Algae Biofuel production through Sapphire Energy’s Green Crude Technology
Sapphire Energy is San Diego, California, United States based algae biofuel producer company . It was founded in 2007 and ranked no 4 by Biofuel digest’s ranking of hottest companies in bioenergy 2013-2014.
Technology: Green Crude
Sapphire Energy’s proprietary technology is called ‘Green crude’ which is also the name of the renewable crude oil produced from algae in the process developed by them.
Sapphire Energy utilizes the photosynthetic algae and cyanobacteria that require sunlight and carbon dioxide as feedstock in order to grow rather than plant based sugars or other organic material. The climatic conditions of the desert areas are the most suitable for their proprietary algal strains where they are grown in open ponds.
As an estimate 13-14 kg of CO2 is consumed by algae to produce 1 gallon of algae crude oil. The sea water is used to cultivate algae which makes it necessary to bred them to survive in the salty water with high pH. Biotechnological interventions have made their algal strains able to produce highly branched and undecorated oil which is similar to the traditional crude oil. The algae are harvested. The Sapphire Energy’s patented method of oil extraction has made it possible to process oil from wet algae without drying up which reduces the cost of the process.
Oil extraction is followed by concentration to produce ‘green crude’. The green crude is refined through their proprietary technologies into drop-in substitutes for all the three major distillates viz. gasoline, diesel and jet fuel for car, truck and airplane respectively. Being hydrocarbon based fuels they are compatible with the existing petroleum and automobile industry infrastructure from refining to distribution. These fuels meet ASTM standards and do not require any need to modify the machinery to get accommodated.
Sapphire’s technology to produce algae biofuel does not require food crops or valuable farmland, and uses sea water instead of potable water which makes it very attractive from the environment’s point of view too.
Saphire Energy’s Integrated Algal Biorefinery
The Sapphire Energy’s Integrated Algal Bio Refinery, also famous as Green crude farm, is situated at New Mexico, US. The project is first of its kind and is funded by US department of Energy and department of Agriculture by providing $50 million grant and $54.4 million bank loan guaranty respectively while the company itself invested $84 million dollars. The construction work was started in 2011 and the plan is to build a farm stretched in 300 cultivated acres with production capacity of 100 barrels of green crude oil per day.
The first phase of the project was completed in 2012 and the farm is operational since May 1, 2012. It consists of 100 acres of 1.1 acre and 2.2 acre ponds and machines and equipments required to harvest and extract algae oil. There is special emphasis to recycle water for the planned 300 acre facility. According to the information provided in the company’s website while “Phase 1 began with the inoculation of the first 100 acres of pond systems and a series of “shake-down-testing”, Phase 2 of the project will focus to scale up and increase farming operations”.
In March 2013, a deal was finalized between a subsidiary of the oil refining and retailing giant Tesoro and Sapphire Energy through which Tesoro became the first commercial customer of Sapphire Energy. Under the agreement, Sapphire will sell crude oil from its Green Crude Farm to Tesoro which will refine it for market use. Tesoro Corporation is an independent refiner and marketer of petroleum products.
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