"The technologies that are being worked on as they’re scaled and commercialised really have the ability to not just change markets but to also help emerging markets, making a meaningful contribution to climate change."
LanzaTech develops and is commercialising a gas fermentation process using microbes that converts gases such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide into fuels and chemicals. With offices in the US, China and India, and also operating in countries including South Africa and Japan, the company has a worldwide reach and is committed to developing products that could soon usurp fossil-based alternatives.
Carl Wolf, LanzaTech’s Europe vice president, gives some insight into that commitment for this week’s 5 Minutes With… In his role, Carl looks after existing projects and project development and handles governmental and regulatory issues in Brussels and across Europe. He explains to Dave Songer the influence LanzaTech could have over the bio industry, the importance of making mistakes and why he’s looking forward to this year’s World Bio Markets show in Amsterdam.
Dave Songer (DS): Great to meet you, Carl. Can I begin by asking what you like most about working in the bio-based industry?
Carl Wolf (CW): I would say the innovation that accompanies the work and the ability to work on a lot of different projects and technologies. Working at LanzaTech (@LanzaTech) I get to see first hand how fast the industry is evolving, it keeps you on your toes and is a lot of fun. There are also a lot of characters working in the industry, with a lot of people working on different technologies and to different business models.
The reason we’re all doing this is to make a positive impact. The technologies that are being worked on as they’re scaled up and commercialised really have the ability to not just change markets but to also help emerging markets, making a meaningful contribution to climate change.
(DS): What’s been your biggest professional challenge?
(CW): I think the challenge with developing and commercialising new technology is that it really takes a long time, money and patience to do it and do it right. The ability to see things through, to see past quick wins and to stay on course long term has been challenging, but as you do it and start to get close to the end goals it gets even more rewarding.
(DS): You’ve worked in the bio-based industry your whole career, what’s been the biggest change you’ve seen in that time?
(CW): We’re now as an industry starting to get beyond the different ways biofuels and bio-chemicals were thought about, and now are thinking about the overall environmental impacts that technology is having and how we can influence existing industries and help lower carbon footprints. So I would say what’s really changed is technology and the approaches in terms of whether we can leverage existing resources in terms of feedstocks. There’s also been a big change relating to business models: a lot of companies starting out years ago tried to do it themselves whereas now you’re seeing a lot more collaboration and partnerships. As with any new industry, as it evolves it finds its way along the learning curve.
(DS): What advice would you give someone looking to get started in the industry?
(CW): Be open to new experiences. It’s a challenging yet rewarding space to be in where you can have experience with technology and new business models and really be at the forefront of innovation, so I would say just be open and be willing to make mistakes. Whenever you’re getting into an early stage or a newer field mistakes are bound to happen and it’s something that you’re just going to have to learn from – but don’t let it stop you from moving forward. You have to be willing to take risks; it’s almost like becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable.
(DS): What’s LanzaTech’s business focus for 2018?
(CW): It’s an exciting year for LanzaTech. We’re planning the start-up of our first commercial facility with Shougang Group in China and are moving forward with various commercial projects that we have in areas such as Belgium, on a steel project for ArcelorMittal; India, for Indian Oil Corporation using refinery off-gas; and South Africa for Swayana on a project using ferro alloy. We’re also working on a municipal solid waste project in Japan with Sekisui and a biomass project in the United States with Aemetis – so, all over the world.
We have lot of different feedstocks we’re utilising, diversifying beyond fuels but also moving into other chemicals that we can produce through our microbial process. It’s all about pushing towards commercialisation while always expanding the pipeline of feedstocks that we can use and the products we can make.
(DS): You’re due to speak at this year’s World Bio Markets in Amsterdam – what do you most looking forward to at the show?
(CW): I’m always interested in the different talks people give and I’m always keen to reconnect with industry colleagues and meet new people to hear about new technology and companies that are starting to evolve. It’s exciting to be there because you can get a feel and a pulse for the industry, where people are at and what are all the moving parts. You also get a good range of companies – whether its big oil companies or smaller companies that are still in the development stage – along with a rounded group of participants and audience members.
(DS): And finally then, what your favourite bio-based product and why?
(CW): Well we’ve done biofuels and we’ve done certain bio products, such as bio-plastic bottles, but what I’m really looking forward to is when you can go into a store and pick out everyday products from toys to cosmetics, or even food, and have a better idea of the ingredients and whether it’s fossil-based or bio-based.
Being able to make bio-based decisions that don’t impact your wallet would be great. We’re getting there, and I think we’re getting close as new technology is scaled up. We’ve proven we can do that: we can make the chemical things that we currently make from fossil fuels and we can do that through bio routes. Biology is amazing in that respect, it’s just a matter of optimising it and scaling it and getting those costs down to where end users will easily make the choice to go with them.
(DS): Great to have spoken with you, Carl. Thanks for your time – see you at the show.
To meet the businesses and brands investing in bio-based solutions, and to see the products set to make their mark in the bio industry, visit World Bio Markets in Amsterdam on 20-22 March, 2018. A copy of the event brochure can be downloaded here.
Read the last 5 minutes with… Greg Bafalis, CEO of Aries Clean Energy.
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