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Start-up says it's turning algae into gasoline

Sapphire Energy, which has raised $50 million, says it is making 91-octane "green crude oil" from algae that is the chemical equivalent of gasoline.

Sapphire Energy has come out stealth mode, saying it's producing the chemical equivalent of gasoline from algae.

The San Diego, Calif.-based company also disclosed that it has raised $50 million from Arch Venture Partners, Venrock, and the Wellcome Trust.

From green scum to black gold? Sapphire Energy

Formally launched last May, Sapphire said Wednesday that it has hired Brian Goodall, who led a team of engineers responsible for a cross-Atlantic flight that used algae-based fuel earlier this year.

Sapphire's "green crude" has been certified with a 91-octane rating, but the company disclosed few details about its technology.

Its process can grow algae using wastewater, and the executive team said it is confident that the technology can scale up to produce gasoline on a commercial scale.

Algae is touted as the feedstock with perhaps the most promise for growing fuels; a number of companies are developing algae farming technologies.

Sapphire said that it developed an algae process to avoid the controversy over using land for fuel crops instead of food crops.

But at this point, algae fuels are largely experimental and no company is making fuel on a commercial scale.

GreenFuel Technologies, which had to scale back a pilot site, said that it has landed a large European customer to make fuel from algae but has not shared any more information.

Sapphire is not the only company creating technology to make hydrocarbons from plants. Others include LS9, Amyris Biotechnologies, Codexis, and J. Craig Venter-founded Synthetic Genomics.

The advantage of this approach is that the fuels can be integrated into existing transmission infrastructure and can run in cars or planes without modification.

Update on May 30: Corrected name of Arch Venture Partners.