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Sapphire Energy of San Diego chosen by U.S. to participate in biorefinery project

December 4, 2009 | 12:30 pm

Sapphire Energy Inc., a San Diego biofuels company that has developed an algae-based fuel used experimentally to power airplanes and drive a car cross country, has been selected to participate in a $564-million biorefinery project, the U.S. Energy and Agriculture Departments announced Friday.

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that Sapphire Energy would receive a federal loan guarantee of up to $54.5 million as part of the project. A total of $564 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used for "pilot, demonstration, and commercial scale facilities" in a total of 15 states. The goal is to "lay the foundation for full commercial-scale development of a biomass industry in the United States," according to a press release.

"Advanced biofuels are critical to building a cleaner, more sustainable transportation system in the U.S.," Chu said. "These projects will help establish a domestic industry that will create jobs here at home and open new markets across rural America."

Sapphire Energy’s project will be built in Columbus, N.M. It will be used to demonstrate "an integrated algal biorefinery process" that will cultivate algae in ponds. Oil extraction technology will be used to produce "an intermediate product that will then be processed into drop-in green fuels such as jet fuel and diesel," the press release said.

Tim Zenk, vice president for corporate affairs for Sapphire Energy, said that the company also received a $50-million grant from the Department of Energy.

"We're extremely pleased. We couldn't be more happy about the opportunity," said Zenk, who added that the company considered it validation "that this is a technology that can address energy security and address the the problems of climate change."

Sapphire Energy’s current plans include a goal of producing 1 million gallons of algae diesel and jet fuel each year in the next two years, and up to 1 billion gallons of fuel a year by 2025.

-- Ronald D. White

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