Paris 2011: Sapphire Energy Plans To Turn Algae Oil into Jet A

 - June 23, 2011, 5:15 AM

What does it take to make a million barrels of “green” oil a day? According to San Diego, California-based Sapphire Energy (Hall 3 E118), the answer lies in combination of new environmentally friendly technologies. Sapphire aims to be producing about 67 barrels (2,800 gallons) of its fuel per day by 2014. By 2018, it hopes to be producing between 5,000 and 10,000 barrels of green crude per day.

Earlier this year it broke ground on a development facility in Columbus, New Mexico. CEO Jason Pyle said his firm is now talking with refineries in the U.S. to turn the algae into oil, but that using algae alone would not provide the entire global answer to switching to greener fuel.

“We need all alternative fuels development to work, not just one of them,” Pyle said. “The U.S. consumes 20 million barrels of oil a day.”

Sapphire said it turns sunlight into fuel via photosynthesis, using the algae as its base for the crude product. Pyle added, “Every barrel of algae oil produced consumes 600 kilograms of carbon dioxide, which is a 70-percent reduction in emissions over traditional fuel.”

He explained that biofuels need potable water during their production process, but that algae can thrive on nonpotable water. “Algae consumes massive amounts of carbon dioxide, and is the single most efficient form of photosynthesis,” Pyle said.

Algae covers just 2 to 3 percent of the earth’s surface, but is responsible for 50 percent of global photosynthesis, he said, and pointed out that all petroleum is essentially algae that has sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

Sapphire’s algae-based jet fuel can be used as a drop-in replacement for petroleum-based jet-A1, and Pyle said he hopes that a third of Sapphire’s production would go to the aviation industry. With investors such as Bill Gates and the Wellcome Trust on board, the company would appear in a good position to realize its goals.

Sapphire is exhibiting at the show as part of the dedicated Alternative Aviation Fuels Showcase.