PARIS: Sapphire aims to produce commercial levels of algae fuel by 2018

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Sapphire Energy is using the Paris air show to promote its algae-derived renewable jet fuel, which it aims to produce at commercially viable levels within seven years.

The company's Green Crude is a drop-in fuel produced from algae, using sunlight and carbon dioxide as a feedstock.

Sapphire is building an integrated algal biorefinery in New Mexico that will produce 3.8 million litres (1 million USgal) a year, or 65 bbl/day, of Green Crude from 2015.

However the $135 million project, which is heavily funded by the US government, will need to increase this to 5,000 bbl/day to reach commercially viable levels.

"It is quite reasonable to expect commercial production by 2018," said Sapphire vice-president of corporate affairs Tim Zenk. The company hopes to secure purchase agreements from refiners for its product in 2013 or 2014.

The recent preliminary approval of hydrotreated renewable jet fuels for commercial aviation by certificating body ASTM International was a "really important step", said Zenk, adding that "it's all about production now".

An agreement signed earlier in the show between 10 airlines and US bioenergy firm Solena to purchase jet fuel derived from waste biomass has helped to change Sapphire's mind on the likelihood of airlines becoming key customers for its product.

Sapphire chief executive Jason Pyle had previously described the commercial airline industry as an unattractive customer because of its tendency to shy away from long-term contracts. However, Zenk said during the show that "our perception has since changed".