Mary Rosenthal, the Algae Biomass Organization’s first executive director, dies at 56

November 4, 2014 |

RosenthalMary Gibson Rosenthal, who served as the Algae Biomass Organization’s first executive director and led its initial battles for algae parity on Capitol Hill, died of cancer on Saturday in Minneapolis, MN. She was 56.

Her death was announced last night by the ABO, which she joined in June 2009 and led until January 2014, when she made the decision not to follow the organization as it relocated to Washington DC.

In January we noted: “One key figure in the algae biomass movement who will not be making the transition to DC is executive director Mary Rosenthal, who has opted to remain in the Minneapolis area. She exits ABO after four years, during which the group blossomed from a small group of committed volunteers into a 300+ member organization including algae developers, major food products and agricultural companies, oil & energy companies, national laboratories, large fuel consumers such as airlines and delivery companies, and a range of other Fortune 500 companies…We’ll be sad to see Mary Rosenthal leaving the helm. She’s been a class act as the public face of ABO these past four years.”

She continued to watch the industry closely, and exchanged her last set of emails with the Digest in September, around the time that ABO was convening in San Diego.

Prior to ABO, Ms. Rosenthal had a distinguished 29-year career at NatureWorks as Director, Public Affairs and Communications, as a Vice-President at Fleishman-Hillard, and at Lifetouch National School Studios, Morgan & Myers, Sartori Foods, Grace Cocoa, Funjet and Dean Foods. She was a 1979 graduate of Purdue with a BS in Agricultural Economics and a 1976 graduate of Brownsburg High in Brownsburg, IN.

At the time she accepted the ABO position, she noted “I’ve spent the past four years immersed in the world of sustainable plastics, so I am well aware of the huge potential for algae to serve many different needs, including fuel, food and chemicals. I’m also aware of the challenges involved in bringing new technology to market, and will apply that knowledge and experience to my role with ABO.”

In many ways, she led with her pen — given the far-flung corridors in which algae technologies were found, there was quite a bit of email floating around as ABO came to life and took shape. But she also wrote a series of forthright columns for The Digest over the years.

In March 2011, she raised visibility on “leveling the playing field” for algae.

Our federal tax policy actually discourages the production of low-carbon, renewable algae-based fuels…by failing to provide them the same incentives accorded to other advanced biofuel feedstocks. For example, the Renewable Fuel Standard…currently excludes algae-based biofuels from nearly 80% of the advanced biofuels mandate. None of the major tax incentives for the production of advanced biofuels clearly and fully apply to the production of most-algae based fuels.

“This lack of parity, where some feedstocks are favored and others like algae go unrecognized, acts as a significant impediment to the industry’s growth [yet] is mostly the result of timing. When the Renewable Fuels Standard and renewable fuel production tax credits were first established, the algae-to-biofuels industry was still nascent and algae-based fuels were not included.

“But times have changed.  Between 2005 and 2009, the number of algae-to-biofuels startups more than tripled, there are now more than 100 companies across the value chain in the United States…That is why it is essential these promising technologies be integrated into the existing policy framework.

In July 2012 she opined:

“It’s clear that the algae industry – and the biofuels industry in general – shouldn’t be distracted by politics. Rather, we must continue our focus on policy, whether it’s ABO’s effort for parity in the tax code, or cross-organizational unity on the importance of Title IX in the 2012 Farm Bill, or continued support for long-term contract purchasing of biofuels by the Department of Defense. Success at the policy level will do more for the industry than winning the news cycle of the day. We all must march confidently forward knowing that our principles – domestic energy and national security, economic development and jobs, nutritional health, are important to Americans regardless of party affiliation.”

In July 2013, she observed:

Halloween is not for another 3 months, but the costumes and scare tactics are already out in the form of a new ad campaign from the American Petroleum Institute (API). The goal of the ad campaign? To try to generate grassroots demand among the American public to call for the repeal of the RFS…A funny thing happens when you give consumers choice – competition heats up and prices go down. Yet up until now, the only choice consumers have had is between Regular, Super and Premium. But thanks to the RFS, in the coming years consumers will have even more choices for sustainable fuels, made in America by American companies.
Consumers want choice and they want renewable fuels.”

In November 2013 she wrote:

“Many of the policy priorities for algae-based fuels were not only achievable in today’s political environment, but could also benefit the biofuels industry at large. One example that should resonate with any biofuel company is the current limitation of Master Limited Partnerships (MLP), which are used to finance large energy projects. MLP’s are taxed as partnerships, but have ownership interests that can be traded like corporate stock on a market. As a result, MLP’s can often more easily assemble the capital needed to get large projects off the ground. Unfortunately, none of that capital can support renewable energy because only oil and gas projects qualify for MLP treatment. Biofuels, wind or solar projects are left in the cold.

In noting her passing, ABO said:

“Mary took the reins at ABO during a time – 2009 —  when she wasn’t sure if there would even be enough funding for long-term employment. Back then, algae was just coming on to the national radar, and ABO had been formed to bring this fledgling industry together.

“No stranger to evangelizing sustainable products and materials from her time at NatureWorks, Mary rolled up her sleeve and was instrumental in developing new members, transforming the annual Algae Biomass Summit into the premier industry conference, and becoming the voice of the algae industry.

“During her tenure the organization grew to more than 200 members representing a wide cross-section of industry. Under Mary’s leadership the ABO also achieved success on numerous policy initiatives on the Hill, including getting algae biofuels to qualify for the $1.01 tax credit for the first time ever.

“Mary was an inspiration to many as she continued to fight for algae even while fighting cancer. She will be missed.”

In a private note last week written prior to her death, Digest editor Jim Lane wrote:

“Mary is always in our thoughts and prayers – she remains one of the great pioneers in a great cause, who provided exactly the right kind of leadership as the algae industry was getting underway that it needed, always thoughtful, always positive, always there for every member and cause. Especially in the way that she made time to make everyone feel welcome and as if their special mission within the world of algae had a home and a place within ABO. We’ve missed her much these past months.”

— Jim Lane, editor & publisher, The Digest

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