Updated on 5 March 2013
Dr Jennifer Holmgren, CEO, LanzaTech, New Zealand
I believe in what Mr Thomas Edison has said, "Vision without execution is a hallucination". I was born in Colombia and my father decided our family would go to the US when I was nine-years-old. I was already excited by science and the US by then. I had followed the NASA space program through the news in Colombia and like every child at that time I wanted to be an astronaut. The year man landed on the Moon was the year I went to the US. I am a product of the US school system and I am grateful to the system for the opportunities it provided me. I did my undergraduate BSc degree at Harvey Mudd College, my PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and subsequently did an MBA at the University of Chicago.
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After my studies, I joined UOP, a multinational headquartered in Illinois, US, and worked there for 23 years until I joined LanzaTech. During my time at UOP I discovered my passion for technology that could have a big impact. LanzaTech attracted me because I recognized its technology could have a real and significant impact on the future of energy in a way that was environmentally sound, didn't threaten food security and could democratize global energy distributions systems by also providing off grid solutions.
I have always been interested in what new possibilities coming out of the latest research, but I learned early in my career that the key to success is not just having a novel technology with a lot of potential. You also need to be serious about deploying it into the global economy. You have to make a business out of it.
At UOP I founded and championed the strategic R&D portfolio. I decided to get the company into renewables, including biofuels and especially aviation biofuels. When we subsequently needed to launch that technology I became the vice-president of that business and led it from its inception through to the achievement of significant revenues from the commercialization of multiple novel biofuels technologies. I was proud to work on the first renewable aviation fuel projects and be part of the team that really made history by revolutionizing aviation fuel. The notion that a renewable aviation fuel could be produced and certified for flight was completely novel and everyone said you couldn't do it when we started the tech program. I like to work on things people say can't be done.
My interest in commercializing LanzaTech's technology goes further than a significant business opportunity. Too many developing countries lack meaningful supplies of energy. Our option to take waste gases and produce renewable fuel or power will help democratize energy supplies, providing a way for millions of people to not only decrease their reliance on imported sources of fuels and energy, but actually enable a greater number of people to access a previously unobtainable standard of living.
I love working with the technology and the business, but my job gives me and the rest of LanzaTech's team great joy to know that the benefits of a successful renewable energy business will go far beyond the profits we will report.