The Top 100 People in Bioenergy 2011-12: #1 through #25, in depth

December 27, 2011 |

The Top 100 People in Bioenergy – what are the stories behind the list? Today, we look at the top 25 personalities.

In Florida, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack headed the “Top 100 People in Bioenergy” as voted by the readers of Biofuels Digest and the Digest’s editorial board, just edging out BP Biofuels chief Philip New, and the heads of Raizen, POET, Solazyme and Amyris. In today’s Digest, we profile the Top 25 in depth.

1. Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture

A runaway winner in the voting, Vilsack has been driving hard to implement a strong biofuels policy on behalf of the Obama Administration. A key driver of the DOE-USDA-US Navy partnership for commercializing advanced biofuels, and as chair of the Interagency Working Group (comprising the USDA, EPA, and DOE) has clearly been identified by the Digest readership as the key player in establishing policy stability, and pioneering the financing mechanisms to drive bioenergy forward in the 2010s. His key challenges? Maintaining a strong energy title in the 2012 Farm Bill, and making sure that affordable US feedstocks are available at scale for all the technologies that are coming down the bikeway, else we might see the same “rush to China” that has plagued US manufacturing throughout the past 20 years.

2. Philip New, CEO, BP Biofuels; Sue Ellerbusch, President, BP Biofuels America

With BP dropping solar this year, BP Biofuels remains the stellar “beyond petroleum” unit of the company that acquired 50 percent of Vercipia from Verenium, is heading for scale in Florida and Brazil, and ploughed forward aggressively in developing its Butamax biobutanol venture with Dupont. Not to mention its progress on its UK ethanol project with British Sugar in Hull. The company already has 4,000 workers on the payroll – more headcount than some celebrated advanced biofuels companies have in actually gallons of capacity.  CEO Phil New reached the top 20 last year, in spite of BP’s brand difficulties following a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As voters have pivoted towards companies that have the combination of technology, capital and talent – companies like Raizen, Neste and BP Biofuels have landed in the top 10 – and BP Biofuels right at the head of the pack. This year, BP Biofuels North America chief Sue Ellerbusch also picked up strong vote support, and we have paired the two at #2.

3. Vasco Dias, CEO, Raizen

New to the Top 100 this year is Raizen (the newly-minted JV of Shell and Cosan in Brazil), and its CEO, Vasco Dias. Dias, previously the President of Shell Brasil, was CEO of Shell Gas in Brazil in the 90s and and became Retail Vice President for Latin America and head of Shell Brasil in 2005. Even more compelling for voters, Dias’ announcement this past summer that the company would invest $7 billion in its projects over the next five years, $5 billion of that to ethanol and sugarcane R&D. The company’s 500M gallons in current capacity make it Brazil’s major player already, the hot epicenter of advanced biofuels hottest market, and will double to more than 1.2 billion gallons by 2016.

4. Jeff Broin, CEO, POET

A number of POET execs polled strongly in the voting – but head and shoulders above the rest has been CEO Jeff Broin, who took charge of a small family ethanol enterprise in the 1980s and transformed it into the Starbucks of corn ethanol – everywhere, strongly branded, home to its own unique culture, and a pioneer both in achieving first generation scale and next-generation technical leadership. The company is readying its first cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, IA for opening in the next two years. It’s goals for the next ten years? 3.5 billion gallons in ethanol capacity – which would make it the undisputed monster of the industry – a lot of that based on cellulosic biofuels, and also on making sure that US ethanol continues to find new markets either through blender pumps or export.

5. Jonathan Wolfson, CEO, Solazyme ; Harrison Dillon, PhD, CTO

Perennially popular in every Digest poll, Solayzyme and its CEO Jonathan Wolfson and President/CTO Harrison Dillon have been working nearly a decade on their Solazyme brainchild, and are now executing their race for scale, following a successful IPO this past spring. The leader in aviation biofuels, they’ve been generating $$ also from their Algenist product line on the Home Shopping Channel this holiday season, and are active as a supplier of renewable oils to compaies such as Roquette and L’Oreal as well as making fuels for the Navy. Going to scale now, after making products to date through contract fermentation, the company is poised to go far as it hits its price and volume targets.

6. John Melo, CEO, Amyris; CTO Neil Renninger

A big number of folk associated with the successful Amyris IPO figured in the Top 100 poll, but John Melo and Neal Renninger have been raking in the votes and we have paired them at #6 – not surprising for a company neatly balanced between taking its current technology to commercial-scale and developing a plethora of new applications and markets for its molecules. The first US-based advanced biofuels company to head for Brazil in search of partnerships, capital and feedstock, the company has been reaping the benefits thereby with a host of strong projects in development. Three commercial projects coming to scale make it not just a promising advanced bio-based fuels and chemicals company, but one that’s delivering volume in the here and now.

7. Pat Gruber, PhD, CEO, Gevo

Having manage to reach the top 25 last year depute being muzzled by an impending IPO, Gevo’s charismatic CEO Pat Gruber landed huge support in this years poll after steering the company through its successful IPO period and readying the company to go to commercial scale in Minnesota next year. The company’s biobutanol technology has been getting heaps of attention for its high blending rates, relatively low cost of conversion from first-gen ethanol to next-gen fuel, and the company’s acquisition of capacity in Minnesota this year also put the company into a revenue-generating mode. Gruber received the Carver Award a few years back for Lifetime Achievement from BIO, But readers clearly expect him to make an even stronger mark with Gevo as it moves from the R&D stage to commercial scale.

8. Matti Lievonen, CEO, Neste Oil

The largest producer of renewable diesel, or any advanced biofuel, in the world? Neste Oil, by a country mile. Though the company has deployed nearly 600 million gallons of advanced biofuels capacity to date, its been plagued by concerns over palm oil as a feedstock, and has received far less attention than the company merits. But Digest voters saw the compelling numbers, the huge projects, and rewarded a company that has proven remarkably out in from on renewable diesel and drop-in fuels as a whole.

9. Steven Chu, US Secretary of Energy

A surprisingly low finish for the godfather of US biofuels funding – reflective of troubles with the loan guarantee program and Chu’s unabashed love for electric cars – but Chu remains the most technically astute Secretary of Energy on the subject of biofuels in the troubled history of that US Department. His portfolio investment strategy, which is funding pilots and small demonstrations, has come under criticism for bringing forward too many underfunded companies but may well be vindicated by avoiding the “all eggs in one basket” problems down the road, if private financing emerges for enough of the portfolio. Meanwhile, his emphasis on scientific collaboration and consortia, and sponsorship of ARPA-E will prove a formidable legacy, and Digest readers appear ready to not begrudge him a shiny Tesla or two when he chooses to leave office.

10. Alan Shaw, PhD, CEO, Codexis, Wes Bolsen, CMO

Leading the first successful biofuels IPO in several years propelled Shaw into the Top 10 last year, but its broadening Codexis’ focus onto renewable chemicals as a product group and bagasse as a feedstock that has kept him there. Both the company and its forthright leader have been popular vote-getters for several years among advanced biofuels cognoscenti. 2012-13 looms as a significant period of opportunity for the company, and further high-flying may be in the cards if and as those opportunities are realized. Meanwhile, perennial popualr public figure in biofuels, Wes Bolsen, has transferred his flag from Coskata to Codexis and we have paired his votes with Shaw’s and propelling both into the top 10.

11. Bob Dinneen, President, Renewable Fuels Association

A number of association executives polled strongly with readers, but Dinneen, who rules over the large and influential RFA, is still recognized as the face of first-generation biofuels on Capitol Hill among the readership. It’s been a down year for biofuels on the Hill and especially for corn ethanol, but Dinneen has adroitly begun to broaden his organization’s message by forming, for example, the RFA’s Advanced Ethanol Council.

12. Brent Erickson, VP Industrial Biotechnology, BIO

Way, way out in front on renewable chemicals and other bio-based products, not to mention a strong sense of the value equation across the gamut of advanced biofuels, BIO’s Brent Erickson has led a team that has made “industrial biotech” a phrase worth knowing on Capitol Hill, as well as being an incisive advocate on all things biofuel. He continues to be a consummate builder of consensus in support of advanced biofuels and chemicals on the Hill, and one of the primary drivers of a “replace the whole barrel” philosophy of moving past support of single technologies such as corn ethanol into a broader support of opportunities beyond gasoline replacement.

13. Mike McAdams, President, Advanced Biofuels Association

Master of the biofuels elevator pitch, Mike McAdams has taken the Advanced Biofuels Association from formation to a recognized player on a small budget. A “most-know” conduit for Capitol Hill dialogue on advanced bioenergy, Mike’s legion of fans has grown by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years, as the AFBA membership has climbed from a handful to 40 companies. A tax-writing veteran, McAdams has carved out a distinctive “tell it like it is” image at industry events, where he has relentlessly prepared his section of the industry for a year of tough love from a renewable energy and spending-shy 112th Congress.

14. Vincent Chornet, CEO, Enerkem; Esteban Chornet, CTO

Canada’s highest-ranked representatives in the Top 100 poll are the father and son combination of Vincent and Esteban Chornet, who have propelled the once-unknown Enerkem to a leading position among advanced biofuels developers. Signature projects in Alberta and Mississippi, and high-visibility investments from Valero and Waste Management, including both venture equity and commercial project financing, have propelled the company into the global top 10 in the 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy polling this year.

15. Jennifer Holmgren, CEO, Lanzatech; Sean Simpson CTO, founder

Both Lanzatech founder Sean Simpson and CEO Jennifer Holmgren picked up strong support this year and we’ve paired them at #15, after polling strongly with both readers and the editorial board. LanzaTech itself has been on fire in the past 12 months, as progress at gas fermentation companies like Coskata and INEOS Bio have contributed to making the entire category white hot. Focused initially on utilizing steel mill off-gases (i.e. carbon monoxide) as a low-cost feedstock, the company has been especially active in developing projects in China, and is on the verge of closing a crucial Series C funding round with its backers.

16. Joe Jobe, CEO, National Biodiesel Board

After a slump in 2009-10, biodiesel roared back in 2011 as the “available advanced biofuel” in the US, and the NBB’s work on the biodiesel tax credit extension and support of the RFS2 bio-based diesel targets were the two key reasons.  As NBB’s CEO, Joe Jobe has proven adept in steering the NBB during hard times, and with larger mandates looming, will have his hands full balancing the tightrope between overcapacity and shortages.

17. Doug Cameron, Tom Erickson, co-presidents, First Green

Known in the industry for key roles at Cargill and as Chief Science officer at Khosla and Piper Jaffray, Cameron went solo in recent months and, with Tom Erickson, succeeded in establishing the most impressive green investment fund in recent years, First Green. First Green’s Warburg-funded $350M+ war-chest may well determine the shape of advanced biofuels and green technology investment over the next 3-5 years.

18. Jay Keasling, PhD, Professor,  UC Berkeley

If Jay Keasling did nothing but supervise the collaboration between Lawrence Livermore, U of Illinois and Berkeley known as the Energy Biosciences Institute and run a storied lab, he probably would have taken a high slot on our list. But his signature (commercial) discovery, the underlying technology behind Amyris, helped to power a successful IPO last year, and may well transform, the Brazilian biofuels landscape with its sugar-to-diesel microbiology. Of late, his lab has also been vigorously supporting some cellulosic breakthroughs at the lab level for LS9.

19. Vinod Khosla, Managing Partner, Khosla Ventures

A popular figure with readers, Khosla has toned down his biofuels profile in recent years, but still rates high for his teams’ wide portfolio of advanced biofuels bets, his strong voice on policy, and for unparalleled financial commitment to transformation of energy. A large numb roy his investments, in companies raging from Amyris to Mascoma, have headed for the IPO window – some say “prematurely”, but he’s been instrumental thereby in establishing a public market for advanced biofuels stocks.

20. Fred Cannon, PhD, CEO, KiOR

Anyone who gets US presidential hopeful and climate-skeptic Haley Barbour to call a special session of the Mississippi legislature to ram through $50 million in support for a new biofuels technology knows a thing or two about making things happen. That’s precisely what Fred Cannon and KiOR have accomplished, practically before getting out of the lab. Now, they have completed their IPO and are headed for scale. Remarkable progress that has transformed attitudes about pyrolysis-based technologies.

21. Miguel Soldatelli Rossetto, CEO, Petrobras Biocombustivel

Among the many Brazilians gracing this years list, the fast growth and determination of the state-owned Petrobras propelled biofuels division CEO Miguel Rossetto into the global top 25. Incredibly aggressive growth targets and the backing of the Brazilian government proved to Digest readers that Petrobras management now means business when it comes to controlling (some grumblers say ‘strangling’) the Brazilian markets for ethanol. An uncertain path on cellulosic biofuels left Petrobras, in the eyes of some, behind Raizen in the Brazilian market, but Petrobras certainly has the capital to compete as key technologies emerge.

22. Wesley Clark, Co-chairman, Growth Energy; Tom Buis, CEO

We have paired Wes Clark and Tom Buis at #22; both pulled down a lot of votes, with Clark a little ahead owing to his generally higher profile. Both have been persistent, consistent, relentless and yet entertaining advocated for first-generation ethanol, and certainly make news. Their early recognition to move away from the VEETC ethanol tax credit and onto market development with blender pump financing has begun to pay dividends at the state level, and is likely to be the centerpiece of any federal assistance for ethanol going forward.

23. Jim Rekoske, GM, Honeywell’s UOP

Jim Rekoske is Vice President and General Manager of the Renewable Energy and Chemicals business unit at Honeywell’s UOP, where he heads up the drive to build businesses such as the production of finished aviation biofuels from renewable oils, and the Envergent JV with Ensyn, which focuses on pyrolysis-based fuels. A chemical engineer by training, Jim is the inventor or co-inventor on 20 U.S. patents, with another 10 patent applications pending, is the author of more than 20 peer-reviewed scientific articles, and is a noted developer of breakthroughs in catalysis. After succeeding Jennifer Holmgren in the GM role, Jim broke into the global Top 25 in his own right this year.

24. Marcos Jank, President, UNICA

Filling out a trio of Brazilians in the global Top 25 is Marcos Jank, the head of the Brazilian sugarcane association UNICA, whose organization has been building up its presence around the world as it presses for open markets and export opportunities for Brazil’s in-vogue streams of low-cost sugar. Though low harvests in the past year have kept Brazil focused on supplying sugar and ethanol to its local market, look for bigger harvests and especially opportunities for cellulosic fuels with sugarcane bagasse to put UNICA right back in the drivers seat as an advocate of open markets.

25. Ray Mabus, US Secretary of the Navy

Secretaries of the Navy generally have a low profile, but former Mississippi governor Ray Mabus has been charting a high-profile course for the Navy to establish a fossil-fuel free Green Strike Group by 2016, which will commence testing as soon as 2012. They’ve become the largest customer for aviation biofuels to date, and though they are paying $500 toilet seat prices for the small quantities of military-spec fuel they are buying (in the range of $16 per gallon for quantities of sub-500,000 gallons per order), they are moving the needle in ways the readership has clearly embraced.


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