Jennifer Holmgren, the Chief Executive Officer of LanzaTech, joined the podcast to talk about the company’s focus, on the renewed optimism in the advanced biofuel and advanced alternative fuels space, the importance of carbon recycling and being carbon smart and what we really need to do to combat climate change. Following are some excerpts from our discussion, which you can listen or download below or listen to it in ITunes.
“I would say over the last five years there’s been a transition to talking about carbon efficiency. The world kind of focused on talking about biological, biofuels, bioproducts as having come only from trees. And so what I would say is what the world is saying now is, trees are great, and they’re important in recycling carbon. But we need technologies that can do this, right? I think the world and governments are realizing there are many ways to be successful in reducing carbon emissions, and that recycling carbon needs to have a seat at the table, needs to be treated on an equal footing, as other approaches that I would say are more traditional, more established.”
“I actually agree with you that there is a bit of a return to optimism, and I think part of it is related to all the legislation. We’re starting to see commitments at the city level, we’re starting to see commitments at the national level, and that is allowing new technologies to have a seat at the table. I think the thing that gives the most optimism is I think we’re seeing companies cross the valley of death. I think we’re starting to see more and more companies successfully navigating across the valley of death, and so that tells other people, ‘Yeah, we can do that.’ I think when people see these stories that are real, I think it helps all of us feel like we can do this. More and more people are succeeding. I would add one more thing that I think is also helping. You said something about realism, and you were talking about it in regards to ways of life. But I think there’s also come a little bit of realism in what it takes to take a technology that is a process technology, a brand new process technology, across the valley of death.
I think we now realize this is not a five-year exercise, right? LanzaTech is an example. We’ve been around for 13 years. We just built our first commercial plant that is now operating after 13 years. I would say that’s fast. We had to raise $250 million to get to this point. I think people didn’t appreciate what it would take to have a commercializable product. It’s an order magnitude different than what it takes to get a new process out there and the amount of time it takes. I think people were making commitments to, ‘Okay, I’ll just refurbish a plant and start it up on a brand new technology,’ and realizing that was almost harder than starting from scratch.”
“I think you made a comment about the need to meet 1.5 °C targets though we’re headed to 3 or 4 °C. I think we’re headed for 3 or 4 °C if we’re lucky. I think it’s much worse than that. What really scares me is that people are making commitments, but these commitments are not enough. I hear people talk about, ‘Okay, we’re going to surpass these numbers, but then we’re going to come back and reduce them afterward, and we’ll have some carbon negative technologies that will help.” You know, it really scares me. Because extinction is forever. Once you’ve killed a species, we’re not getting it back, even if we reduce carbon afterward. Plus also, there’s a long time from the time that you introduce the carbon into the atmosphere, to the time that it calibrates and has the negative impact. I feel like we have to just get really, really aggressive now. So to me, that means that instead of commitments, and I see a lot of great commitments, we need actions underneath that, and it needs to come from industry. I think a lot of industry that has made commitment to 2030 targets doesn’t know how they’re going to get there. I think they need to get much more active in pushing solutions, and working with governments to push those solutions.”