September 4, 08
Cheap Breakthrough Method for Creating Jet Fuel From Algae

Arizona State University has entered into a groundbreaking research and commercialization collaboration with Heliae Development, LLC and Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) to develop, produce and sell 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. Their pioneering discoveries have demonstrated significant cost-reduction benefits when compared with traditional methods of producing kerosene from petroleum.

Hu and Sommerfeld have identified specific algal strains that can convert a significant portion of their cellular mass into a type of oil that is a group of “medium-chain fatty acids”. The oil produced by these particular algae is high in concentration of medium-chain fatty acids, which, after deoxygenation treatment, closely mirrors the length of the hydrocarbon chains found in what is commonly called kerosene.

Kerosene, when mixed with minor amounts of fuel additives, is known as JP8 or Jet A, which is 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.

“The world needs sustainable alternative fuel sources, and most critically the airline industry,” said Frank Mars, coordinating investor in Heliae. “Each year, more than 600 million barrels of kerosene-based fuels are refined from petroleum for the U.S. military and commercial jet fleets. Our goal is to help ensure that ASU’s world leading research in this field gets developed to a point that algae is seen as a cost-effective, real-world alternative to our dependency on fossil fuel. Our willingness to partner with ASU on this important project was facilitated by its flexibility and innovativeness in structuring the kind of collaborative relationship necessary to look long term and to advance technologies into the marketplace.”

John Mars, an individual investor in Heliae, noted that “this jet fuel initiative with ASU comes at a critical point in the world’s search for alternative fuels that are truly sustainable over the long term. We welcome the opportunity to support this endeavor.”