Sapphire Energy's algae-powered Toyota Prius

In the "lightning strikes twice" department, another California company in the green transportation field has said it paid off its federal government loans ahead of schedule. In this case, San Diego-based Sapphire Energy, which specializes in converting plant algae to crude oil, says it has paid off its $54.5-million loan, originally granted by the US Department of Agriculture, ahead of schedule.

Sapphire, which took out its loan under the agriculture department's Biorefinery Assistance Program, says it will produce 100 barrels of crude oil from its New Mexico plant on a daily basis by 2015 and will be making oil at "commercial scale" levels three years later. In 2008, the company started publicizing its efforts to combine algae with CO2, sunlight and other microorganisms to produce legitimate gasoline (91 octane, no less). A year later, Sapphire reps drove a Toyota Prius, nicknamed the Algaeus, powered by algae-based gas to drive to New York City from San Francisco.

The other green mobility company to pay off its loan early is electric-vehicle maker Tesla Motors, which said in late May that it paid of its $465 million Department of Energy loan. That loan was also taken out in 2009 and was not due to be paid in full until 2022. Check out Sapphire's press release below.
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SAPPHIRE ENERGY PAYS OFF GOVERNMENT LOAN GUARANTEE

USDA and Sapphire Energy Partnership Demonstrates Effective Use of Taxpayer Money and U.S. Technology Leadership

SAN DIEGO, July 30, 2013 – Sapphire Energy, Inc. today announced it has paid off the entire loan guarantee awarded to the company by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Dec. 2009, the company was awarded a $54.5 million loan guarantee through the Biorefinery Assistance Program, administered by the USDA Rural Development-Cooperative Service, to build a fully integrated, algae-to-crude oil commercial demonstration facility in Columbus, N. M. In partnership with the USDA and the U.S. Department of Energy, Sapphire Energy developed and implemented its facility, known as the Green Crude Farm, on time and on budget. Today, the Farm is operational and producing renewable crude oil on a continuous basis.

As a result of the USDA's loan guarantee and USDOE's support, Sapphire Energy is now producing the world's first renewable crude oil, and is in the process of scaling up the technology. The operational crude oil farm has led to additional investment in the company and commercial partnerships. The company repaid the remaining loan balance in full after receiving additional equity from private investors, making the loan no longer necessary to complete the next, planned phase of development. The early repayment of this loan and on-target development roadmap for Sapphire Energy's algae crude oil technologies further solidifies the USDA's role in catalyzing new energy technologies in rural communities, increasing domestic energy production, and creating new jobs. The USDA's investment has advanced the use of algae as a feedstock to produce crude oil and as a viable new crop to produce homegrown energy while creating valuable rural economies.

"The investments being made in low-carbon biofuel production are paying off and moving technologies forward, which will produce savings at the pump for consumers, and spur sustainable, new-wealth creation here in the United States, and make our land more productive," said Doug O'Brien, Acting Under Secretary for Rural Development.

"Sapphire Energy is very grateful to the USDA for supporting algae crude oil as an alternative source of energy as well as our vision to make this industry a reality," said Cynthia 'CJ' Warner, CEO and chairman of Sapphire Energy. "With their backing, we did exactly what we set out to do. We grew our company, advanced our algae technologies, and built, on time and on budget, the first, fully operational, commercial demonstration, algae-to-energy facility that delivers a proven process for producing refinery-ready Green Crude oil. We could not have built this first of a kind facility without the support of the USDA. Moving forward, our focus is on commercializing our technology and expanding operations to bring crude oil production to commercial demonstration scale as planned."

The Green Crude Farm integrates biotechnology, agriculture and energy to demonstrate the entire value chain of algae crude oil production, from cultivation to harvest to extraction. More than 600 jobs have already been created throughout its phase 1 construction, and 30 full-time employees currently operate the facility. The company expects to be producing 100 barrels of crude oil per day in 2015, and at commercial-scale production in 2018.

About Sapphire Energy

San Diego-based Sapphire Energy is pioneering an entirely new industry – Green Crude production – with the potential to profoundly change America's energy and petrochemical landscape for the better. Sapphire's products and processes in this category differ significantly from other forms of biofuel because they are made solely from photosynthetic microorganisms (algae and cyanobacteria), using sunlight and CO2 as their feedstock; are not dependent on food crops or valuable farmland; do not use potable water; do not result in biodiesel or ethanol; enhance and replace petroleum-based products; are compatible with existing infrastructure; and are low carbon, renewable and scalable. Sapphire has an R&D facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and is currently operating the first Integrated Algal BioRefinery in Columbus, New Mexico, continuously since May 1, 2012.