On Monday, the United States Department of Agriculture announced that a $54.5 million loan for San Diego-based Sapphire Energy has been guaranteed by the U.S. government to help the alternative fuel company build an integrated algal biorefinery south of Deming.
The cost of the refinery is projected at $135 million.
"It's great because it basically begins to expand the footprint of biofuels," said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. "This project represents another step in the effort to assist the nation's advanced biofuel industry."
Earlier this year, Sapphire Energy broke ground in Luna County, near Columbus, on the algal biorefinery that will create 30 or more jobs. Already, the company employs about 50 people in Las Cruces at its test facility on the West Mesa Industrial Complex.
At the Las Cruces test facility algae is produced in racetrack-shaped ponds that range in size from 14 feet to 200 feet. The Columbus site could grow to hundreds of acres and feature an even larger ponding area.
"We've had full-bore construction since about May or June," Bryn Davis, New Mexico operations manager for Sapphire, said about the biorefinery. "We expect to inoculate our first pond in March of next year."
Some types of algae are composed of about 50 percent oil. That oil can be extracted and turned into fuel. The algae is harvested, separated from water with centrifuges, and dried until it is in a powder form. From there machines can be used to separate the solid material from the oil. The oil, or "green crude," would then be refined just like crude taken from the ground.
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