Algae-based jet fuel for the Continental Airlines biofuel test flight in January was supplied by Sapphire Energy
Fri 1 May 2009 – California-based Sapphire Energy, which supplied algae-based jet fuel for the recent Continental Airlines and Japan Airlines biofuel test flights, has doubled its initial estimates on production of diesel and jet fuel. It claims it will be in a position to supply one million gallons of fuel by 2011, increasing to more than 100 million gallons annually by 2018. By 2025, the company predicts it will be producing one billion gallons by 2025, enough to meet around three percent of the United States’ 36 billion gallon renewable fuel standard.
Sapphire says it cannot provide any indication of how much of the fuel it aims to produce will be for airline use. “It will be market dependent – we’ll produce what our customers need,” a spokesperson told GreenAir Online.
The company, which is backed by Bill Gates and the Rockefeller family, says it is set to be the first to bring in a drop-in replacement fuel for air and land transportation.
“Fuel from algae is not just a laboratory experiment or something to speculate on for years to come. We’ve worked tirelessly, and the technology is ready now,” said Dr Brian Goodall, Sapphire’s Vice President Downstream Technology. “We’ve successfully tested our fuel with two commercial airlines and within the next three years we’ll be producing enough to help meet the growing demands of industry and the military. Fuel from algae is an extremely logical approach to meet the needs for a green solution to our dependence on fossil fuels.”
Tim Zenk, the company’s Vice President of Corporate Affairs, told the New York Times that the Continental test flight showed that algae fuel gets better mileage than petroleum-based jet fuel. “We noticed a 4% increase in energy density in the fuels because of the lower-burning temperatures in the engine itself, which resulted in greater fuel mileage,” he said.
As a feedstock, algae consumes large quantities of carbon dioxide. In Sapphire’s production process, one kilogram of algae biomass uses 1.8kg of CO2. About half of that algal biomass is oil, so the production of each gallon of oil consumes 13 to 14kg of the greenhouse gas, Zenk told the newspaper. “You can see it’s just completely packed full of the stuff. That’s what makes it one of the most unique plants on planet Earth for consumption of carbon.”
And while the company uses energy to transport CO2 and water to its algae production facilities in the New Mexico desert and to transport the fuels they produce, Zenk said Sapphire’s lifecycle emissions are two-thirds to three-quarters less than those of producing standard diesel.
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