FUEL: What do you think are our greatest energy challenges?
Holmgren: The world is currently facing three critical energy needs: 1) supplying sufficient and secure sources of energy to enable the doubling of the global energy pool over the next 40-50 years, 2) the introduction of more than 30% zero carbon fuels into that pool to stabilize atmospheric CO2 [carbon dioxide] levels and 3) ensuring that through this growth, everyone has access to clean, affordable energy.
In my mind, the greatest challenge we face is our collective inability to appreciate the magnitude and impact of these combined needs and the fact that a singular approach combined with incremental efficiency and technology improvements will not meet them. The challenge is achieving a change in "mind set" that will enable us to understand the urgent need for a paradigm shift in the way we produce and distribute energy.
FUEL: What do you believe are the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in achieving energy democratization?
Holmgren: To achieve energy democratization, diversifying the primary energy mix is an imperative. Growing the energy pool to meet future demand and simultaneously reducing the carbon footprint of that pool to acceptable levels, seems an almost impossible task. During the next 20 years, while global energy demand grows by more than 40%, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that more than 75% of energy will still be supplied by fossil fuels. The challenge and the opportunity are really the same. How do we get more alternative fuels into the pool? How do we change the energy mix such that no more than 60% of the global pool is supplied by fossil fuel by 2035?
To achieve energy democratization we need to accelerate the introduction of new sustainable energy resources into the pool, we need to quickly scale new technologies taking them out of the laboratory and from the minds of scientists into the field, and we need to quickly implement a broad range of large industrial alternative fuel production facilities.
I believe that today’s emerging technologies can provide a means to achieve energy equilibrium and sustainable economic growth enabling a global energy balance where all economies and peoples have access to sufficient and affordable energy to meet their needs.
FUEL: Will everyone around the world have access to affordable energy in our lifetime?
Holmgren: In order to ensure that everyone has access to clean energy, I think we need to step away from today’s energy paradigm. Our energy infrastructure is designed to support a common global solution that currently is based on oil. In thinking about enabling energy democratization, I believe that regional solutions need to become a more important part of the future energy pool. Communities need solutions that integrate well with local energy requirements and leverage local resources.
A good example from the communications field is the use of smart phones rather than computers to enable people in emerging economies to connect to the Internet. Due to the way bandwidth is priced, social media sites have become an important method of communication and browsing the Internet. This regional development has enabled many to have affordable access to information previously denied to them. I believe that with the multitude of technologies developing in the cleantech sphere at present, we will be able to tailor energy solutions to each geography enabling us to see energy democratization in our lifetime.
FUEL: What is your company specifically doing to respond to the future energy needs of emerging countries and economies? (Planning, investments, etc.)
Holmgren: Our company offers a new technology that can utilize local, highly abundant, waste and low-cost resources to create transportation fuels. In fact, some of the waste resources we can utilize are byproducts of industrial growth, resources that are expanding in emerging regions – which is where energy demand is growing most quickly. Interestingly, by integrating our technology into a number of industrial facilities, such as steel mills, a mill owner can reduce the mill carbon footprint while producing a transportation fuel. In addition, emerging markets require distributed production approaches to facilitate access to fuel in rural areas. Our technology also integrates well into waste biomass and municipal waste gasification approaches, which can be deployed in rural areas to provide heat, power and transportation fuels. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, our technology also enables energy partnerships between industrial sectors that were previously mutually exclusive (i.e. steel producers with petroleum refiners), as our technology enables industrial waste streams to be converted to transportation fuels.
FUEL: What does the industry need to do as a whole and is it already moving in that direction?
Holmgren: In order to reach a stage of energy equilibrium, we need further investment in innovations and collaborations. A mixture of private and – critically – government support is needed to enable rapid prototyping in the clean energy industry and rapid scale-up of future clean energy solutions. The industry must face the fact that the world needs ALL of the solutions available to us and that it is not a case of any one technology triumphing over the rest. True technological diversity will ensure that opportunities are accessible to all geographies, creating regionally adapted solutions.
FUEL: In your opinion, how does a national energy policy assist a country’s efforts to provide an effective framework to address energy development and security? (Is there a leading country in this area and is there a failing country?)
Holmgren: A national energy policy is an important driver to the growth of alternative energy solutions. A strong national energy policy becomes the demand driver that companies can use in their strategic plans to define the tactics/investments to commercialize their new energy solutions.
FUEL: Regarding energy solutions – how much does your company invest in research and development? In what areas and why?
Holmgren: A common factor among developing low-carbon technologies is that they currently have higher costs than the fossil-fuel incumbents. Through extensive research and development, these costs can be reduced and the technologies can become economically sustainable.
We invest approximately 80% of all our funds in technology development and especially in new technology R&D. Our research teams are focused on developing the most efficient technology for real world deployment, where not only economic factors, but energy, land and water use are critical for the long-term survival of any future energy process.
FUEL: Do you believe it’s time for more collaboration among companies in order to share technology and solutions? If so, how is your company collaborating?
Holmgren: Collaboration can lead to accelerated development of technologies, with appropriate measures taken to protect intellectual property. LanzaTech has embarked on a series of collaborations involving companies and laboratories that can offer significant ‘add on’ technological advantages to the LanzaTech Process. Additionally, we have found that collaboration with research institutes in specific regions where we anticipate deploying technology has been beneficial to ensure regional factors are accounted for in the deployment of our technology.
FUEL: Is there anything else you’d like to address on meeting the world’s future energy challenges?
Holmgren: We need the world’s collective intellect to solve today’s energy challenges. There will be no single solution to this challenge. However, emerging technologies and continued innovation hold the promise of real solutions through a combination of energy efficiency and new renewable energy; solutions which defy our current definition of energy sources and how energy should be utilized or deployed. An appropriate combination of private investment and of public policies and support will lead to a truly global, sustainable, clean energy economy.
About Jennifer Holmgren
Dr. Jennifer Holmgren is the chief executive officer of LanzaTech. Holmgren has over 20 years of experience in the energy sector including a proven track record in the development and commercialization of fuels and chemicals technologies. Prior to joining LanzaTech, she was vice president and general manager of the Renewable Energy and Chemicals business unit at UOP LLC, a Honeywell company. In that role, she led UOP’s renewable business from its inception through to the achievement of significant revenues from the commercialization of multiple novel biofuels technologies.
Holmgren holds a bachelor’s of science degree from Harvey Mudd College, a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an master’s degree from the University of Chicago. She currently serves on multiple external advisory boards. She is the author or co-author of 50 U.S. patents, 20 scientific publications and is the 2003 recipient of the Council for Chemical Research’s (CCR) Malcolm E. Pruitt Award.