ASU Commercializing Aviation Fuel from Algae

$3 Million Research and Commercialization Collaboration

Arizona State University has entered into a 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 pilot-scale demonstration and production. They say their 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 produce oil 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.

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.

“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.”

According to Charlie Lewis, AzTE’s vice president for venture development, “ASU’s investments in photosynthesis and bioenergy research are starting to lead to commercial opportunities for investors and companies searching for green technologies. We already have spin-out companies and industrial collaborations in these areas.”

With numerous programs and projects to address global environmental issues and challenges, Arizona State University is among the world’s leading research universities in the area of sustainability. Home to the nation’s first School of Sustainability and the Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS), ASU has research initiatives in solar energy, biofuels, and fuel cells. Its bioenergy portfolio includes the following areas: biofuels using algae and cyanobacteria as feedstocks; biomimetic photovoltaics & artificial photosynthesis; novel catalysts; biohydrogen from cyanobacteria; novel fuel cells; and methanogenesis and increased bioavailability.

Located at SkySong, Arizona Technology Enterprises was established in 2003 as an Arizona limited liability company whose sole member is Arizona State University Foundation. Staffed by professionals with extensive industry and university experience in intellectual property and related business development, AzTE operates as the exclusive IP management and technology transfer organization for ASU. For more information about AzTE, visit

Source, 2008-09-04.


Arizona State University
Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE)
Science Foundation Arizona