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April 1, 2014

Purdue team wins state clean energy business plan competition

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - For the second year in a row, a team from Purdue University won a statewide business plan competition for clean energy startups and will compete in a regional competition in Chicago.

Spero Energy Inc. won the Indiana Clean Energy Challenge in February and will compete in the Midwest Clean Energy Challenge on Thursday (April 3) in Chicago. The company's mission is to develop sustainable processes to create high-value flavor and fragrance chemicals from plant components.

Ian Klein, a graduate student in Purdue's Department of Chemistry, said Spero Energy's technology benefits firms that produce cellulosic ethanol, an alternative fuel that is produced from wood biomass.

"One of the three main components of biomass is lignin, which provides structure in a plant. It accounts for 20-30 percent of biomass, and it is known to inhibit the production of cellulosic ethanol," he said. "Our one-step, patent-pending process converts lignin into two products: dihydroeugenol, which is a flavor and fragrance chemical, and lignin-free material that is ready for ethanol production."

The Spero Energy team includes Barron B. Hewetson, a graduate research assistant in Purdue University's Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering; Trenton Parsell, post-doctorate researcher, Department of Chemistry; and Mahdi Abu-Omar, the R.B. Wetherill Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and associate director of Purdue's Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels.

Spero Energy will compete against five teams in Clean Energy Trust's 2014 Clean Energy Challenge: Black Pine Engineering, from the University of Michigan; Imagine Labs, University of Missouri; Meter Genius, Northwestern University; MyPower, Northwestern University; and Sprav Water, Case Western Reserve University.

All Clean Energy Challenge finalists receive mentoring and training from the Clean Energy Trust network to prepare for the competition. Finalists are eligible for prizes, including the $100,000 Wells Fargo Grand Prize for Clean Energy Entrepreneurship; the $50,000 United, Boeing and Honeywell UOP Aviation Energy Prize; the $25,000 McCaffery Interests Prize for Building Efficiency; and the $20,000 ComEd Prize for Female Entrepreneurship. The winner will represent the Midwest in early summer in the National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Four other teams from Purdue University competed in the Indiana Clean Energy Challenge.

* Atlas Energy Systems - Josh Auger, Ian Hamilton, Kyle Harris and Kyle Pendergast.

* Ceres Biofuels - Trevor Barnes, Nathan Craig, Tyler Futch, Bryan Greene, Bradly Grube, Tracy Guerrero, Wesley Major, Reilly Meehan, Bridget Stanley, Petar Todorovic and David Yates. The team's mentor is Gozdem Kilaz, assistant professor, Department of Aviation Technology, College of Technology.

* EcoBreeze - Hsien Chin, I Fan Lin, Hunter Johnstone and Eric Liu.

* Midwest Biofuels Analytica - Benjamin Albertson, Deborah Bae, Iman Tabar Beheshti, Ronald Brender, Jacqueline Cooney, Kevan Hoffman, Ghanim Khan and Samuel Martin. The team's mentor is Gozdem Kilaz.

The Spero Energy team has received guidance and support from Purdue Foundry, which provides entrepreneurial resources aimed at launching new ventures. Abu-Omar said the Foundry has been a tremendous resource.

"The Foundry provides coaching, business advice, and is absolutely an invaluable connection in market research," he said. "All of this has made us at Spero more savvy and knowledgeable about how to build a successful business plan and executive summary, and formulate a winning sales pitch around our technology and product."

About Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization

The Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology-transfer programs among leading research universities in the United States. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university's academic activities.

Purdue Research Foundation contact: Steve Martin, 765-588-3342, sgmartin@prf.org

Sources: Ian Klein, iklein@purdue.edu

Mahdi Abu-Omar, mabuomar@purdue.edu