Udall visits Sapphire Energy, touts future of renewable energy

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, took some time to talk energy and algae Tuesday at Sapphire Energy, the world’s largest research and development facility devoted to algae-to-energy testing.

Among some 70 active ponds, which range in size from 14-foot test ponds to production ponds that grow algae in as many as 1 million liters of water under the desert sun on Las Cruces’ west mesa, Udall got a chance to tour the facility and discuss the future of renewable energy and biofuels.

“I think this is incredibly exciting,” Udall told a crowd of some 30 visitors and Sapphire Energy. “The whole push is to be cleaner and greener is important.”

Sapphire, which has been in operation for roughly six years, turns algae into biofuels which are then sent to national corporations to develop the next generation of vehicles, engines and other machines that can operate off of renewable energy sources and replace petrochemicals, mainly oil, that are used to power industry currently.

“We are an R&D site,” said Becky Ryan, associate director for field testing at Sapphire. “These are the tools we need.”

Those tools run from open ponds to testing vats and controlled environments to microscopes, she said. The goal is to develop the optimum strains of algae that will produce the most biofuel while withstanding pests and, as is the goal in all agricultural pursuits, produce the best harvest. Ryan noted that the process takes 60 to 90 days “from plate to pond,” meaning how long it takes to culture, plant and grow a crop.


Photo: Robin Zielinski Sun- NewsU.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-NM, smells a barrel of algae oil during a tour on Tuesday at Sapphire Energy, located at, 9035 Advancement Ave. “It smells a lot like oil,Ó said Udall.

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