4 Minutes With…Blake Simmons, CSTO, VP-Deconstruction Division, Joint BioEnergy Institute

September 17, 2014 |

Blake_SimmonsNEWYou have to cheer on a guy who uses part of his entry on “favorite mentors” to cheer on the team behind the Large Hadron Collider (who found the famed Higgs boson in 2013), who hails from one of the most enthusiastic small towns in the entire Advanced Bioeconomy (Blair, Nebraska), and is a Navy vet to boot.

This is Blake Simmons — known primarily as the Vice President of Deconstruction at JBEI — which sounds like he’s the Galactic Master-Blaster of lignocellulose. And, yes, he is indeed, as one of the primary forces behind the rise of ionic liquids for pretreatment. He’s also a Washington Husky — home to several Nobel laureates, and the only football fight song featuring ethanol as the complete lyric, (“Tequila!”) He’s also a member of the Allopartis Scientific Advisory Board.

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

Advancing basic science for public benefit, reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, safeguarding public health and the environment by curbing the effects of climate change, reducing organic waste by transforming non-edible biomass such as corn stover, wheat straw, forest and crop residue into biofuels, and boosting the economy

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

Developing new conversion technologies for lignocellulosic biofuels, working with industry to mature and deploy those technologies in the marketplace, and providing input to policy makers about the need for continued stable policies around LCFS and RFS2

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

  • 1 BGY of cellulosic ethanol or other drop-in biofuels at cost parity with gasoline
  • Demonstrate path forward for conversion of lignin into renewable chemicals and biofuels
  • Algal biofuels in open ponds that are commercially viable and scalable

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

Stability and equitability in RFS2 coupled with a carbon tax that funds R&D and deployment activities

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?

Mitigating risks associated with climate change through low carbon intensity fuels

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

Networking, tech transfer opportunities from the lab to the marketplace, and learning about the current state of the biofuels industry

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

Chemical Engineering, University of Washington – went there because it was right across Puget Sounds from where I served in the Navy – Bremerton/PSNS and had a very strong chemical engineering program

Who do you consider your mentors?

Jay Keasling – that everything is possible when you focus on it and think of ways to redefine the S&T challenges
Harvey Blanch – grand poobah of biofuels and a veritable fount of information
Neil deGrasse Tyson – the scientist that every generation needs to convey to humanity the need for education, science, and technology
The LHC team – go boson!

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

It’s not if or when you fall, but how you pick yourself up, that defines you and matters the most

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

Scuba diving

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

Snow crash
Lord of the Rings (counts as one book, right?)
The Survival Handbook

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

The Martian

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

Similan islands, Thailand

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Category: Million Minds

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