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Sapphire Develops NM Bio-Fuels Potential

Submitted by on April 3, 2014 – 3:01 pmNo Comment

By Alta LeCompte(Las Cruces Bulletin) On a tour Thursday, Jan. 23, of Sapphire Energy’s research and development facility in the West Mesa Industrial Park, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich addressed the unique nature of the advanced biodiesel industry and the challenge it poses for legislators.“Advanced bio-fuels are caught between the silos of agricultural regulations and oil and gas industry regulations,” said Heinrich, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Heinrich said he wants to make sure the process of regulating the emerging industry is “thoughtful.”

“I am continuing to watch how regulations are framed that deal with how bio-fuels are generated to make sure we have a system that works and that incentivizes production,” Heinrich said. “I’m working on an advanced bio-fuels letter with other senators for setting standards and making sure it is incentivized.”

Hosting Heinrich at Sapphire Energy were Bryn Davis, New Mexico operations manager; Dean Venardos, vice president of operations; and Becky Ryan, associate director of field testing.

Sapphire’s Las Cruces site is the largest, photosynthetic, fully integrated, algae-to-energy testing facility in the world. The Las Cruces facility is a midpoint between basic research Sapphire does in California and its commercial scale demonstration farm near Columbus, N.M. “Everything we have here is a microcosm of what we have in Columbus,” Davis told Heinrich. “We have 3 acres of ponds, and they have 100, with a potential for 300.” The next step – commercial production – calls for 40,000 acres of ponds, Davis added. Getting there is a goal the senator and the manager hold in common. “Southern New Mexico meets all our criteria – land, sun, brackish water and university access,” Davis said. Because New Mexico is a small, agricultural state, the regulatory environment is easier to work with than it is in large states such as Texas, Davis added.

Algae: A national fuel resource

Crop protection is a major concern, which Sapphire scientists address by developing strains of algae capable of maintaining their dominance in an exposed environment, she explained “Ultimately we want it to be the winner,” Becky Ryan (associate director of field testing) said, of the strains growing in Las Cruces – “the one that grows the fastest.”

Local scientists staff lab

Inside the lab, the senator had an opportunity to observe under a microscope a rotifer, a tiny pest with about 1,100 cells that preys on algae.

Sapphire is the first – and only – company to produce a renewable source of crude oil on a continuous basis from algae biomass. In 2011, the company began construction of the Green Crude Farm, the world’s first commercial demonstration algae-to-energy facility in Columbus, N.M.

This project was awarded $104 million in federal funding, including a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Construction of Phase 1 of this demonstration site, which includes 100 wet acres of algae ponds and all the processing equipment needed for the facility, which was completed on-time and on-budget in 2012. The Green Crude Farm has been in continuous operation ever since.

A continuum of R&D

Most of the research Sapphire does at the molecular level is done at its San Diego headquarters.Sapphire Energy’s Green Crude Farm or IABR (Integrated Algal Biorefinery) in Columbus is the world’s first commercial demonstration scale algae-to-energy farm, integrating the entire value chain of algae-based crude oil production, from cultivation to production to extraction of ready-to-refine Green Crude. READ MORE and MORE  WATCH VIDEO

 

 

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