4 Minutes with…Ray W. Miller, Chief Business Officer, Verdezyne

October 15, 2014 |

millerTell us about your organization and it’s role in the Advanced Bioeconomy.

Verdezyne is a small privately held industrial biotechnology company developing a platform of chemical intermediates from renewable sources. Our technology is based on a proprietary yeast that is selectively engineered to use a variety of plant oil by-products, such as fatty acids, to produce dodecanedioic acid (DDDA), adipic acid and sebacic acid.

Tell us about your role and what you are focused on in the next 12 months.

My main role at Verdezyne has been to help connect the internal science and engineering of the company to global markets, both upstream (supply chain) and downstream (customers and partners). We have secured favorable supply agreements with world scale renewably sourced feedstocks, and we have made great progress in demonstrating to our customers and partners that our scaled up process can deliver superior quality at a competitive cost.

Our main goal now is to secure offtake commitments for our future commercial plants.

My other roles include creating and executing a long term global growth strategy and reaching out to and influencing government and industry leaders to encourage and support the growth of the bio-economy. I have participated in BIO arranged visits to the EPA and other government agencies as well as members of congress to educate them on the issues facing our emerging industry as well as the immense opportunities to create manufacturing jobs here in the USA.

What do you feel are the most important milestones the industry must achieve in the next 5 years?

Most important to this emerging bio materials industry is to prove that the technology can compete successfully with the established petrochemical industry. This requires being able to show that the processes are scalable and can deliver the cost and quality necessary to support customers and applications.

If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the Advanced Bioeconomy, what would you change?

1. Demand creation to support early stage new technologies like ours with markets (programs like the USDA bio-preferred products are excellent examples)
2. Reasonably priced capital for investment in new technology plants.
3. Limited time production tax incentives for these industries as we scale up to competitive size.

Of all the reasons that influenced you to join the Advanced Bioeconomy industry, what single reason stands out for you as still being compelling and important to you?

The lack of long term sustainability of the materials industry. In the 90’s, the petrochemical industry was not a sustainable business model as oil and capital became increasingly more expensive. With the new tools emerging in biology and with renewable feedstocks, that led to me starting the Sorona polymer and Bio-PDO businesses at DuPont.

Where are you from? 

I was born in Monroe, Louisiana and lived mostly in larger cities in the south. New Orleans, Birmingham, Atlanta and Nashville were cities I grew up in until heading to college.

What was your undergraduate major in college, and where did you attend? Why did you choose that school and that pathway? 

I am a rambling wreck from Georgia Tech and graduated at the top of my Chemical Engineering class in 1972. I was finishing high school in the suburbs of Atlanta (Tucker, GA) and applied for early admission to GT. Good school nearby at a good price. I like chemistry and building stuff – Chemical Engineering seemed like a perfect fit (it was).

Who do you consider your mentors. What have you learned from them?

I had many mentors along the way, but one of the first was a professor at GT who recommended me to DuPont. After joining DuPont’s Engineering Field Program, I had some strong support from several managers there who made sure I got a good mix of assignments to sample Projects, R&D, and manufacturing in a number of businesses. Later, when I was trying to launch the Sorona business, Ellen Kullman was a big supporter. Without that support, the nylon antibodies would have killed the program and DuPont’s industrial biotechnology would have died as an infant. Later, I led DuPont’s DOE matching funds cellulosic ethanol program and launched another bio based business. I learned from those experiences that if you let fear or failure take hold, you will never make things happen.

What’s the biggest lesson you ever learned during a period of adversity?

If you believe in your people and what your team is doing is right, you have to persevere. There are many people in big organizations who like to take shots at teams trying to challenge the status quo, and you must find high level management supporters to fend of those attacks.

What hobbies do you pursue, away from your work in the industry? 

I like working around my house and playing golf. My wife and I enjoy our grandchildren and traveling to new places.

What 3 books would you take to read, if stranded on a desert island?

1. The Chemical Engineering Handbook
2. Robinson Crusoe
3. Any book on boat building

What books or articles are on your reading list right now, or you just completed and really enjoyed?

I enjoy the other daily highlights from ACC and Bio as well as the Digest. I read good articles in C&EN, CEP and Chemical Engineering from time to time focused on bio based processes. I also enjoy the Industrial Biotechnology Journal (especially when I can get a copy from Larry at a conference)

What’s your favorite city or place to visit, for a holiday?

Special holidays are always shared with family, mostly right here at home in Kennett Square, PA – the mushroom capital of the USA.

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Category: Million Minds

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