Sapphire Energy: Biofuels Digest’s 5-Minute Guide

October 22, 2012 |


3115 Merryfield Row
San Diego, CA 92121

Year founded


Company description:

San Diego-based Sapphire Energy is pioneering an entirely new industry – Green Crude Production – with the potential to profoundly change America’s energy and petrochemical landscape for the better. Sapphire’s products and processes in this category differ significantly from other forms of biofuel because they are made solely from photosynthetic microorganisms (algae), using sunlight and CO2 as their feedstock; are not dependent on food crops or valuable farmland; do not use potable water; do not result in biodiesel or ethanol; enhance and replace petroleum-based products; and are low carbon. Green Crude can be refined into the three most important liquid fuels used by our society: gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. The fuels meet ASTM standards and are compatible with the existing petroleum infrastructure, from refinement through distribution and the retail supply chain.

Major Investors

Sapphire Energy is supported by a world-class syndicate of investors led by co-founder ARCH Venture Partners; along with The Wellcome Trust; Cascade Investment, LLC; and Venrock.

Type of Technology(ies)

Green Crude, a renewable biofuel made solely from photosynthetic microorganisms (algae), using sunlight and CO2 as their feedstock. It can be refined directly into drop-in replacements for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, using the existing petroleum refinery infrastructure.


Sapphire Energy’s algae have been bred to tolerate high PH conditions and salty water, and require only sunlight, C02 and some nutrients as feedstocks.


Green Crude, an algae-based renewable oil developed as drop-in replacement for petroleum. It can be refined into gasoline, diesel fuel and aviation fuel in existing refineries for use in existing engines.

Product Cost 

When Sapphire reach commercial readiness, its plan is to be price competitive with traditional crude. Current industry estimates are for algae-based green crude production to result in a $75 and $85/barrel cost at commercial scale.

Past Milestones

• Sapphire Energy partners with The Linde Group, the leading merchant CO2 supplier in the U.S., to reduce the costs associated with the delivery of anthropogenic CO2 for commercial-scale open pond algae cultivation. In addition, Linde will supply all of the CO2 to Sapphire`s commercial demonstration facility in Columbus, New Mexico.

• Sapphire Energy, Inc. and Monsanto Company announced an agreement to enter a multi-year collaboration that will leverage Sapphire’s algae based research platform to discover genes that could be applied to agriculture, particularly in the field of yield and stress.

• In 2010, Sapphire Energy began construction for our Integrated Algal Bio-Refinery in Southern New Mexico, a project that was awarded more than $100 million in federal grant money from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act through the U.S. Department of Energy and a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Bio-refinery Assistance Program.

* Completed phase 1 of Green Crude Farm.

Future Milestones

• Completion and operation of phase 1 and 2 of the IABR. 2013, construction and operation of all IABR phases united in 2014.

• -Public policy, algae tax parity and a more technology neutral RFS.

• -Expanded partnerships.

Business Model:

Developer and producer of Green Crude

Competitive Edge(s):

Scale to Growing Demand: Sapphire Energy’s algae based green crude can scale to meet our domestic demand for transportation fuels. Today, the debate is not about who can make algae-based fuel, it is about who can scale as the demand grows. This is Sapphire’s strength.

The Only Truly Scalable Option: Sapphire Energy continues to lead the space as the industries’ only pure algae play. All other technology solutions require carbohydrates and sugar in their process, which cannot scale to truly replace petroleum.

Phased Drop-In Replacement: Another of the many beauties of Sapphire’s “green crude” is that it can drop directly in where petroleum currently is used without any changes to the infrastructure in vehicles, aircraft and more.

Value to the Value Chain: Sapphire Energy’s intellectual property position in the space gives the company freedom to operate with over 244 active patent cases with 45% of all patents in algae tied to Sapphire. It spans the full spectrum of algae fuel and products, providing multiple layers of competitive advantage across the entire value chain from platform technologies, traits and organisms, production systems, refining methods and products.

Grants and Government Partnerships: In December 2009, Sapphire was awarded $104.5 million in federal funds to build and operate a first-in-kind commercial demonstration scale algal biorefinery, integrating the entire value chain of algae-based fuel, from cultivation to extraction to refining. This award exemplifies the value the Administration sees in weaning dependency off petroleum as the sole option and transitioning to a purposeful and valid form of new energy. The funds are in addition to significant private investment and will ensure we can accelerate commercialization of algae-based fuels, which will fundamentally change our nation’s energy future, help address climate change, and stimulate green collar job growth.

In Top 10 Clean Tech Companies Most Likely to Succeed: Sapphire Energy was chosen as one of the top 10 venture-backed, clean tech companies of 2011 by the Wall Street Journal during the WSJ ECO:nomics Conference. Unveiling its second annual “Next Big Thing,” the Wall Street Journal chose Sapphire for its experience, capital, and potential for producing green crude from algae as a method to wean consumption off foreign oil and onto a home-grown proven fuel alternative.

Research, or Manufacturing Partnerships or Alliances.

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and through the biorefinery assistance program in the 2008 Farm Bill, Sapphire has partnered with both the USDOE and the USDA to build a next-generation algal biorefinery, funded by $104 million in grants and loan guarantees. Sapphire is also collaborating with leading scientists from the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute; University of California, San Diego; The Scripps Research Institute; University of Tulsa; and San Diego Center for Algal Biotechnology. Sapphire Energy has also established partnerships with Linde Corp, to obtain a low cost, long-term supply of C02, and Monsanto, for collaboration in algae research to improve yield.


Sapphire is in the commercial demonstration phase, and has a test and demonstration site in Las Cruces, NM. The company is in the process of demonstrating what is needed to scale to commercial volumes. Its Green Crude Farm is operational now and is expected and produce 1 million gallons of biofuel per year by 2014. The purpose of that is to demonstrate how algal oil can be refined into Jet-fuel, diesel and gasoline on a continuous commercial scale.



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