The commercialization of algae biomass for fuel production took a giant leap today with the announcement that Sapphire Energy’s Green Crude Farm, the world’s first commercial demonstration algae-to-energy facility, is now operational in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The first phase of Sapphire’s large outdoor production facility, which includes harvesting and extraction equipment along with the racetrack-shaped ponds, has produced 21 million gallons of algae biomass since June. Algae biomass contains oils, proteins and carbohydrates that can be processed into fuels, feed, fertilizers and many other products.
The enormous production potential of this first phase of the project is only the beginning. By the end of 2014, the facility will produce 100 barrels of Green Crude per day.
Sapphire’s announcement notes that the demonstration is on-budget and that construction and production milestones are being met on schedule. In the coming weeks operators will be switching the strain of algae in the ponds to one that is better suited to growing in winter months. The switch will show that year-long growth cycles can keep a steady flow of biomass supplied to the market.
Successful demonstrations like this are going to play a key role in deploying algae technologies into the marketplace. Today’s announcement is one more example that when it comes to making fuels from algae, a new industry can provide the kind of jobs and domestically produced fuels we need. Sapphire’s press release about this one project hints at some of the potential:
- 634 full-time equivalent employees were hired throughout the entire construction phase
- $16 million was directly invested with local New Mexico contractors
Most industry insiders believe that once commercial facilities like this come online, it will only be a matter of time before they become the model for hundreds of algae farms and fuel production facilities across the United States.
With Sapphire Energy’s impressive production schedule, and so many other companies aggressively pursuing their own algae technologies, the day we are all putting algae-derived fuels into our tanks is approaching very quickly.