4 Minutes With…Paul Bryan, Independent Consultant and Lecturer, UC-Berkeley

September 8, 2014 |

BryanYou probably know him best as the VP for Biofuels at Chevron, and later the Program Manager for the DOE Biomass program until late 2012. But he’s also a noted consultant on technology development and current lectures in chemical engineering as well at Berkeley. One little known fact is that he is a direct descendant of the orator and statesmen William Jennings Bryan, the Nebraska senator and three-time Presidential candidate.

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

I apply my background in industry (Chevron) and government (DOE) to assess the techno-economic and market prospects for new technologies in renewable fuels and chemicals, and to help advance them to commercialization.

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

I regard my most critical contributions in two categories:

1. Objective assessment of technologies, projects, companies, strategies, and opportunities in light of the current state of affairs (technical, business, and regulatory).

2. Advocacy, especially in the government sector, for a regulatory environment that will truly level the playing field among all the alternatives for producing, energy, liquid fuels, chemicals, and materials. On that basis, I believe that some bio-based alternatives will be competitive today, and more will be added to the list year by year as technology advances.

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

Four big ones:

1. CROPS: Sustainable production of meaningful volumes with minimal inputs.

2. LOGISTICS: Put biomass on par with corn for stable storage and ease of multi-modal transport.

3. BIO-CONVERSION: Cellulosic sugar competitive with corn and cane.

4. TC CONVERSION: Field-to-Refinery supply chain to compete with petroleum.

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

Immediate tax of $50/BBL on petroleum, $50/on for coal, and $5/MMBtu on natural gas, each to increase at 5% per year forever.

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?

Emissions of fossil CO2 and other GHG’s are going to render the planet all but unlivable, both directly through climate impacts and indirectly by the political instability that those impacts will create.

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

It is a small enough forum for networking across the whole range of attendees, yet large enough to include leaders from all sectors. Unlike many other meetings, intentionally or otherwise, this one does draw from a wide range of technical, financial, managerial, and governmental leaders, and its important that these all work well together.

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

Chemical Engineering – Penn State (BS); UC-Berkeley (PhD). Initially, I liked chemistry but didn’t want to have to get a PhD to get into R&D. Somewhere along the line, I changed my mind about the PhD, obviously, but while I’ve mainly been on the R&D side, I have always liked the applications orientation of engineering vs. science.

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

Don’t ever belittle or trivialize the struggles that others face until you have experienced them yourself. My parents, who grew up in the Great Depression, and who created a very respectable middle-class life for my siblings and I, were very much from the: “Tough it out! Don’t complain! Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” philosophy of life. That is valid, and there’s a lot to be said for determination and persistence, but not every hurdle can be overcome by hard work and a positive outlook. Whether we’re just trying to understand another individual human being or trying to solve the world’s great problems with technology and policy, I think that it is important to remember that.

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

When I can get away from work, I enjoy woodworking, reading (mostly non-fiction, but also mostly non-technical), playing bridge, and rafting / canoeing.

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

1. The Song of the Dodo (great book about island ecologies – interesting even without being stranded on an island).

2. Heart of Darkness (got to have one great novel, and this one I could read another dozen times or so).

3. Thinking [John Brockman, Ed.] (with all that spare time, thinking about thinking has a certain attraction).

In the event of a fourth, I would go for how to survive on a desert Island since I would need it.

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

1. The Great Plains (Webb) – Finished recently.
2. Flight Behavior (Kingsolver) – Finished recently.
3. Command & Control (Schlosser) – just finished.
4. Flash Boys (Lewis) – just finished.
5. Merchants of Grain (Morgan) – almost done.
6. Unstoppable (Nader) – just started.
7. The Startup of You (soon)
8. The Organized Mind (soon)

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

Can’t possibly pick one. Here’s three “combo’s” that are atop my list (two locations reasonably easy to include on the same trip):

1. Paris & Montpellier, FRANCE
2. Bangkok & Krabi, THAILAND
3. Sydney & O’Reilly’s Guesthouse, OZ (Yeah, mate, it’s a cut lunch and a water bottle from Sydney to O’Reilly’s, but well worth it!)

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Category: Million Minds

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