A.I.M. Interview: Sapphire Energy’s CJ Warner and Tim Zenk
by David Schwartz (Algae Industry Magazine) … So now that Green Crude Farm is in operation, what’s the current activity there?
CJ: We are about to do the next big thing with the Farm, which is the strain transition. We’re demonstrating several interesting things. One of them is that you can have a summer crop and a winter crop. So we’ll be going through the winter crop transition.
Another very interesting thing that we are modeling is the farm coop concept. If you think about what we are doing as being a new form of agriculture, it’s very unlikely that we’re going to have just a few large farms with all contiguous property. It’s much more likely that a wide variety of farmers will be growing algae and then will bring it all together, coop style, and that’s where the harvest and extraction will take place.
We’re currently using tanker trucks to transport the algae paste to a remote site, and then we process that into the crude. And that’s a very important part of the demonstration. So over the next two years we’ll be building the next phase of the system. And in that phase, the technology that we’ve piloted to demonstrate commercial economics will become competitive with crude.
When that’s been accomplished, and you begin rolling out commercially, how do you see the farmers fitting in?
CJ: For our very first commercial facility our vision is that we would own it with a group of partners. And the reason we would do that is that it is a first of a kind, and it’s going to be very important to control and manage all of the variables, and to optimize them. Our view is, as we start to build out, we’ll bring in more and more of the farming concept and we will do less and less of the farming ourselves. But we’ll still provide the seed – from all the work we do in the upstream biotech – and then we’ll provide the downstream processing.
How long is that process to move this out to the farmers?
CJ: I had a young man from Canada come talk to me last night, and say, “When will we be able to do this in Canada?” And I really firmly believe we will be doing this everywhere someday.
As far as how long the process will be to move it out to the farmers, I don’t know the answer definitively, but I believe after we do the first commercial operation we will get enough interest and farmers will want to learn, and we will want farmers to learn, and we’ll figure out a way to do that. What we’re offering for many farmers is to take land that is no longer viable for them for growing crops, and bring it back into usefulness.
TZ: … I spoke the other day about our willingness to invest in a weapons system – well this is just as strategic as the B2 bomber. Before we even got that built, we’d spent $29 billion in just unclassified research dollars. For that $29 billion, plus another $40 billion, we built 18 planes that had a ten-year lifespan. So, the small amount of money that we’re investing in renewable energy really seems reasonable and easy to accomplish.
CJ: Our extraction process is different from the ones that people are using when they quote those low lipid contents. The classic old methodologies only pull out a limited amount. But we have been able to boost yield by a huge percentage by using the hydrothermal extraction that we now have a patent for.
What it does, basically, is convert all of the biomass into usable oil, with the exception of the nutrients, which we then recycle back to the ponds. And that’s what we want to do; we want to use everything. So the proteins, the carbohydrates and the lipids that exist in any algae form, will all get converted, to some degree, into hydrocarbon.
…But if you’re trying to grow extremely large quantities of something, it’s going to be an open system, simply from economics, and simply from a sustainability perspective.
…GM agriculture is such a touchy issue internationally, how do you see transitioning from where we are to where it’s not only accepted, but it moves forward with reasonable guidelines?
TZ: Job number one for the industry, and particularly Sapphire and those of us who care about these issues, is to have a robust regulatory platform. We want that. Why? Because it gives us certainty about the process. As long as we meet the conditions, and can prove those conditions with a science-based regulatory process, then we are able to move forward. READ MORE and MORE (Sapphire Energy) and MORE (CNN Money)