4 minutes with… S. Kent Hoekman, Research Professor, Desert Research Institute (DRI)

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

DRI is the environmental research branch of the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE). We are involved in evaluating environmental concerns and consequences of biomass/biofuel systems, from cradle to grave. In addition, we apply analytical capabilities to characterize bio-feedstocks, intermediates, and products.

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

I lead a group of five research faculty members comprising the Bioenergy Group at DRI. Current activities are focused in the following areas:

– hydrothermal treatment of lignocellulosic biomass to produce bio-coal

– hydrothermal treatment of algal biomass to produce high-value liquid products

– sampling and characterization of contaminants in syngas

– review and assessment of biofuel policies and environmental impacts

– life-cycle assessments of bio-products and bio-processes

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

Economically successful operation at commercial scale – especially for lignocellulosic-derived biofuels.

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

Replace the hype about “the next big thing” with an honest assessment of the challenges, limitations and life-cycle impacts of each process/product.

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?  

I believe that production and use of sustainable energy in various forms are essential to the advancement of humanity, and I want to contribute to this effort.

Where are you from? 

I was born in Denver, but spent most of my childhood in the Central Valley of California.

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

I majored in chemistry at Calvin College. I am a 3rd generation graduate of Calvin, which is a great liberal arts college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For me, chemistry had the sense of real-world practical usefulness, which I found lacking in many other courses of study.

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?

I consider most of my instructors – both in undergraduate and graduate school – to be my mentors. So many of them taught me to be inquisitive, to extend learning beyond the immediate topic at hand, and to look for connections and interactions across a wide spectrum.

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

Be persistent, but patient. Things will change.

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

I enjoy reading, music, and sports. But now with 7 young grandchildren, my attention is turning towards them.

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

Profiles in Courage – John F. Kennedy

Lake Wobegon books – Garrison Keillor

The Bible

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

Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand

The Odyssey and The Iliad – Homer

The Road to Character – David Brooks

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

San Francisco

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