Algae Biofuel Startup Is Expanding Operations in New Mexico

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A U.S. startup says it has raised enough funding to significantly expand what it calls the world’s first commercial-scale algae biofuel farm, a 300-acre project its developers say could produce 1.5 million gallons of algae-based crude oil by 2014.

Sapphire Energy, which so far has received more than $300 million — including U.S. government funding — to develop its technology, has already begun building the plant in New Mexico.

While many consider algae-based oil a promising fuel alternative since it can produce large amounts of oil without consuming fresh water supplies or farmland, the technology has not been shown to work on a commercial scale because of costs.

Sapphire Energy hopes that by reducing the production costs at every stage of the process — from construction of the algae ponds to harvesting — it will be able to produce a product that’s competitive with oil priced at $85 per barrel within six years.

Recent studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that the larger-scale production of algae-based diesel through scaled-up versions of existing technology would cost several times more than conventional diesel.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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