Proposed algae plant to create 100 jobs

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Portales will become home to an algae farm that produces biofuel and an estimated 100 new jobs for the region if the U.S. Senate passes a proposed budget bill.

Nearly $1 million in funding for the project is included in the Fiscal Year 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill expected to go before the Senate in coming days, according to a spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Tom Udall.

The House passed the bill Wednesday, which includes $951,000 for a demonstration project in Portales, Marissa Padilla said.

“(Senator Udall) really feels that this is a project that has many benefits for the community,” Padilla said.

The funding will support a 20-acre demonstration facility and could create an estimated 100 local jobs initially, she said.

Padilla said a demonstration of the technology will likely spur the development of a 200 acre facility and later a 2,000 acre facility.

Sapphire Energy has selected New Mexico as a prime location for it’s year-round algae growth and refinement project because of its brackish water aquifers, sunlight with low humidity and carbon dioxide levels, company spokesman Tim Zenk said Wednesday.

The fast growing plant relies on photosynthesis and salt water and is grown in long “runways” like dirt irrigation canals.

Sapphire uses the algae to create a “green crude” that is used to produce fuel for diesel, gas and jet engines known as “green fuels”.

Crops are rotated about every 15 days and produce about 3,800 gallons of oil per acre — a yield 10 times that of corn or soy biofuel production, Zenk said.

The funding is a good start to get the project underway in the Portales area.

“We have to start small, a million dollars doesn’t get you very far when your talking about energy,” Zenk said.

“This is just the beginning,” Zenk said. “For us, New Mexico is absolutely one of the best places on the planet to do the work we’re trying to do… What we’re going to have to do now that there’s funding is sit down with the community and figure out the beneficial research that can be done there.”