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BIOFUELS: Sapphire gets cash for 'Green Crude' project


Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter

Algae-to-energy company Sapphire Energy Inc. today announced it has secured $144 million in private investment for its planned demonstration plant in New Mexico.

Among the investors in this latest round of private funding is Monsanto Co., which last year entered into a multiyear algae research collaboration with Sapphire. Sapphire plans to grow algae in ponds and produce what it calls "Green Crude" at the demonstration plant in Luna County, N.M.

"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," Sapphire President and Chairwoman Cynthia Warner said in a statement.

Total private and public investment in the demonstration plant, which Sapphire claims is the world's first commercial demonstration-scale algae-to-energy facility, is now more than $300 million. In 2009, the company secured stimulus funding in the form of a $50 million Department of Energy grant and a $54.4 million loan guarantee from the Department of Agriculture.

Monsanto is not the first major company to take a chance with algae, even as GOP critics slam the Obama administration for promising to increase investment in algae technologies as part of its energy plan. Exxon Mobil Corp., for example, has been collaborating with Synthetic Genomics, founded by biologist Craig Venter, to produce energy from algae.

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