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Two Arizona State University scientists who started their work with algae more than 25 years ago were recognized with the Innovator of the Year-Academia award at the 2009 Governor’s Celebration of Innovation event held Nov. 19 at the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix.
Professors Qiang Hu and Milton Sommerfeld in the College of Technology and Innovation at ASU’s Polytechnic campus received Arizona’s highest honor for technology innovation for their work with the process of converting algae into fuel.
Last year, Time magazine named the process one of the top innovations in 2008.
In response to winning the award, Sommerfeld said “We are very honored to receive the Innovator of the Year award for our lab’s work on developing a renewable and sustainable fuel source from algae and are very proud of our team of students, research associates and staff who are committed to developing solutions to our nation’s energy problems.”
Sommerfeld and Hu have been working on algae as a source of renewable fuel for more than 25 years. The technology they developed uses sunlight, waste materials like carbon dioxide in flue gas, and nitrates and phosphates in waste waters as nutrients for growing a renewable algae feedstock that yields oil. The algae biomass residuals yield carbohydrates for ethanol production and proteins for animal feed or organic fertilizer.
The researchers recently received significant funding for their algae projects and already two spin-off companies have been created from technologies developed in their laboratory.
“Milt and Qiang are two faculty members who exemplify the spirit of technology innovation that is the core mission of our college,” said Keith Hjelmstad, university vice president and dean of the College of Technology and Innovation. “This award is a fantastic spotlight to shine on their achievement. I am proud of them and even more pleased by what it means to others who will now be inspired to innovate.”
The Governor’s Celebration of Innovation has become a premier community gathering in Arizona. Three teams, two of which were from ASU, competed for the coveted award in the Academia category.
The award – given to a department or office within an accredited higher education institution that has achieved success through innovation in the past calendar year – is presented by the Arizona Technology Council and the Arizona Department of Commerce.
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