Dr Jennifer Holmgren has had a dynamic career over the past couple of decades. Inspired by a high school chemistry teacher, she decided to study chemistry at Harvey Mudd College in California and then moved to Illinois to pursue a PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Following this, she joined Universal Oil Products (UOP), now Honeywell UOP, where she eventually founded and led its renewable energy business. Holmgren further pursued an MBA at the University of Chicago to receive a more formal education in business.
Having always been interested in the commercialisation of new technologies, she realised that the key to success is not just having a novel idea, but also having the business acumen to get the idea to the market. The next stage of her career started in 2010 when she left UOP to become the CEO of LanzaTech, the world’s first carbon recycling company. This represented a continued personal transition to leveraging technology to solve issues relating to energy and the environment. LanzaTech is a growing company that is trying to not only commercialise a new technology but also to create a new industry of gas fermentation.
The most memorable and rewarding assignment for Holmgren has been working on the technology that her team developed at UOP for the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which is used to make the majority of the SAF used commercially today. According to her, “The renewable sector is helping us combat climate change and pollution globally. The imbalance of carbon is a silent Armageddon. While we see floods, droughts, hurricanes and heatwaves increasing, and data showing links to rises in carbon emissions, it is not as visible as something like Covid-19.” She believes that as a global community, we need to realise the importance of sustainable solutions.
Holmgren believes that listening is the key to good management. “Until you understand what the other person is thinking, you cannot communicate with them. Once you understand their perspective, you can communicate your story and your message,” she says. When not at work, she likes to spend time outside with her husband and her hound, while also enjoying a periodic game of pinball. Her regular holiday fixture is Hawaii, a great place to unwind with the sun and the surf. Her personal ambition is to get to a point where she feels that her “work is done”, and she can spend more time with her family.