Sapphire Energy is a U.S. company with significant backing from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and the United States Government. Sapphire specializes in the production of gasoline from crude oil that is produced from algae. The different between Sapphire technology and other biofuel technology is that Sapphire is directly refining the oil generated by algae to produce gasoline that is fully compatible with current gasoline derived from petroleum. The oil can also be converted to diesel of jet fuel.
Sapphire technology is based on harvesting oil from algae and converting it hydrocarbon fuel. The process is simple. Algae containing up to 50% oil by mass are grown using CO2, nutrients, and sunlight. They are then harvested to remove the oil, which in turn is refined to produce biofuels in the same way that crude petroleum would be refined. This differs greatly from other biofuels based on algae, which allow the organism itself to convert CO2 to ethanol or diesel, which is then harvested without killing the algae.
The downside to Sapphire technology is that it is more nutrient intensive than methods that harvest fuels but do not kill the algae. The more nutrient intensive nature of Sapphire technology means that it is not quite as “green” as other algal biofuels and likely leads to a net increase on total greenhouse gas emissions (as opposed to being carbon neutral). Of course, this increase is not as large as the increase that would result from using standard biomass and is far removed from the carbon output of fossil fuel refining. The upside is that the fuels produced from what Sapphire calls “green crude” can be used in the existing supply chain as they are chemically identical to petrol-based fuels, meaning it can make for an easy transition and ease the rising costs of petro-based fuels.