Heliae, SkyNRG sign MOU for algae-based jet fuel

By Erin Voegele | October 05, 2011

Arizona-based algae technology developer Heliae Inc. has announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to produce algae-derived jet fuel for SkyNRG, an Amsterdam-based educator and marketer that focuses on the jet aviation industry. “Our relationship with SkyNRG is important because they are the clear leader in actively creating options for future aviation fuel supply,” said Heliae President and CEO Dan Simon. “We see them as a frontrunner in the creation of a renewable jet fuel market and are therefore selling them our first barrel of jet fuel.”

According to Simon, Heliae aims to develop, design and deliver technology related to producing products from algae. “We have run programs with ponds, raceways, and bioreactors,” he said. “We are dialing in on bioreactors [because] we believe they will be the most commercially viable option.”

Heliae was formally established in 2008, at which time the company partnered with Arizona State University to begin efforts to develop algae strains capable of producing high quantities of lipids, said Simon. A pilot facility was established on ASU’s campus in 2008 and 2009. In 2010 the company established its headquarters in Gilbert, Az., where it recently constructed a demonstration-scale facility. The demo plant will be capable of producing more than 100 tons of algae biomass per year, Simon said.

According to Simon, his company is developing algae strains, bioreactor designs and extraction technologies, and will look to develop partnerships with entities that have technology to convert algae biomass into jet fuel. “We believe there are a number of unique aspects to our bioreactors,” Simon said. “We are receiving productivity that is higher than what you hear about commercially. We also have a lower cap-ex cost than most photobioreactor designs. We spent the time to do some manufacturing processing analysis and have figured out a way to drop our cost of production. In addition, on the extraction side we believe we have a unique extraction process that allows us to break—or fractionate—the algae into various valuable pieces.” Simon further explains that while he cannot share specific details regarding the extraction technology at this time, the process does not involve the use of hexane. To date, Heliae has filed 64 patents to protect its intellectual property.

The company ultimately intends to license its technology to third parties, but will be scaling up to the next level internally. “We believe we will be in commercial production by the beginning of 2013,” Simon said. “In fact, we have just leased land to build a small commercial facility near our headquarters in Arizona. We would begin construction on that in 2012.”