By Todd Woody, Forbes:
Eighty miles west of El Paso, Tex., in a sunburned stretch of the New Mexico desert, Predator drones and blimps patrol the nearby border and immigration-agency SUVs speed through the desolate terrain, the occasional coyote loping across the scrub. Oddly, given that I’m more than 600 miles from the Pacific, there’s a distinct salty ocean tang wafting on the breeze. But that’s not the sea I’m smelling: The odor is emanating from algae growing in 30 acres of huge oblong ponds at Sapphire Energy’s Green Crude Farm.
Funded with $85 million from Bill Gates and other investors – plus $104 million in government cash and loan guarantees – the world’s only commercial outdoor algal biorefinery went online this summer and will eventually expand to 300 acres. The plan: extract 1.5 million gallons of green crude oil a year from patented pond scum fed a diet of carbon dioxide and sunlight.
Even before San Diego-based Sapphire broke ground on the demonstration plant last year, the U.S. Navy’s green energy warrior, Vice Admiral Philip Cullom, descended on the desert site to grill Sapphire execs on their technology and its potential to fuel battleships and jet fighters… Read more