Research Park News

January 18, 2017

Spero Energy receives NSF grant to advance safer, greener food additives

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif., and WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A company that licenses Purdue University intellectual property has received federal funding to research technology that could lead to safer and greener food additives.

Spero Energy Inc. has been awarded a National Science Foundation SBIR grant of $225,000 to conduct research and development work on green and sustainable processes to convert abundant non-food biomass into vanillin, the principal ingredient in the flavor vanilla that can be produced naturally from isoeugenol, ferulic acid and vanilla beans.

Natural vanillin production is currently limited by the high cost of the raw materials, but Spero Energy has developed technologies to produce these materials both economically and sustainably from abundant non-food biomass.

Company officials want to increase the availability and competitiveness of natural flavors and fragrances, using innovative methods to generate the raw materials needed to produce natural vanillin.

The company is based in Thousand Oaks, California, but was founded in the Purdue Research Park of West Lafayette, Indiana.

“Currently 80 percent of vanillin is produced synthetically from petroleum sources. Commercialization of our technology will help improve the competitiveness of natural vanillin in the marketplace, giving consumers a sustainable and health-conscious choice,” said Ian Klein, senior scientist at Spero Energy.

 “The National Science Foundation supports small businesses with the most innovative, cutting-edge ideas that have the potential to become great commercial successes and make huge societal impacts,” said Graciela Narcho, NSF acting director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships. “We hope that this seed funding will spark solutions to some of the most important challenges of our time across all areas of science and technology.”

To learn more about Spero Energy Inc. go to

To learn more about the NSF SBIR/STTR program go to

About Spero Energy Inc.

Founded in West Lafayette, Indiana, Spero Energy Inc. is a technology company with the mission of developing cost-competitive conversion of non-food biomass feedstock to high-value chemicals (HVCs) and renewable fuels. Spero Energy is developing processes for a range of renewable specialty chemicals targeting flavor and fragrance ingredients, high-performance materials and pharmaceutical markets. For more information, visit

About the National Science Foundation's Small Business Programs

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awards nearly $190 million annually to startups and small businesses through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial and societal impact. The non-dilutive grants support research and development (R&D) across all areas of science and technology helping companies de-risk technology for commercial success. The NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $7 billion that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.

About Purdue Research Park

The Purdue Research Park is the largest university-affiliated business incubation complex in the country. The Purdue Research Park manages the Purdue Technology Centers in four sites in Indiana located in West Lafayette, Indianapolis, Merrillville and New Albany. The more than 260 companies located in the park network employ about 4,500 people who earn an average annual wage of $63,000. The park is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2014 Incubator Network of the Year by the National Business Incubation Association for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at

Purdue Research Foundation contact: Curt Slyder, 765-588-3342, 

Sources: Ian Klein, 715-572-7209,

Mahdi Abu-Omar, 765-430-3266,

Sarah Bates, 703-292-7738,

Research Park News

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