Algae Green Crude and The New Oil Boom

An interesting article appeared recently casting some solid, real world numbers on the state of commercial algae biofuel production. Sapphire Energy announced that they  are now growing “green crude” as a crop.

Algae Green Crude and The New Oil Boom

Sapphire Energy's ponds under construction

So just to be clear what I’m talking about, let me say it again...growing crude oil as an agricultural crop.

Think corn, rice, and soybeans.

It’s never been done before. At least, not as a crop in the tangible sense, but something that is crucial to the production of everything else: energy itself.

To do so, Sapphire is attempting to (que in “StarTrek” theme song) go where no man has gone before. Making use of algae as a key, world-wide crop system. Just to avoid confusion, this is not on the size which has developed around vitamins and/or nutritional products, but on the same level, and at the same expense, as dozens of staple crops or commodities worldwide.

Make no mistake, this is a game-changer. An amazing, change-the-algae-world forever endeavor.

In a nutshell, they’re making algae biofuel history.

The US Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture and the exclusive investors behind Sapphire Energy – who’ve together backed the building of Sapphire’s Green Crude Farm, which one hundred acres is in location, out of an final 300-acre location, transforming brackish water, CO2 and sunlight into oil-rich microalgae, by which  crude oil is produced.

Now, let’s consider the Farm alone. How exactly does it function? Growing algae is completed science, a “done deal” technology-wise, but cultivating algae at yields, along with costs low enough, to remain competitive on the same scale as petroleum, is a completely different story.

Sapphire Energy’s Green Crude Farm remains in the murky world of “keep your fingers crossed…” phase.  But to be fair, you have to qualify the statement. The technology is complete as far as producing, harvesting and removing crude oils from algae. Actually on the thirty acres that Sapphire is managing at any given time, that’s “done deal” science as well. There’s no longer any question they can do it. HOW they do it, is of course, proprietary.

However, proprietary technology or not, doing this at a competitive price is another issue. They’ll be demonstrating, and proving their claim over the next 4 years, while they construct a 5,000 barrel per day facility. That’s right, folks, 76 million gallons per farm annually.

What strains are they using you ask?

Sapphire has examined numerous algae variations in its labs in San Diego. It’s reputation  as a man made biology shop is well known. However, the number of possible contenders in this sport are 100’000’s.  Just the selected few go on to Sapphire’s pilot location and test open-air ponds in Las Cruces, about 50 miles east of Columbus. From that list of prospects, a wintertime and a summertime algae athletes are already chosen at Sapphire. At this time, they are changing the ponds over to wintertime algae. This is Sapphire’s way of saying, we aren’t about to tell you what strains we’ve chosen. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out these are probably hybrid or specialty strains.

The Size and Scope

Sapphire’s system is, by current algae realities, enormous. One hundred acres completed, out of 300 acres in total capacity for this venture. They have functioning ponds as large as 2 acres in size. This is twice what was formerly believed feasible.

The Predators and Pests

Fortunately, success in microalgae is in the combination of factors, just like fish laying dozens of eggs, the objective of the process is to bombard nature with quantities, and then replicate swiftly and massively.

Consider it in this manner. Assuming algae increases its mass every 24 hours, as many strains do, in a 365-day growing period beginning with 2 kilos of algae, you’d generate more biomass by the Fourth of july compared to the total mass of the known universe. Main point here, an individual can manage to shed several as you go along. If 99.99999999999% of the algae is overcome by infestations, predators, rivals or health issues, you’d continue to generate much more biomass compared to known universe by September. So, you get the drift.


Which delivers us to the crux of the entire matter, which would be Sapphire’s wet extraction technology. Like extracting picking watermelon seeds to seedless watermelons, -this is their essential engineering, their own personal development. They don’t discuss it very much, besides to state that they’ve got it, it works, and will inexpensively wet extract crude oils from algae. If this is true, and there is no reason to think it isn’t, then they also join the ranks of OriginOil and ground breaking extraction technology as well.

The Crude

Following extraction, exactly what do you have? Green crude oil. Ideal for, as with most crude oils, for delivery to refineries for transformation to everyday fuel and chemical products. It’s drop-in fuel, meaning it is suited to pipelines and current refinery infrastructure, and translates into an infrastructure-compatible, drop-in fuel.

The bottom line and the balance sheet.

When should we know if this going to pan out or not? 2018, ultimately. Once the 5000 barrel per day factory is constructed  as well as delivering at full scale. For now, we’ll have to take the word of Sapphire Energy and the Green Crude Farm to guarantee us, or not, that the outcomes can be scaled from a 300-acre assortment of 1- and 2-acre ponds to a plant 50 times that size. But we’re well past the hopeful science fiction phase of algae development, with so much money on the line, and so many people watching, it would make sense that they would stick to what they can deliver.

Instead, what we understand for now is this. The assets of CO2, sunlight, and brackish water are enough – in the Sapphire strategy – they’ve made it bond into a functioning end-to-end technology. We’ve still to verify that the prices can come down as far as making $100 barrels of oil obsolete.

Considering the mixture of sunlight, flattish land that has slipped out of farming, brackish groundwater, and accessibility to the Denver City CO2 pipeline hub – many of us wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see West Texas arise as the new world leader in green crude fuels.  A new Texaco growing out from oil fields that never diminish, or deplete. That are able to replenish itself every 24 hours, not every 24 million years. I guess everything IS bigger in Texas.

What we are clearly seeing here is the birth pangs of a huge, new industry being born.

The “Algae Revolution” has begun.

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