Sapphire Energy is building the world’s first large-scale algae farm. It will be used to produce crude oil from algae, with the goal of producing 10,000 barrels a day by 2018.
Algae is a viable option as a crude oil replacement because it grows quickly, does not require food, and after it’s exposed to sunlight and CO2, begins to build up oil in its cells. It grows well in salty ponds, which can be easily built on land that cannot grow much else, making it affordable and readily available.
Each pond will have single-celled algae placed in it, which matures in only five days. It will then be put through a thermo-chemical process that extracts the oil.
So far, Sapphire Energy has raised $300 million to fund the project, spending $60 million on an oil separation refinery and 70 algae ponds, located on 2,200 acres of land in Columbus, New Mexico.
One of the biggest reasons why this is not a more common concept yet is because producing oil from algae is not cheap. It costs about $5,000 to make 1 ton of algae, which is embedded with about 30% oil. This leads to a cost of about $50 per gallon of oil before the extraction and conversion process even begins.
Still, Sapphire Energy isn’t letting high production costs get in the way of a goal for 10,000 barrels of oil a day by 2018. That’s really only a drop in the bucket when it comes to the daily demands of oil around the world, but it’s still a good start. If we’re lucky, the company may discover a less costly way to produce it, or it could get a lot cheaper with scale. Do you think it’s worth a shot as an oil replacement?
Image: Sapphire Energy