be filled.

  2. Green Machine

    Folks I can understand all of your concern about all the conflicting data and the high costs of the bio fool. Yes fool as this technology makes no sense and is gangrene not green. Bill Gates gave this money as he knows nothing about thermodynamics. The UD Govt money came from the Department of Argriculture as Chu Chu Train had wasted his billions on the other bio fools. I am a chemical engineer and a guy who studied thermodynamics and did strategic planning for Genentech till I recently retired. So I know a little about biotech as well. Shell has given up on bio fools. Total wishes they had never invested in Amyris. BP has lied to world that they and UC Bezerkely would yield bio fools for the masses. Exxon Mobil lied that they and Stanford would solve the earth’s bio fools needs. Look you can fuel some of the people some of the time but you cannot fuel all of the people all of the time. The end of the waste of tax payers’ money on gangrene science is near. Obama on’t waste another dime after November if he wins and Romney does not concern himself with rising oceans so Mr. Gates’ trip into green fuels will just peter out like his studies at Harvard. They were kind of idiotic to choose the name Sapphire which is all about the Blues. They should have chosen Emerald for their name and their green fake-out could have lasted longer. go to to really learn about matters green and how to see the wood from the trees and the pond scum from other scum.

  3. Nick Braak

    Interesting to read other comments using simple arithmetic to extrapolate costs and yields into the future.

    Folks, this is RESEARCH, aka R&D, not a dollar-for-dollar replacement for current crude. It may be our savior or a Google Buzz-like boondoggle. But we won’t know what is worth pursuing until someone tries and turns theory into proof-of-concept, into a production environment. And that costs real money and takes time. More green power to ’em!

  4. The North Coast Curmudgeon

    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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

    • 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 !

  7. 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.

  8. twospruces

    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?