Government lending to green technology companies has been a political hot potato in recent years.
Huge loans were offered to dozens of companies. Automakers, solar companies, biofuel concerns and more received money, but high-profile failures like Solyndra lent credence to those critical of the loan program's risks.
Tesla Motors [NDSQ:TSLA] was the first to break this chain, paying back its Department of Energy loan years nine ahead of schedule. Now, biofuel company Sapphire Energy has done likewise, paying back its own $54.5 million loan with years to spare.
Like Tesla's DoE loan, Sapphire's was granted back in 2009, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The business was promoted using an algae fuel-powered Toyota Prius nicknamed the 'Algaeus', with which they toured the country, spreading the biofuel message.
The company's aim was to build a fully integrated algae-to-crude oil commercial demonstration facility in Columbus, NM. Not only did Sapphire's 'Green Crude Farm' project hit both its time and budget targets, but it's now an operational facility producing renewable crude oil from algae and cyanobacteria on a continuous basis.
Its construction created 600 jobs and 30 full-time employees currently work the plant. By 2015, the facility should be churning out 100 barrels of renewable crude per day, with commercial-scale production ready by 2018.
Last year, Sapphire Energy received a further $144 million from private investors to help grow the business further.
But politically, it's the repaid government loan that matters most. Just as with Tesla, it's further reassurance that taxpayer-funded projects aren't always as disastrous as some corners of the media like to make out.