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Biofuels and Barbecue Chips: Small Business Develops Process to Create Versatile Chemicals

May 16, 2014 - 4:30pm

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Wood waste such as this is frequently used to produce sustainable energy. Spero Energy, started by researchers at Purdue University, has created a cost effective process that converts sustainable wood sources into chemicals that improve the production of biofuels.  | Photo by National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Wood waste such as this is frequently used to produce sustainable energy. Spero Energy, started by researchers at Purdue University, has created a cost effective process that converts sustainable wood sources into chemicals that improve the production of biofuels. | Photo by National Renewable Energy Laboratory

An innovative technique developed by a small business in Indiana could be used to improve two seemingly unrelated products: biofuels and barbecue potato chips.  Spero Energy, started by researchers at Purdue University, has created a cost effective process that converts sustainable wood sources into renewable chemicals for the flavor and fragrance industry, including those used in barbecue potato chips and other smoky flavored foods.

Through a grant from the Energy Department, Spero Energy was able to develop technology that utilizes the lignin component of biomass to convert into chemicals for use in food flavorings and other products. Lignin is difficult to break down, and is often seen as a technical challenge to producing low-cost biofuels and bioproducts. By developing novel ways to separate and utilize the lignin, Spero Energy is supporting industry efforts to expand and strengthen biofuels production processes.

Spero Energy won the 2014 Clean Energy Challenge’s $50,000 Aviation Energy Prize, presented by United Airlines, Boeing, and Honeywell UOP as a result of the breakthrough technology. The company received funding from the Energy Department’s Small Business Innovation Research program, which manages the project through the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO). This Phase I grant began in January 2014 and will continue through November 2014, after which Spero Energy will be eligible to apply for a Phase II grant to further develop the commercialization aspects of the project.  Learn more about BETO’s work to help transform the nation's renewable and abundant biomass resources into cost-competitive, high-performance biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower.

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