Tell us about your company and it’s role in the Advanced Bioeconomy.
Southern Research is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) scientific and engineering research organization in AL, MD, GA, and NC in the areas of drug discovery and development, advanced engineering, and environmental protection. In NC we conduct research and development into energy related technologies including conversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals
Tell us about your role and what you are focused on in the next 12 months.
My role involves development, evaluation, and/or demonstration of a variety of catalysts and processes for thermochemical conversion of gas, coal, biomass, and/or MSW to energy and fuels, including conversion of synthesis gas to ethanol and mixed alcohols, synthesis gas cleanup, methane-steam reforming in the presence of H2S, an integrated thermochemical biorefinery to convert biomass to Fischer-Tropsch fuels and waxes, and coal/biomass conversion to jet fuel.
What do you feel are the most important milestones the industry must achieve in the next 5 years?
I think we need a couple more success stories with second generation technologies going commercial. There have been high profile failures that seem to dominate the news. I’d like to see focus on more of the successes and an understanding of the time that it takes to get there.
If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the Advanced Bioeconomy, what would you change?
There are actually two. Political instability with the RFS will continue to make it difficult to obtain funding for commercialization. Somebody still needs to fund integrated demonstrations of new technologies.
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?
My entire career I have hoped to be involved in technologies that have a greater significance than just earning a paycheck. I feel renewable energy technologies will be important for the foreseeable future for reducing pollution and reducing impact of climate change.
Where are you from?
I was born outside of Santa Fe, NM but moved to east Tennessee in the third grade. I grew up in that area.
What was your undergraduate major in college, and where did you attend? Why did you choose that school and that pathway?
I chose chemical engineering at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville). I was simply looking for something that use math and science that made a decent living and ended up liking it the longer I went..
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. Jim Doss (Tennessee Eastman a long time ago) got me into Chemical Engineering. Dr. Robert (Pete) Counce at UTK was a great influence. There are so many people of all walks that I’ve learned from over the years – technicians, chemists, operators, researchers and managers.
What’s the biggest lesson you ever learned during a period of adversity?
When things go bad, deal with one thing at a time. Often a problem looks so huge it’s insurmountable. I pick one small part, work on that, then deal with the next, and the next, and the next and so on.
What hobbies do you pursue, away from your work in the industry?
Outdoor activities with my family mainly. Hiking, fishing, bicycling, kayaking, sailing.
What are 3 books you’d want to have with you, if you were stranded on a desert island
NIV Study Bible first. A survival manual second. Perhaps the Lord of the Rings novels third?
What books or articles are on your reading list right now, or you just completed and really enjoyed?
The Bible again. I’m also reading a book by Jon Acuff called “Do Over” thinking mainly about how he discusses hustle. I’m reading several journal articles related to catalysis and CO2 utilization.
What’s your favorite city or place to visit, for a holiday?
I can’t choose one. I love the front range of the Rockies from New Mexico up through Colorado and into Wyoming, and I love the North Carolina coast.