Sapphire Energy’s 4 Pillars to Success

Joanna Schroeder

Sapphire Energy has four pillars that define the company; yet the over arching pillar that truly drives them is the concept of scale. But before they could begin overcoming that challenge, they first had to decide what kind of company they wanted to be. The answer  – an energy company.

Sapphire is an energy company that just happened to land on algae as their primary feedstock. The company was founded in 2007 out of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego under the research direction of Steve Mayfield, who has since become the director for the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, also housed at UC San Diego.

According to the company’s Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Tim Zenk, whom I met with during my San Diego Algae Tour, Sapphire is a very large operation. They have their research headquarters in San Diego, an engineering team working out of an office in Orange County, CA, a very large demonstration plot in Las Cruces, NM, and they are about to break ground on a very large demonstration facility in Columbus, NM.

“This is a very large lab by algae standards,” said Zenk. “It’s no question its the largest in the world.”

To date, Sapphire has raised more than $200 million from private investors, with three major investments coming from family venture funds. “Three family wealth trusts gives us a lot of flexibility that allows us to pick the right partners and allows us a long runway to develop the technology and commercialize it,” explained Zenk who believes the company will be at full production by 2018.

He noted that standard venture capital isn’t really conducive to energy. “We think of things in 30 year life cycles, not five years,” said Zenk.

Zenk described how Sapphire sees the energy problem. “We really view this as an agricultural problem and we see Sapphire at the intersection between biotechnologies, agriculture and energy. And our view is we need to learn something from the two most scalable businesses in the world and that’s energy and ag. Our view is algae can be cultivated in the same manner as, or in a similar manner, as you do other products that grow in water,” concluded Zenk.

And this leads us to the four pillars of Sapphire, which according to Mike Mendez a Co-Founder of the company and the VP of Technology, they are developing an energy solution that is scalability, is not produced from a food crop, does not use arable land, and does not use fresh water.

You can learn more about Sapphire’s four pillars in my interview excerpt with Mike Mendez. Click here to see photos from my San Diego Algae Tour Photo Album”>San Diego Algae Tour. Sapphire's 4 Pillars to Success

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