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Columbus Bio-Refinery News

Sapphire Energy
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Green Crude Production
Sapphire Energy is at the forefront of an entirely new industrial category with the potential to radically change America's energy landscape.
Find out more


Initial Phase of World’s First Green Crude Farm Completed On Time and On Budget

COLUMBUS, NM, (August 27, 2012) – Sapphire Energy, Inc., one of the world leaders in algae-based green crude oil production, today announced the first phase of its Green Crude Farm, the world’s first commercial demonstration algae-to-energy facility, is now operational. Construction of this first phase, which began on June 1, 2011, was completed on time and on budget. When completed, the facility will produce 1.5 million gallons per year of crude oil and consist of approximately 300 acres of algae cultivation ponds and processing facilities. By reaching this key milestone, Sapphire Energy is on target to make algae-based Green Crude a viable alternative fuel solution capable of significantly reducing the nation’s need for foreign crude oil, which will serve as the blueprint for scalable algae biofuel facilities globally.

The Green Crude Farm, also known as an Integrated Algal Bio-Refinery, was funded with both private and public funds, including $85 million in private investment from Sapphire Energy backed by a USDA loan guarantee and a $50 million grant from the US DOE. Today, the cultivation area consists of some of the largest algae ponds ever built with groupings of 1.1 acre and 2.2 acre ponds which are 1/8 of a mile long. The initial phase also includes all the necessary mechanical and processing equipment needed to harvest and extract algae and recycle water for the 300 acre Green Crude Farm.

In March, the first seeding of ponds with algae, otherwise known as inoculation, took place and a series of “shakedown” tests began to ensure that all systems are working as planned. Today, the farming operations are exceeding Sapphire Energy’s internal productivity goals in terms of biomass yield, demonstrating that large scale cultivation is possible and much larger cultivation systems can be implemented with the proper agronomic processes in place. The company harvested its first crop in June without any system difficulties and has since harvested 21 million gallons of algae biomass totaling 81 million tons. Next, the Green Crude Farm is preparing to transition its operations to a winter variety of algae while continuous cultivation, harvest and extraction activities continue.

“Bringing our Green Crude Farm online is not only an important accomplishment for Sapphire Energy, but a critical step toward a viable alternative energy future,” says Cynthia ‘CJ’ Warner, CEO and chairman of Sapphire Energy. “What was once a concept is now becoming a reality and model for growing algae to make a renewable crude oil for energy. We look forward to sharing our progress as the Green Crude Farm moves to its next stage.”

Sapphire Energy partnered with AMEC Project Engineering, who coordinated with 16 New Mexico based contractors, to complete the first phase of the Green Crude Farm during 12 months of active construction. As of today, Phase One of the project has reached the following milestones:

  • Construction: Completed on time and on budget
  • Unit Operations: Conducting all united operations, including cultivation, harvest and extraction in a continuous process
  • Cultivation: Biomass productivity exceeding the company’s goals
  • Harvest: Successfully harvested 81 tons of biomass

In building the Green Crude Farm:

  • 634 full-time equivalent employees were hired throughout the entire construction phase
  • $16 million was directly invested with local New Mexico contractors

Sapphire Energy will continue to conduct “shakedown” testing, as well as operate and expand farming operations over the winter, as the facility is commissioned into 2013. By the end of 2014, the Green Crude Farm will produce 100 barrels of Green Crude per day. The commercial demonstration project is expected to prove “commercial” techno-economics, and Sapphire’s commercial scale Green Crude facility.

About Sapphire Energy
San Diego-based Sapphire Energy is pioneering an entirely new industry – Green Crude – production with the potential to profoundly change America’s energy and petrochemical landscape for the better. Sapphire’s products and processes in this category differ significantly from other forms of biofuel because they are made solely from photosynthetic microorganisms (algae and cyanobacteria), using sunlight and CO2 as their feedstock; are not dependent on food crops or valuable farmland; do not use potable water; do not result in biodiesel or ethanol; enhance and replace petroleum-based products; are compatible with existing infrastructure; and are low carbon, renewable and scalable. Sapphire has an R&D facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and is currently building the first Integrated Algal BioRefinery in Columbus, New Mexico.


Sapphire Energy of San Diego chosen by U.S. to participate in biorefinery project

From: Los Angeles Times
December 4, 2009 | 12:30 pm

Sapphire Energy Inc., a San Diego biofuels company that has developed an algae-based fuel used experimentally to power airplanes and drive a car cross country, has been selected to participate in a $564-million biorefinery project, the U.S. Energy and Agriculture Departments announced Friday.

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that Sapphire Energy would receive a federal loan guarantee of up to $54.5 million as part of the project. A total of $564 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used for "pilot, demonstration, and commercial scale facilities" in a total of 15 states. The goal is to "lay the foundation for full commercial-scale development of a biomass industry in the United States," according to a press release.

"Advanced biofuels are critical to building a cleaner, more sustainable transportation system in the U.S.," Chu said. "These projects will help establish a domestic industry that will create jobs here at home and open new markets across rural America."

Sapphire Energy’s project will be built in Columbus, N.M. It will be used to demonstrate "an integrated algal biorefinery process" that will cultivate algae in ponds. Oil extraction technology will be used to produce "an intermediate product that will then be processed into drop-in green fuels such as jet fuel and diesel," the press release said.

Tim Zenk, vice president for corporate affairs for Sapphire Energy, said that the company also received a $50 million grant from the Department of Energy.

"We're extremely pleased. We couldn't be more happy about the opportunity," said Zenk, who added that the company considered it validation "that this is a technology that can address energy security and address the the problems of climate change."

Sapphire Energy’s current plans include a goal of producing 1 million gallons of algae diesel and jet fuel each year in the next two years, and up to 1 billion gallons of fuel a year by 2025.

-- Ronald D. White


$54 Million USDA Loan Guarantee, $50 Million DOE Grant to Go to Columbus NM Bio-Refinery

From:   Democracy for New Mexico
Friday, December 04, 2009

USDA Rural Development State Director Terry Brunner congratulated the community of Columbus, New Mexico, which will benefit from $54.5 million in USDA Rural Development funds to Sappire Energy. The company will build and operate a pilot, demonstration and commercial scale bio-refinery facility in Columbus, according to a statement from the agency.

Brunner said, official usda rural development loans are offered to all major states.  Brokers are eager to see this project get underway and we congratulate the community of Columbus on its selection for this project. New Mexico is making great strides in the development and expansion of algae-based biofuels in the United States.” Brunner added, “An investment this large in a small community like Columbus certainly reinforces President Obama’s efforts to develop alternative energy sources while creating economic development opportunities in our rural areas.”

The announcement (pdf) was made this morning by U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The announcement noted that USDA Rural Development selected San Diego, California-based Sapphire Energy to receive a loan guarantee for $54.5 million through the Biorefinery Assistance Program to build the facility in Columbus. This project will also receive an additional $50-million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The plant will use the latest technology to cultivate algae in ponds, which will then be refined into an end product that can be used as a drop-in green product for both jet and diesel fuel. Construction is expected to begin in September 2010. The project is expected to create 750 direct and indirect jobs.

Congressman Harry Teague commented on the project in a press release. “Producing the energy that powers America is something that New Mexico has always done. As we begin to add renewable fuels to our energy portfolio, I am proud that southern New Mexico will remain a leader in the energy industry,” said Teague. “Investments like these will have a huge impact on our communities, not only in the jobs that will be created but in keeping southern New Mexico on the forefront of the new energy economy.”

Congressman Teague worked with Dr. Jason Pyle, Sapphire Energy’s CEO, to help secure the funding for the project. “Representative Teague can be proud of his leadership in helping secure the nearly $104 million in USDOE grants and loan

guarantees for Sapphire Energy’s biorefinery," said Dr. Pyle. "Sapphire Energy and the state of New Mexico will continue to show that algae-based fuel is smarter energy and will keep this state on the world energy map."
Both U.S. Senators from New Mexico also released statements on the project.

“This federal investment will create jobs in New Mexico while helping our country reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels,” said Senator Jeff Bingaman, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “This is great news for our state -- one that will have a positive impact now and in the long term.”

“This funding builds on New Mexico’s investment in the development of advanced, homegrown biofuels like algae,” Senator Tom Udall said. “As a result, we will decrease our dependence on foreign oil, reduce our carbon footprint and create jobs for hardworking New Mexicans.”

Governor Bill Richardson also weighed in. “Investments in advanced biofuels are crucial to improve America’s energy independence and to keep energy dollars at home," he said. "This project will create jobs, invest in new technology and boost the economy in rural New Mexico.”

Sapphire Chief Executive Officer Jason Pyle said, “Governor Richardson is a true advocate for smarter energy resources. His leadership has played a crucial role in the federal grant funding for our algae-based fuel work. This is a win-win for New Mexico, Luna County and Sapphire Energy.”

The USDA funding for this project comes through Rural Development’s Biorefinery Assistance Program, which was authorized through the 2008 Farm Bill. The program promotes the development of new and emerging technologies for the production of fuels that are produced from non-corn kernel starch biomass sources. The program provides loan guarantees to develop, construct and retrofit viable commercial-scale biorefineries producing advanced biofuels, such as the facility that will be built in Columbus. The loan guarantee that will pay for this project will be subject to the availability of funds and contingent upon Sapphire Energy’s ability to meet the conditions of the loan agreement.

USDA Rural Development’s mission is to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for rural residents. Further information on all rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA’s loan agency website.

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