Operations should begin at the Sapphire Energy biofuel facility in June, the vice president of corporate affairs reports.
Tim Zenk, of San Diego-based Sapphire Energy, said the first phase of construction, which will lead to the beginning of operations, will be finished the middle to end of June. At that point, the pond systems used to grow algae for biofuel crude will be filled.
"We'll bring it up to about 20 acres or so, a little over 20 acres, and operate throughout the summer," he said. "The first summer will be sort of a shakeout period to make sure all the systems are working properly and the bio algae is working as we think it will."
Most of the pond systems are completed, he noted, and the seeds to begin growing the algae have been planted in inoculation ponds to begin the growth.
By September, he expects a different strain of algae that thrives in "hot, intense" conditions to be planted.
"We'll be producing crude oils all summer long," he said. "The beauty of algae is, we'll be growing it, harvesting it and extracting those oils. We'll be using that crude oil for various certifications and testing of the product itself, making sure the fuels that get refined out of the crude oil meed the proper industry specifications and military specifications."
Working samples of fuel from the algae crude have already fueled test flights in two Boeing 747 jet airplanes over Japan and Houston, Tx.
With the U.S. military and federal government setting its sights on more green fuels and less on foreign oils, Sapphire is working toward bringing its 100-acre facility up to full production capacity by 2013-14. The U.S. Navy consumes about 30 million barrels of fuel a year and has plans to launch a "green fleet" by 2016. Sapphire hopes to step into that niche with its production.
The company broke ground on the current site, which is located near the village of Columbus, in June 2011 and has since over 500, Zenk says.
Currently there are about 150 people working on the job site.
"Most of the workers are coming from the surrounding area; all the trades from the welders to pipe fitters, electrical workers," he said. "There's a large number of those folks from New Mexico on site."
He said 19 New Mexico contractors have been hired for the job with about $6 million spent. He said another $2 million has been spend in Deming and the surrounding area on hotel rooms, security, food and other services. He says the company has spent just under $10 million in New Mexico alone.
The facility near Columbus is part of the company's research component which includes a Las Cruces facility with close ties to New Mexico State University.