4 Minutes With…Jennifer Holmgren, CEO, LanzaTech

September 3, 2014 |

Jennifer HolmgrenIf you’ve known her as the globe-trotting CEO of LanzaTech — managing an enterprise based in Chicago, with lab operations (and historic ties to) in New Zealand, and progressing towards scale-up in China — well, there’s more to the story. The original GM of Honeywell’s UOP efforts in the biobased space — she won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative in 2010 as she was headed for LanzaTech.

She’s the “Straight Arrow” of advanced biofuels — directed, focused, but refreshingly candid about the challenges that technologies face as well as in reminding audiences of biology’s enduring advantages.

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

We recycle carbon; we do it in a way that is sustainable and forces no compromises (yep, truly triple bottom line: makes money, reduces emissions and has a positive impact on society). Simply said, LanzaTech makes fuels, chemicals and food from waste carbon emissions and our partners make money while doing good for the environment.

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

Scale up is the most important thing for any new technology: if it doesn’t scale, it doesn’t matter. Therefore, we are focused on taking our very cool process to commercial scale and making sure we don’t run out of cash in trying to get there. Ugh.

What is it that I do, do? Hum. Sounds like a line from Young Frankenstein. My job is to constantly challenge the status quo and push the envelope with everything and everybody. Making sure the LanzaTech team knows that we can go beyond anything and everything that has been done before. Yes, we can help create a low carbon future. Yes, we will make a difference.

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

We need more commercial successes. We have to get more technologies across the proverbial “Valley of Death”

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

We have to make sure everyone truly understands what it takes to get a new idea to scale in the process industry. It is about time and money. We need a dose of reality and a readjusting of expectations.

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 need to diversify our energy basket.

You’ll be speaking at the next ABLCNext conference in San Francisco this November. What’s special about that week for you?

Seeing Flavia (Lane). Hanging out and learning from my friends. Talking about how we can help each other be successful; understanding trends and things we should be watching out for.

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

My high school chemistry teacher was great and made me realize I could have a career doing something I loved. Known not only for math and science programs, Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA. also required its students to minor in a social science. Ah, the value of a rounded vs focused education. Majored in Chemistry, minored in linguists. Fun!

Who do you consider your mentors?

A tricky ask, cuz everyone has taught me something! A few key examples: that women can be strong and succeed from Dr. Mary Good and Dr. Edith Flanigen; my passion for chemistry from my high school teacher (Mr Green), my undergraduate advisor (Dr. Kubota) and my PhD Thesis Advisor (Dr. Shapley); to balance vision and business objectives from watching the combination of UOP’s CTO (Dr. Stan Gembicki) and CEO (Carlos Cabrera) work together; patience from my husband (Donald). The people I admire most are my parents who encouraged me every single day to develop my interests and skills and taught me to never give up or to let things get me down.

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

Suck it up. You’ll get there — just take a deep breath and keep moving.

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

Hiking with my hubby and two greyhounds, Bankston Boy and Simply Better (their racing names) and the periodic game of pinball.

What are 3 books you’d want to have with you, if you were stranded on a desert island?

Three books, seriously? I choose not to get stranded on a desert island.

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

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes.

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

My regular holiday fixture is the Big Island, Hawaii- whales, sun, surf and time with hubby.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tags: ,

Category: Million Minds

Thank you for visting the Digest.