Thursday, September 4, 2008

Algae-to-Kerosene jet fuel snags $3M


Scientists working at Arizona State University’s Laboratory for Algae Research & Biotechnology hope that tiny algae will be able to fuel jumbo jets. Now, their research is being spun-off as a $3 million research and commercialization collaboration between Heliae Development and Science Foundation Arizona to develop, produce and sell kerosene-based aviation fuel derived from algae. The researchers say they’ve already moved their work from the lab bench to a pilot-scale demonstration and production project.

Led by Qiang Hu and Milton Sommerfeld, the research centers on specific algal strains that produce lots of fatty acids that, when de-oxygenated, are very similar to kerosene. The team says its process can produce kerosene cheaper from algae than from petroleum. With a few fuel additives, kerosene can be made into aviation fuel, and with this seed funding, the project will continue development of algal strains specifically for jet fuel at ASU’s new SkySong innovation center.

Heliae is contributing $1.5 million for further research and development and Science Foundation Arizona will match that; ASU will receive a total of $3 million for the project. Arizona Technology Enterprises, the technology venturing arm of ASU, will receive an equity stake in the company, including licensing fees and commercialization income.

The new venture joins a few other algae-to-biofuel startups taking aim at green jet fuel. Seattle-based Inventure Chemical, which closed its first round of funding mid-2007, told the Seattle PI that it has already created algae-based jet fuel in test batches and hopes to produce up to 15 million gallons of biofuel each year. Kiwi Aquaflow Binomics says it is working with Boeing on algae-to-bio-jetfuel using open-air environments to grow its plants.

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