4 minutes with…Jeff Lievense, EVP Process Technology, Genomatica

December 4, 2014 |

lievenseTell us about your organization and it’s role in the advanced bioeconomy.

Genomatica helps the global chemical industry harness biotechnology to make major chemicals a better way, with better economics and greater sustainability. We develop and license process technologies that give producers optionality via alternative feedstocks; and we enable users of chemicals to offer differentiated, more sustainable products.

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

Our engineering team — numbering 30 and growing — translates biology into 100 kiloton fermentation-based chemical plants that perform. We speak both languages — biology and engineering — fluently.
My role: executive leadership of integrated process design, economics, development, and tech transfer. I also serve as a spokesperson, spreading the word about the criticality of process engineering discipline, attention to details, and best practices, so that we can all build on and benefit from each other’s experiences.
Focus areas:
– Supporting GENO BDO licensees (Novamont, BASF, and more to come).
– Butadiene process development (with Braskem and Versalis).
– Conceptual process design and economics for nylon intermediates.
– Growing our process capabilities to be cheaper, faster, better, especially high throughput precision lab fermentation, small-scale process piloting, and data analysis.

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

– Reduce R&D time and costs to achieve commercial targets by 50%. This would remove R&D as a limiting factor in our sector’s growth.
– Gain investor confidence through commercial results. This would remove access to capital as a limiting factor in our sector’s growth

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

Broader recognition that well-designed fermentation-based processes using alternative feedstocks really can and (in many cases) do beat petro-based processes in terms of production cost, capital efficiency, and sustainability.

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?

Chemicals and fuels from oil — there’s got to be a better way. See also my college experiences, below.

Where are you from? 

Holland, Michigan. It’s a small town on Lake Michigan, originally settled in the mid-1800s by Dutch immigrants. I spent a lot of time in my formative years fishing and generally on the lakeshore, seeing firsthand the effects of environmental deterioration and the benefits of restoration through responsible practices.

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

BS, Chem Eng, Michigan. PhD, Chem Eng, Purdue.
I was inspired by environmental concerns and the 1973 oil crisis to apply biology and engineering to address global problems in pollution, energy, and food. My schooling provided specialized and advanced training in biochemical engineering to really pursue the vision. Been doing that ever since.

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

I thank my parents for giving me freedom and space, while always being there when I really needed them. My wife and children inspire me on a regular basis. In the professional world, I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to be surrounded by great bosses and colleagues who have taught me pretty much everything.

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

Great things can arise from a bad situation. I’ve actually seen this time and time again.

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

Been running since 1977, now on my virtual second lap around the Earth. To celebrate my recent 60th birthday, I ran 5 miles in 37:22 and bench-pressed 225 lb.

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

Would rather have the following five albums (in alphabetical order) and the means to play them on the island: Chicago Transit Authority, The Doors (first album), Fleetwood Mac (Then Play On), Led Zeppelin I, and Rolling Stones (Exile on Main Street).

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

Keeping the Millennials, by Joanne Sujansky. After reading it, I asked my 22-year old son to do the same. He did and said: “Duh! Why did this book even need to be written!?” The book helped me realize how the younger generation has been shaped by and sees the world. Soon they will be running it and better than we did!

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

Aside from San Diego staycations, Fort Myers Beach, Florida, to walk on the beach with my wife and fish from my kayak.

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Category: Million Minds

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