Change the World: Sapphire Energy’s Green Crude Farm, Illustrated
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) Growing crude oil as a crop – Sapphire Energy and its Green Crude Farm – can it be the sunlight in your universe and change the world? What does it look like? How does it work? The Digest does the show and tell.
As locations go, Columbus, New Mexico is hard to find but is a pretty good place to stage the first attempt, here on Planet Earth, to cultivate crude oil as an agricultural crop.
Let’s say that again – growing crude oil as an agricultural crop. It’s never been done before. Not a crop for something to eat, or to wear, or for materials for walls or floors – but something that is deep inside all three: energy itself.
To do so, three partners are attempting to do something else that has never been achieved before – using algae as a major, global crop platform – not on the scale that has produced vitamin and nutritional supplements, but on the scale and at the costs more closely associated with the dozen or so great staple crops around the world. Which is to say, this is a tall order. A monumental, change the world attempt.
The partners? The US Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture and the private investors behind Sapphire Energy – who have jointly financed the construction of Sapphire’s Green Crude Farm, of which 100 acres is in place, out of an eventual 300-acre facility, converting brackish water, CO2 and sunlight into oil-rich microalgae, from which a crude oil is extracted.
…On the site of Sapphire’s Green Crude farm, agriculture ceased in the early 1970s when salt intrusions into the groundwater made it impossible to carry on with the cultivation of chili peppers and cotton.
…Sapphire Energy’s Green Crude Farm is still in the “if it works…” stage – though not at all insofar as producing, harvesting and extracting crude oils from an algae farm. Even on the 30 acres that Sapphire is operating at a time, right now – that’s finished science. There’s no doubt they can do it. Doing so at the right cost – they’ll be proving out their case over the next four years, as they build out to a 5,000 barrel per day scale – 76 million gallons per farm per year.
…After extraction, what do you have. Green crude oil. Suitable, as with all crude, for shipping to refineries for conversion to everyday fuel and chemical products. It’s drop-in – suitable for pipelines and existing refinery infrastructure – and results in an infrastructure-compatible, drop-in fuel.
The bottom line When will we know? 2018, finally – when the 5000 barrel per day facility is built out and is producing at full scale. READ MORE