Tiny Columbus, New Mexico is exactly what it sounds like: a small town with a population just over 1,600. Walking into the streets of Tiny Columbus, you wouldn’t expect to see much beyond a rogue tumbleweed here and there.  However, that all changed back in 2012. Nestled in the hot, flat, uncrowded desert, this hidden gem is now home to a company making a monumental impact on the fossil fuel industry.

Sapphire Energy, a well-funded startup, is turning a 300-acre expanse of barren desert into the world’s largest algae farm…but why algae?

Algae are considered the key to unlocking a sustainable future for the fossil fuel industry. Thanks to its genetic composition, algae can be used as a base for a new sustainable form of oil, otherwise known as “green crude.”

“We take algae, CO2, water and sunlight, and then we refine it,” said Cynthia Warner, the Chief Executive Officer of Sapphire. Algae, she says, has the potential to change the world by making renewable fuel sources accessible by every country. If a country can grow algae, then they can produce their own oil.

Surprisingly, this method of ‘growing oil’ has been worked on by scientists over the past three decades. Like all relatively new innovations, there are still some kinks to work out. Scientist still cannot agree on which method works best for harnessing the true energy potential of algae; therefore, the true benefits of green crude remain unproven.

Some scientists grow their algae in ponds, while others grow theirs in clear plastic containers, and some even grow their algae in the dark, feeding it sugar instead of sunlight. To improve the overall productivity of algae, some researchers have used conventional breeding and others turn to genetic engineering. With so many variables to take into consideration, experts are still working on creating their best methods of producing green crude.

It’s only a matter of time until the right concoction of algae, CO2 and sunlight is discovered. This fairly new industry is still being explored by many energy companies, all eager to develop a truly sustainable solution.