Sapphire raises more than $50m for algae gas

The cleantech start-up’s second financing round, which includes an investment from Bill Gates’ wealth management firm, has pushed its total outside funding to more than $100m. Other investors include ARCH Venture, Venrock and the Wellcome Trust.

Green gasoline developer Sapphire Energies has raised more than $50 million (€35 million) in Series B financing as the San Diego-based company seeks to scale up its production of algae-based crude oil to 10,000 barrels per day.

The latest financing round, which included new investor Cascade Investment, the personal wealth management firm of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, pushed Sapphire’s total outside funding to “substantially more than $100 million”, according to a statement from Sapphire.

Earlier this year, Sapphire said it had raised $50 million from venture capital firms Arch Venture Partners

Green crude: eco-friendly

and Venrock and the UK philanthropic fund Wellcome Trust.

Further details of the Series B financing were not released, although Arch Venture partner Kristina Burow said that the round was not led by a single firm.

Sapphire hopes to deploy the fresh capital to make its refinery-quality biofuel commercially viable within the next three to five years.

Although Sapphire has been very guarded of the technology involved in the creation of algae-based oil, the company has claimed that through the use of sunlight, carbon dioxide, chemically-manipulated algae, non-arable land and non-potable water it can create light sweet crude for gas, jet fuel and diesel.

“The organisms produce something that we’re calling green crude, and it’s the same chemical composition as the gasoline you can get at the pump,” Burow recently told sister publication Private Equity International.

Sapphire was founded last year after a conversation between Burow and bioengineering experts Jason Pyle and Nathanial David about the environmental inferiority of ethanol evolved into an idea for an algae-based energy source.

Burow says that Sapphire’s production process puts much less strain on natural resources, as it does not require near the amount of land and potable water necessitated by corn- or sugar-based ethanol. The algae used to produce the crude would also be able to absorb any carbon emissions related to its use.