Arizona State University (ASU) has entered into a research and commercialization collaboration with Heliae Development, LLC and Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) to develop, produce and sell bio-kerosene-based aviation fuel derived from algae.
This biofuel project will focus on the commercial production of kerosene from algae using patented technologies developed by Professors Qiang Hu and Milton Sommerfeld at ASU’s Laboratory for Algae Research & Biotechnology. The research efforts of Hu and Sommerfeld in algal-based biofuels and biomaterials have already moved from the laboratory to field pilot-scale demonstration and production.
Hu and Sommerfeld have identified specific algal strains that can convert a significant portion of their cellular mass into oil comprising a group of medium-chain (C10–C14) fatty acids which, after deoxygenation treatment, closely mirrors the length of the hydrocarbon chains found in kerosene.
Kerosene, when mixed with minor amounts of fuel additives, is known as JP8 or Jet A, suitable for use in jet aviation applications. A competitive advantage of the medium-chain fatty acid-based kerosene production is elimination of an expensive chemical or thermal cracking process, which is otherwise necessary for long-chain fatty acids commonly found in animal fat, vegetable oils, and typical algae oils.
Heliae Development, LLC (Heliae) was recently formed by several out-of-state private equity investors for the purpose of licensing and developing these algal strains for jet fuel. The company will lease space at SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center.
Under the license agreement with Heliae, Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE), the technology venturing arm of ASU, will receive an equity stake in the company along with other standard forms of consideration including licensing fees and a share of any commercialization income. In addition, Heliae will provide research funding of $1.5 million to ASU to support further development of the specific algal strains towards commercial production of jet fuel. The Heliae funding will be matched dollar for dollar by a Strategic Research Group award from SFAz, so that ASU will receive a total of $3 million for the project.
In August, Hu and Sommerfeld shared their findings and research on the application of algae-based oils for creating biofuels at the Farnborough International Air Show in the UK. An exhibit related to the work was part of a collaboration and ongoing relationship between the researchers and Boeing.
Boeing has committed a $225,000 grant to support ongoing algae research at ASU, and to provide three scholarships for graduate students. Hu and Sommerfield are also part of a team led by UOP, a Honeywell company, that is looking at developing and commercializing a process to produce JP-8 from algae. (Earlier post.) As part of that project, Hu and Sommerfeld screen for oil-rich algal strains, evaluate their potential as oil producers and develop an algal feedstock production system that will yield competitively priced oil that can be converted into jet fuel.
Qiang Hu, Milton Sommerfeld, Eric Jarvis, Maria Ghirardi, Matthew Posewitz, Michael Seibert and Al Darzins (2008) Microalgal triacylglycerols as feedstocks for biofuel production: perspectives and advances, The Plant Journal, Volume 54 Issue 4, Pages 621 - 639 doi: 10.1111/j.1365-313X.2008.03492.x