4 Minutes with…Michael Lake, PhD, Chief Technology Officer, Lignin Enterprises

February 13, 2018 |

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

Lignin Enterprises (LE) has three business elements: marketing its SLRP lignin recovery technology, marketing the lignin as a product, regardless of its manufacturing origin, and developing new processes and applications for lignin. As an example, we are actively selling “Lignin A” made by West Fraser in Hinton AB Canada.

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

Our primary near-term mission is to provide engineering support for companies that will be installing demonstration-scale SLRPs that will make 1-3 tonne of lignin per day. Those demo-SLRPs will bridge our pilot SLRP operating in Clemson SC and full-scale SLRP facilities that will make 40,000 Te/yr and higher rates of lignin, primarily at pulp mill sites worldwide. Demo-scale SLRPs are being considered on four different continents. Our second objective is to sell west Fraser’s Lignin A to a variety of customers and applications which can be found on our website (www.lignin.biz). Our third objective for the year is to establish a laboratory in Charleston SC in which our network of scientists and engineers can test their hypotheses for new products and processes, which ideally result in patents that protect those new applications.

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

Establishing multiples businesses which are sustainable without government subsidies.

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

Having worldwide oil prices stabilize and slowly increase to reflect the true cost of production and harm to the environment without governmental interference or subsidies.

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 networking with companies that are establishing successful bio-based businesses.

Where are you from?

I am from the Lowcountry of South Carolina in a rural community that has the name “Hell Hole Swamp”. After getting a PhD in ChE in 1974, I joined Westvaco in Charleston SC to develop lignin- and tall oil- based products and processes, thinking that after the first oil embargo in 1973, the country was going to convert to more bio-based businesses.

What was your subject focus (e.g. major) in university (undergraduate and/or graduate, and where did you attend? Why did you choose that school and that pathway?

I have three degrees in chemical engineering (BS, MS, and PhD) from Clemson University. Clemson was a good engineering school with in-state tuition. My goal was to leave after the MS degree and get an MBA while working for a big oil company, but the job market was horrible in 1971, so I took the “safe route” and stayed for the PhD.

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?  

Dr. Frank Ball, the head of Westvaco’s R&D for over 30 years, was a colorful, eccentric and passionate champion of lignin-based products. Drs. Alfred Nissan and Fred Haas were corporate technical leaders with a long-term perspective and good business intuitions. David and John Luke were CEOs that ran profitable businesses yet developed a feeling of “family” within Westvaco.

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

Perseverance with a long-term perspective as an internal driving force.

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

I have been a marathon runner and piano player, and am now an avid walker and “Ambassador of Fun” with my eight grandchildren.

What books or articles (excluding The Digest) are on your reading list right now, or you just completed and really enjoyed?   

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

New York City and Washington DC. Growing up in Hell Hole Swamp, I always wanted to live in a big city.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Category: Million Minds

Thank you for visting the Digest.