Sapphire Energy Pays Off USDA Loan

Sapphire Energy has paid off the entire loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In December 2009, the company was awarded $54.5 million through the Biorefinery Assistance Program, administered by the USDA Rural Development-Cooperative Service (and one of the energy programs in jeopardy in the current House version of its farm bill). The funds were to be used to build a fully integrated, algae-to-crude oil commercial demonstration facility in Columbus, New Mexico In partnership with the USDA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The result known as the Green Crude Farm is completed and was built on budget. Today, the Farm is operational and producing renewable crude oil on a continuous basis. As a result of the USDA’s loan guarantee and DOE’s support, Sapphire Energy is now producing renewable crude oil, and is in the process of scaling up the technology.

“The investments being made in low-carbon biofuel production are paying off and moving technologies forward, which will produce savings at the pump for consumers, and spur sustainable, new-wealth creation here in the United States, and make our land more productive,” said Doug O’Brien, Acting Under Secretary for Rural Development.

The operational crude oil farm has led to additional investment in the company and commercial partnerships. The company repaid the remaining loan balance in full after Sapphire Green Crude Photo Joanna Schroederreceiving additional equity from private investors, making the loan no longer necessary to complete the next, planned phase of development. According to Sapphire Energy, the early repayment of this loan and on-target development roadmap for Sapphire Energy’s algae crude oil technologies further solidifies the USDA’s role in catalyzing new energy technologies in rural communities, increasing domestic energy production, and creating new jobs. The USDA’s investment has advanced the use of algae as a feedstock to produce crude oil and as a viable new crop to produce homegrown energy while creating valuable rural economies.

“Sapphire Energy is very grateful to the USDA for supporting algae crude oil as an alternative source of energy as well as our vision to make this industry a reality,” said Cynthia ‘CJ’ Warner, CEO and chairman of Sapphire Energy. “With their backing, we did exactly what we set out to do. We grew our company, advanced our algae technologies, and built, on time and on budget, the first, fully operational, commercial demonstration, algae-to-energy facility that delivers a proven process for producing refinery-ready Green Crude oil.”

“We could not have built this first of a kind facility without the support of the USDA. Moving forward, our focus is on commercializing our technology and expanding operations to bring crude oil production to commercial demonstration scale as planned,” she added.

Researchers Look to Remove Algae for Biofuel

Blersch-Algae1One of the scourges of lakes during summertime is an algae bloom. While some algae serves as an important part of the food chain, other varieties can become too plentiful and kill off large amounts of wild fish. Researchers from the University of Buffalo are looking at ways to remove that slimy, green mess and turn it into useful materials, such as biofuels.

Funded by a $30,000 Rochester Institute of Technology grant, [David] Blersch, an environmental engineer at the University at Buffalo, and his students built a system that pumps water ashore down two, 40-foot-long flumes.

The water is recycled into the lake but it leaves behind microscopic cells that form miniature algae blooms. Blersch vacuums the algae and bottles samples to study. He is creating a database that will help scientists, government, industry and others gauge the algae’s potential uses.

“One element of the project is pollution recovery. By using the algae beds to remove excess nutrients from the lake, we can improve water quality,” says Blersch, PhD, research assistant professor in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The other aspect is studying its properties; is it viable to turn algae into biofuels, fertilizer or other commercial products?”

The technology is being looked at to help clean up and possibly collect algae to make into biofuels in other important watershed, such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades. In addition, companies, such as Exxon Mobil, which has invested $100 million since 2009 in algae biofuels, are helping move the process along.

A New Use for Algae in Biofuel Production

According to an article in the journal Phycologia, a recent research study examined a promising freshwater algal strain for possible genetic engineering applications that could make it a viable biofuel. The research, conducted by a research team in Japan, was aimed at reducing the time from research to commercial production of algal-based biofuels.

Phycologia52.4.coverThe article takes an in-depth look at the genetic structure of a unicellular green alga, Botryococcus braunii, and explores its unique ability to be utilized in the genetic engineering of biofuel development. Botryococcus braunii was initially selected for large-scale biofuel production because of its extraordinary ability to synthesize large amounts of hydrocarbon oils.

Several difficulties were encountered in the initial production and harvesting processes, leaving it by the wayside. However, this latest research reintroduces B. braunii as the perfect vehicle for genetic engineering applications when compared with three other species of green algae, five species of land plants, and eight other phyla species, including bacteria, archaea, fungi, and mammals.

The research focused on the codon usage, or DNA compatibility, of B. braunii with the other organisms. Codon usage for this particular alga is one of the fundamental genetic markers that had not been explored. Codons are greatly affected by the vast amount of guanines (G) and cytosines (C), two of the four nucleotides that make up a DNA molecule. Many green algal species having high GC content, which causes codon usage bias, or poor compatibility, with other organisms. Surprisingly, B. braunii had comparatively low GC content and its codon usage was similar to that of bacteria, mammals, and land plants.

Although further study is necessary, the researchers found that the ability of B. braunii to synthesize hydrocarbons, combined with the newly discovered codon usage and GC content data, could lead to new genetic engineering techniques that could hasten biofuel development and production.

Algae Biomass Summit: A Must Attend

The Algae Biomass Organization (ABO) will be hosting its 7th annual Algae Biomass Summit this fall, September 30-October 3, 2013 in Orlando, Florida. To get an overview of ABO logokey speakers and topics, I turned to ABO Executive Director Mary Rosenthal. To date, Rosenthal said that have nearly 100 speakers confirmed along with a huge poster presentation and more than 60 exhibitors.

One of the key sessions, according to Rosenthal, is, “The Algae Fuel Solution – Updates from Algenol Biofuels, Sapphire Energy and Federal Express”. The session will be moderated by Tim Portz, Executive Editor, Biomass Magazine and panelists include Paul Woods, CEO, Algenol Biofuels;  Cynthia “CJ” Warner, CEO & Chairman, Sapphire Energy Inc; and Joel Murdock, Managing Director, Federal Express.

MR Edited HeadshotBecause of the changing nature of the industry, Rosenthal said they will be following this session with a presentation focused on “beyond fuels” or a session discussing feed, nutrition, specialty chemicals and products. This session will be moderated by Jim Lane, Editor and Publisher of Biofuels Digest, and panelists include Tim Burns, President, BioProcess Algae; Dan Simon, President & CEO, Heliae; Mike Van Drunen, CEO & Founder, Algix LLC; and Greg Bafalis, CEO, Aurora Algae.

I asked, politics aside, why the algae industry is such a great industry. “You have to look at algae and what it provides. It’s efficient at producing oil, you have superior yields, you don’t use valuable agricultural land, and we don’t take away from food crops,” Rosenthal explained, who also noted that the industry doesn’t take away from fresh water resources. “And we have the potential to recycle carbon from industrial power plants and re-mediate waste water.”

In addition to the sessions, there will also be some pre and post-conference tours. Rosenthal said she is especially excited about the visit to Algenol’s commercial development campus that includes 70,000 square feet of world-class molecular biology, culture collection, physiology, aquaculture, analytical chemistry and engineering laboratories.

All of these topics and more will be discussed during the Summit. To learn more about the Algae Biomass Summit and to register online, click here.

Listen to my interview with ABO Executive Director Mary Rosenthal here:Algae Biomass Summit: A Must Attend

Sapphire, Linde Partner to Turn Algae into Crude Oil

SapphireLindeSan Diego-based Green Crude – oil made from algae – producer Sapphire Energy, Inc. and German gasses and engineering company The Linde Group have partnered to commercialize a new industrial scale technology to turn algae biomass into crude oil. The five-year deal is to go through the development of Sapphire Energy’s first commercial scale, algae-to-energy production facility.

“Sapphire Energy is very pleased to build upon its already successful strategic partnership with Linde to build a commercial oil upgrading process designed to increase yield and lower the cost of crude oil production,” said Cynthia ‘CJ’ Warner, CEO and chairman of Sapphire Energy. “Large energy projects like we are building require very significant partnerships to fund the development of new technologies and make available engineering resources needed to bring these projects on line at commercial scale. We think Linde is a perfect partner to help Sapphire achieve this goal.”

“We have been working with Sapphire Energy for two years to develop a cost-efficient CO2 delivery system for commercial algae production. We have become confident with the company’s expertise and its capability to produce a low carbon and economic energy source from algae. After the positive experience gained, we decided to intensify our cooperation with Sapphire,” said Professor Dr. Aldo Belloni, Member of the Executive Board of Linde AG. “Based upon our profound engineering expertise, we will contribute to further develop and scale up Sapphire’s algae-to-crude-oil technology.”

Linde and Sapphire Energy energy have been working on a low cost, CO2 management system for open pond, algae-to-fuel production, since May 2011.

Algae Products Producer Gets Expansion Funding

heliaeAn Arizona-based producer of algae products, including biofuels, has secured nearly $30 million in funding that it hopes to use to expand its operation. Biofuels Journal reports Heliae raised the $28.4 million that will be used for support and expansion of its first commercial facility in Gilbert, Ariz., set to startup this September.

“With Heliae’s first commercial plant on schedule for startup in the third quarter, the company is in the final stages of proving the viability of our flexible Volaris™ production platform and demonstrating economics at a commercial scale,” said Dan Simon, president and CEO of Heliae.

“It’s an exciting time for Heliae and the sustained support of existing investors, as well as the addition of new investors, demonstrates our momentum and continued success in scale-up.”

Heliae’s flexible Volaris platform combines the best of existing algae production models, utilizing both sunlight and low-cost carbon feedstocks to optimize output.

Volaris is a mixotrophic algae production platform, a hybrid of known phototrophic and heterotrophic models, which affords decreased capital costs, reduced contamination and increased productivity and product optionality.

The plant is being built in two phases, with the first phase delivering high-value nutraceuticals made under high light conditions and the second making a personal care product in lower light conditions.

St. Louis Scientists Invited to the White House

The White House invited Dr. Terry Woodford-Thomas, director of science education and outreach at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center along with Dr. Cindy Encarncion, director of life sciences at the St. Louis Science Center to D.C. during a recent Champions of Change award program event. The event recognized American citizens’ contributions to their communities and highlighted “citizen science” projects across the nation.

champions-of-changeDr. Woodford-Thomas and Dr. Encarncion, were invited to attend the event because of their contributions to a White House report on the impact of citizen science programs across the nation, as well as for leading Backyard Biofuels, a collaborative program between the Danforth Plant Science Center and St. Louis Science Center.

With funding from National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, the Backyard Biofuels project opened to the public in 2010. Since then, thousands of algae collection kits were distributed and several hundred “algae hunters,” ranging from the age of six to adults contributed algae from across the nation. The Backyard Biofuels Project not only contributed valuable sets of naturally-occurring oil-producing algae to bioenergy scientists for investigative research; importantly, it allowed students whose interest in science could be enhanced by working side-by-side with “real” scientists in cutting-edge research laboratories to be identified and nurtured.

“Citizen science drives people to engage in discovery, both scientific discovery and self-discovery. It also helps to translate this understanding of science into action,” said Dr. Woodford-Thomas.

For three years, a celebration of “All Things Algae” or Algae Palooza, was held at the Saint Louis Science Center to engage citizens in various activities such as algae identification from pond water, making biofuel from plant vegetable oil, painting with algae, making algae ball “bling”, observing science grade algae photobioreactors in action and meeting Danforth Center scientists engaged in algae biofuels research. Continue reading

Iowa Algae Plant Welcomes Congressman, Officials

BioProcess Algae pic1An Iowa congressman and the state’s ag secretary, which is fed from the CO2 of the nearby ethanol plant. KMA in Shenandoah says Iowa Congressman Tom Latham and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey toured the Bio Process Algae plant, part of the Green Plains Renewable Energy facility:

Congressman Latham says the Bio Process Algae plant does not live up to what most people think of when they think of algae.

“When people typically think of Algae, they maybe think of scum on water. This is so far removed from that. What they are doing here is remarkable. The potential this has for the future is just amazing. It is incredible what they are doing here and while it is still under development, I think they are going to be successful.”

Northey says the plant continues to impress him. “It’s amazing to see. I have been here a couple of times before. I’ve seen different stages that just continues to grow. With the Department of Energy grant, they are entering a new phase and to see the young people here finding new ways to use technology, I am very impressed.”

The adjoining ethanol plant pumps out 65 million gallons a year of the green fuel and has been in operation since 2005. The algae plant was added in 2009.

Algae.Tec’s Coal-Fueled Algae-to-Biodiesel Plant

AlgaeTecsigning1Algae.Tec inked a deal with Australia’s largest power company that will feed the waste carbon dioxide from a 2640MW coal-fired power station near Sydney to algae to eventually turn into biodiesel. Owned by the New South Wales government, the Macquarie Generation Bayswater coal-fired power station, one of the largest in the world, will use an enclosed algae growth system.

“This deal is an innovative means of capturing and reusing carbon emissions and providing the Hunter region with a locally produced green fuel source,” [NSW Energy Minister Chris] Hartcher said.

Macquarie Generation CEO and Managing Director Russell Skelton said:

“Our agreement with Algae.Tec is another example of MacGen finding creative ways to improve our business and improve our environmental performance.”

“Its new technology is improving a traditional power plant.”

“At a time when all the petroleum refining capacity is closing down in NSW, this is the beginning of an era of renewable fuel which can be “grown” in the State and can substitute imported petroleum products,” said [Algae.Tec Executive Chairman Roger] Stroud.

In addition to taking the CO2 out of the environment and creating green fuel, Algae.Tec officials point out the deal creates hundreds of jobs in that area.

Iowa State Growing Algae for Biofuel, Other Uses

ISUalgae1Researchers at Iowa State have a new facility to grow algae for a variety of uses, including biofuel production. This news release from the school says the facility’s innovative design is attracting a lot of interest from other universities and private industry.

The facility contains a novel biofilm-based cultivation system designed by Martin Gross, a graduate assistant in agricultural and biosystems engineering, and Zhiyou Wen, an associate professor of food science and human nutrition.

The cultivation system allows for easy separation of algae from water, which is usually an expensive and often time-consuming process requiring the use of a centrifuge or other costly equipment. The new cultivation system at Iowa State sidesteps that process by passing through the nutrient-rich water a cotton-based biofilm, which collects the algae. After that, the algae are simply scraped off the cotton material. It’s a simpler, more efficient way to cultivate algae, Wen said.

The school compares the technologies at the facility to a lazy river, with a shallow channel of water and a gentle current to keep the water moving, as well as 200-liter flat panel bioreactors.

Cellectis Genetically Engineers Algae for Biofuels

cellectisFrench-based genome engineering specialist Cellectis announced it has successfully used engineered nucleases to genetically reprogram diatoms, a major group of algae, to produce biofuels. The company says its VP of Synthetic Biology and Technology, Dr. Fayza Daboussi, presented his research results at a meeting in Paris:

The results presented at the “Molecular Life of Diatoms” meeting by Dr. Fayza Daboussi, who led the study, demonstrate the strength of Cellectis’ engineered nucleases for efficient gene inactivation and/or gene insertion in diatoms. Cellectis has generated a lipid‑rich diatom which highlights the significance of this breakthrough. This work will lead to new opportunities in synthetic biology and especially biofuel production from photosynthesis and CO2.

Cellectis officials say genome sequencing of several diatom species, such as Thalassiosira pseudonana and Phaeodactylum tricornutum, has opened a new era of post‑genomics research and the possibilities for new industrial applications.

DF Cast: Algae Backers’ Beef with DOE

Backers of algae, especially for biofuel production, say while the Department of Energy provides millions for universities to do research through the DOE Biomass Program, commercial enterprises are being left by the wayside. And they say that isn’t fair, and after 60 years of looking at the green microbes, researchers have developed nothing.

In this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, we talk with Barry Cohen, the Executive Director at the National Algae Association, about how the commercial side of his industry is getting shut out, and he argues if they had just 10 percent of the money that universities get, we would have a commercialized algae-based biofuel within a year.

It’s a pretty interesting conversation, and you can listen to it here: Domestic Fuel Cast - Algae's Beef with DOE

You can also subscribe to the DomesticFuel Cast here.

Colombians Find Algae with Biodiesel Potential

colombiaflag1Researchers in Colombia have found a couple of strains of freshwater algae that could be good for biodiesel. FIS.com reports that the scientists at the National University of Colombia (UNC) believe Scenedesmus ovalternus and Chlorella vulgaris will produce biodiesel with less impact on the environment.

Luis Miguel Serrano Bermudez, Master in Chemical Engineering at the UNC and one of the authors of the study, explains that neither the bioethanol (made from the fermentation of corn or sugar cane) nor the biodiesel (made from palm oil, soybean or other grains) can respond to the global fuel demand with environmental and economic sustainability.

Colombia has a high abundance of water and light, which is essential for farming microalgae.

The two species of microalgae studied had the highest productivity of fats, with a value that is equal to 4.1 times the productivity of the African palm, which is the current raw material used by the domestic industry for biodiesel.

The researchers found that Chlorella vulgaris has a 25 percent higher fat content compared to Scenedesmus ovalternus, making the process that much cheaper.

Cold-Growing Algae Shows Biodiesel Promise

yellow-greenalgaeA new strain of algae found growing in the snowy Rocky Mountains could provide a promising feedstock for biodiesel. This story in Science Daily says heterococcus sp. DN1, a new variety of yellow-green algae, grows at near freezing temperatures and accumulates large amounts of lipids, working best at high light at the low temps:

Algae that can grow in extreme conditions and accumulate lipids are of great interest to industry. The team found that as H. sp. DN1 produces the highest quantity of lipids when grown undisturbed with high light in low temperatures, it is a potential source of lipids for human nutrition when grown undisturbed, and it has an ideal lipid profile for biofuel production when stressed.

davidnelson“We have isolated and characterized a new cold-tolerant lipid-producing strain of algae from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, US,” said Dr. David Nelson [Department of Plant Biology at the University of Minnesota]. “This may have implications for the commercial production of algal lipids at northern latitudes where the culture of other algal species is limited or impossible.”

New Algae-to-Biofuels Photobioreactor Designed

Alicante1Researchers at a university in Spain believe they have a new photobioreactor that will make it easier to turn algae into biofuels. The University of Alicante announced a patent on the new device:

The Research Group in Polymer Processing and Pyrolysis at the University of Alicante is the team that has designed and developed this device, consisting of a photobioreactor, easily scalable to larger production, which has attracted the interest of both Spanish and foreign firms in the sector of biotechnology.

The director of the research group, Antonio Marcilla Gomis, explained that the novelty of this photobioreactor compared to those existing is that it allows mass production, less cleaning and maintenance operations, better use of CO2 and better light transfer to cultivation…

The design of this novel technology aims to overcome any difficulties or problems that have been presented over the years with the use of other similar cropping systems.

“The subject on the cultivation of microalgae is having a major boom in terms of research in the last fifteen years as an alternative energy to oil”, he said.

Marcilla Gomis did admit that turning algae into fuel is still not on par with the profitable process that petroleum uses. But they’ll keep working on making it comparable, including finding multiple uses for the algae, such as food, pharmaceuticals or cosmetics.