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UofL Conn Center technology aids jet biofuel development

by Judy Hughes last modified Dec 06, 2011 10:19 AM

A method developed at the University of Louisville’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research has enabled San Francisco-based AliphaJet Inc. to license a way to make jet biofuel economically from renewable products such as plant oils and animal fat.

Paul Ratnasamy, a former senior research scientist at UofL who now serves as the company’s chief science officer, patented the process in 2010. AliphaJet recently announced it had successfully demonstrated its method of using a catalyst to remove oxygen from feedstocks; this method could cut costs because it doesn’t rely on large amounts of hydrogen from fossil-fuel refineries to do the job, freeing companies from the need to locate production facilities near refineries.

 “Development of this technology and its licensing to AliphaJet advance University of Louisville goals to discover solutions to societal problems and to translate these into commercial practice,” said Thomas Starr, associate dean for research at UofL’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering, where the Conn Center is based.  

Through a pledge from Hank and Rebecca Conn, the Conn Center was set up at UofL in 2009 in response to the state’s mandate to develop a renewable energy research center. Its scientists work on renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies that have potential for commercialization.

This week AliphaJet, a collaborative venture between SynGest Inc. and Unitel Technologies Inc., announced it will collaborate with Honeywell to accelerate commercialization of renewable “drop-in” biofuels. Demand for “drop-in” fuels is high because using them would not require extensive and expensive retooling of existing engines or changes to fuel delivery or storage methods. Biofuel sources could include algae, seeds, vegetables and fats from animal-processing plants. 

A 2009 grant from the Kentucky Renewable Energy Consortium helped fund initial research by Ratnasamy and Conn Center Director Mahendra Sunkara for the biofuels process. The Kentucky Pollution Prevention Center, also based at UofL’s Speed School of Engineering, administers the consortium grant program.

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