4 minutes with… Tim Donohue, Director, Great Lakes Bioenergy

May 28, 2015 |

imgres-1Tell us about your company and it’s role in the Advanced Bioeconomy.

Great Lakes Bioenergy is a DOE, Office of Science-funded Bioenergy Research Center. Its mission is to develop ways to produce ethanol, advanced biofuels and chemicals from the non-edible, lignocellulosic part of plant biomass. The Center includes researchers at UW-Madison & Michigan State University, plus partners in a DOE-national.

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

I oversee the activities of ~400 scientists and students that span disciplines needed to develop cellulosic biofuels and chemicals. We focus on the sustainable production of crops with improved biofuel traits and systems for the energy efficient synthesis of fuels & chemicals. Our genome-based systems biology approaches provide robust, transformative elements for converting biomass to fuels and chemicals. One major product is knowledge behind the energetic, environmental & economical production of fuels and chemicals from diverse plants. As an academic center, we also educate future biofuels leaders.

The knowledge contained in over 700 papers and 100 patents produced since 2007 includes agronomic, computational and laboratory breakthroughs to process diverse biomass plants into fuels and chemicals. As we look to the future, we know that the mix of fuels and chemicals produced by a biorefinery will be key to its economic success. Thus, we currently focus a lot of attention

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

Development of sustainable ways to produce crops, advanced fuels and chemicals. These systems will allow a next-generaton biorefinery to make a suite of fuels and chemicals from plant biomass, much like a current oil refinery produces different products from a barrel of fossil fuel. To be successful, industry will also need processes that

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

An acceptance to diversify how we provide energy given the ever growing need for it around the globe. This could spark development of incentives for farmers, industry and society to produce and use cellulosic biofuels and chemicals. Adoption of cellulosic biofuels and chemicals can also reduce the food versus fuel issues associated wit

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 potential to diversify, change and improve how we meet the ever growing energy needs of a global society

Where are you from? 

I was born and raised in Rockaway Beach, New York an ocean-front community within New York City

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

I was a life science major at what was then called the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. I chose that school because of its reputation in science and engineering and its proximity to home.

Who do you consider your mentors – could be personal, business, or just people you have read about and admire. What have you learned from them?

Most of the people who have influenced me are scientists that I have trained with either as an undergraduate (Professor Ron Melnick), in graduate school (my thesis advisor Robert Bernlohr), as a postdoctoral scholar (Samuel Kaplan) or as a young faculty member (Carol Gross). Each of them tought me important life lessons in how to approach and perform research, oral and written science communication, or the skills needed to train young scientists or lead a team to solve difficult scientific problems. From each of them I learned that it is often hard to make transformative breakthroughs unless one is willing to take a risk.

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

Not to react to adversity without considering as many options as you can. At these times, to the extent that it is possible, it is crucial to seek and consider feedback from those you trust and to build consensus. In addition, attempts to avoid adversity are fruitless especially if one seeks to make major advances in knowledge or changes in how we approach problems.

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

I love being outdoors, watching and participating in (to the extent that I can) sports.

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

I would much rather enjoy the scenery and look for a tiki bar!

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

Anything I can get my hands on that can give an indication of where the bioenergy field is headed in the future. I want Great Lakes Bioenergy to be able to be poised to respond to the next phase of research and innovation.

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

The beach, any beach.

Category: Million Minds

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