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Algae Biofuel Start-Up Secures $144M for Demo Plant

Algae in petri dishes (Sapphire Energy)

(Sapphire Energy)

Sapphire Energy in San Diego says it received the last installment of its series C financing — the third round of funding after initial start-up — valued at $144 million. The company develops biofuels from algae and bacteria, and the new financing is expected to fund a demonstration production plant in Luna County, New Mexico.

Sapphire says its technology is designed to produce a bio-engineered feedstock molecularly similar to light sweet crude oil that can be refined into drop-in replacements for gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel. Algae is a fast-growing organism with high energy content that does not require arable land or potable water. Algae’s main nutrient is carbon dioxide; Sapphire says its refineable raw material — what the company calls “Green Crude” — consumes 13 to 14 kg of C02 per gallon.

The company’s planned demonstration facility is expected to cover the entire production cycle of Green Crude from cultivation to extraction of a refineable product. Sapphire says it is the first commercial demonstration-scale algae-to-energy facility.

Investors in the series C round include investment advisers Arrowpoint Partners in Denver and chemical manufacturer Monsanto. In March 2011, Sapphire and Monsanto announced a research collaboration in algae agriculture. The U.S. Department of Energy has supported Sapphire with a $50 million grant and $54.4 million loan guarantee.

“The ongoing support from the private investment community speaks to how strongly they believe in the development of Green Crude as an alternative fuel resource,” says Cynthia Warner, Sapphire’s president, “especially Sapphire Energy’s ability to commercialize it.”

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