“I don’t think of mistakes as mistakes. You just have to dig deeper. Every time that something goes wrong, you have to dig deeper to find a solution.”
Prior to LanzaTech, Dr. Holmgren was VP and General Manager of the Renewable Energy and Chemicals business unit at UOP LLC, a Honeywell Company. In 2015, she and her team were awarded the US Environmental Protection Agency Presidential Green Chemistry Award and she received the BIO Rosalind Franklin Award for Leadership in Industrial Biotechnology. She received the 2020 William C. Holmberg Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Advanced Bioeconomy by the Digest, the most widely read online bioeconomy journal. In 2021 she received the Edison Achievement Award for making a significant and lasting contribution to the world of innovation. She is on the Advisory Council for the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. She is also the Director and Chair of the LanzaJet Board of Directors.
What motivated you to get into this field?
Well, for “this field” I will consider that STEM to start with.
I was born in Colombia and my family moved to the US when I was nine. I was already excited by science and the US by then. I had followed the NASA space program through the news in Colombia and like every child at that time, I wanted to be an astronaut. The year man landed on the Moon was the year I went to the US. I am a product of the US public school system and I am grateful to the system for the opportunities it provided me. I was also lucky to have a chemistry teacher that inspired and encouraged me to pursue that subject.
After my studies, I joined UOP, a multinational headquartered in Illinois, and worked there for 23 years until I joined LanzaTech. During my time at UOP I discovered my passion for technology that could have a big impact. LanzaTech attracted me because I recognized its technology could have a real and significant impact on the future of energy in a way that was environmentally sound, didn’t threaten food security and could democratize global energy distributions systems by also providing off grid solutions.
Among your many, many accomplishments, what stands out in your mind as being particularly noteworthy?
I am so honored to have been recognized over my career for doing the things I love and for working with awesome people. For me, what is important is being able to inspire others and also to see that work in this field, especially in carbon recycling and sustainable “tough tech”, is acknowledged and talked about. So when I think about the EPA Green Chemistry Award or the Edison Award for Innovation or the other wonderful acknowledgements over the years, it raises the profile of the sector and gets people talking about what is possible today and the path to creating a very different carbon economy!
I think it is important to remember that innovation has a reason for being and does not exist in a vacuum and for that reason, I was also really honored that the sustainability magazine, Salt, named me the world’s most compassionate businesswoman in 2015 and in that same year, I was awarded the Outstanding Leader Award in Corporate Social Innovation from the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.
Products that can currently be made from captured CO2 include aviation fuel, clothes, beverages, product packaging, soap, watches, cement, etc. What else will be made from captured CO2 in the near future?
EVERYTHING! We are developing technologies today to be able to make everything we need from recycled carbon. As we scale up production of green hydrogen and the ability to capture CO2 directly, we can leverage renewable power and pull feedstocks straight from the atmosphere to make everything we need, keeping virgin fossil in the ground. This isn’t science fiction. This is real.