A clean energy solution for getting to Mars and back!

NYU Tandon & AIR COMPANY partner in NASA-supported bid to make sustainable rocket fuel for Earth & Mars

a space rocket lifting off with plume of smoke

Brooklyn-based startup AIR COMPANY is helping power NASA's next-generation rockets, thanks to an innovative collaboration with the NYU Tandon School of Engineering that aims to transform climate-harming carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions into sustainable rocket fuel.

AIR COMPANY researchers have joined with Miguel Modestino, director of NYU Tandon's Sustainable Engineering Initiative (SEI), to develop new applications for its AIRMADE™ technology that uses a process similar to photosynthesis to convert CO2 into high-performance fuels and chemicals. 

In November 2023, the project was selected for NASA’s highly competitive Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) award, a program that funds projects in which small businesses work with research institutions for early-stage research and development (R&D) on technologies that advance NASA missions and help solve important problems for the benefit of all. 

The relationship between AIR COMPANY and Modestino, who also serves as NYU Tandon’s Donald F. Othmer Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, emerged when AIR COMPANY joined the Urban Future Lab (UFL) – NYU Tandon’s cleantech incubator and innovation hub – in 2019. 

AIR COMPANY, which received early support from UFL’s ACRE Incubator and Carbon to Value Initiative, needed access to hard-to-find laboratory resources and equipment, like wet benches and fume hoods, that NYU Tandon’s Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department maintains. 

AIR COMPANY and Tandon developed a partnership that enables AIR COMPANY to conduct R&D out of NYU Tandon facilities, providing an opportunity to collaborate on shared sustainability research objectives, including those that inform SEI priorities.

“This ongoing collaboration with NYU Tandon School of Engineering has significantly contributed to AIR COMPANY’s success executing projects for NASA,” said Stafford Sheehan, co-founder and CTO of AIR COMPANY. “The team and technology we work with here are world-class and we look forward to what is next.” 

"Our collaboration with AIR COMPANY exemplifies our dedication to sustainability in space exploration, and brings us closer towards the possibility of human settlement on Mars,” said Modestino. “This partnership underscores the transformative impact of academic-industry alliances, offering students a direct pathway from lab innovations to impactful real-world endeavors."

AIR COMPANY has commercial partnerships with airlines like JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic while also earning government contracts from the U.S. Air Force and Defense Innovation Unit, in addition to NASA. The organization has received industry recognition for its consumer and industrial products through awards such as Time Best Inventions, Fast Company World Changing Ideas and the XPRIZE for Carbon Removal. 

In 2022, AIR COMPANY and its NYU Tandon collaborators were recipients of a NASA Phase I STTR award to fund initial work on assessing the feasibility and risks of deploying CO2-derived renewable fuel production technology for NASA on Earth, in spacecraft, and on Mars.  

During this two-year Phase II STTR project period, the collaborative team will build upon its Phase I progress. Modestino’s group will lead the collection of critical chemical reaction data to train computer models used to optimize fuel production. AIR COMPANY researchers will focus on scaling up output and ensuring product meets jet fuel specifications for commercial use; and thoroughly evaluating feasibility for deploying this renewable fuel technology on Earth and Mars.

In addition to use as rocket fuel, the sustainable fuel the AIR COMPANY team develops could be used on Mars to produce a stable and storable fuel in-situ—using only the Martian atmosphere, water, and solar photovoltaic electricity—which could power habitats, and more.

NYU Tandon introduced the Sustainable Engineering Initiative in 2022, as an interdisciplinary effort that organizes NYU Tandon projects and research under four collaborative areas known as AMRAd: Avoidance, technology to eliminate pollution; Mitigation, technology to capture pollutants; Remediation, technology to reverse the effects of pollution; and Adaptation, technology that prepares people and communities for climate change’s impact.  Modestino has a long track record in research that advances sustainable chemical manufacturing through clean electrochemistry.




AIR COMPANY is paving a pathway to global decarbonization by transforming CO₂ into an endless resource via industrial scale applications. Working with nature rather than against it, its proprietary AIRMADE™ Technology mimics photosynthesis to transform carbon dioxide and hydrogen into a suite of innovative products that create a circular carbon economy.

The company has commercial partnerships with airlines including JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic, amongst others, and has been awarded multiple government contracts from NASA and the United States Department of Defense. The organization has received industry recognition through awards such as Time Best Inventions, Fast Company World Changing Ideas and the XPRIZE for Carbon Removal. 

AIR COMPANY is headquartered in New York City and co-founded by Gregory Constantine (CEO) and Dr. Stafford Sheehan (CTO). Its team spans a diverse group of experts in chemistry, engineering, and technological development and deployment. AIR COMPANY is backed by capital partners aligned with the company’s mission to transform industry including the US Department of Defense, NASA, Toyota Ventures, JetBlue Ventures and Carbon Direct. Learn more at AIRCOMPANY.com


About NYU Tandon School of Engineering

The NYU Tandon School of Engineering is home to a community of renowned faculty, undergraduate and graduate students united in a mission to understand and create technology that powers cities, enables worldwide communication, fights climate change, and builds healthier, safer, and more equitable real and digital worlds. The school’s culture centers on encouraging rigorous, interdisciplinary collaboration and research; fostering inclusivity, entrepreneurial thinking, and diverse perspectives; and creating innovative and accessible pathways for lifelong learning in STEM.  NYU Tandon dates back to 1854, the founding year of both the New York University School of Civil Engineering and Architecture and the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute. Located in the heart of Brooklyn, NYU Tandon is a vital part of New York University and its unparalleled global network. For more information, visit engineering.nyu.edu.