High Performance Aviation Fuels from Terpenes

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OPEN 2012
Lexington, Kentucky
Project Term:
04/11/2013 - 09/30/2016

Critical Need:

Cars, trucks, and planes in the U.S. rely almost exclusively on petroleum-based fuels. Fossil fuels from petroleum are subject to price instabilities that impact consumers, and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Biofuels are a promising alternative to petroleum, but the predominant biofuel produced in the U.S.—ethanol—is not suitable for high performance applications such as aviation.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Evolva is producing terpenes—energy dense molecules that can be used as high-performance aviation fuels—from simple sugars using engineered microbes. These terpenes will provide better performance than existing petroleum-based aviation fuels. Evolva will draw upon their industrial-scale terpene manufacturing experience to produce aviation sesquiterpenes at a low cost and large scale. Going forward, Evolva will validate the performance of its aviation fuels in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and further engineer its process to utilize biomass feedstocks.

Potential Impact:

If successful, Evolva’s advanced, energy-dense sesquiterpene fuels would outperform both petrochemical jet fuels and other renewable fuels.


Increased production of domestic biofuels could help the U.S. diversify our fuel production, reducing our dependence on foreign nations for our energy security.


Use of renewable biomass feedstocks to produce high performance fuels will lead to a lower carbon footprint than petrochemical sources, reducing U.S. contribution to global climate change.


Adoption of high performance fuel additives in the aviation industry could lead to increased flight range and lower cost for commercial air travel.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Joe Cornelius
Project Contact:
Dr. Bryan Julien
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division Research Department (NAWCWD)

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