The Power of Inspiration, Passion, and Role Models

Jennifer Holmgren is considered one of the most influential leaders in the biofuels industry. She has a passion for Turning Innovative Ideas Into Practical Solutions, and she has made significant contributions to the renewable energy industry.

As the Vice President and General Manager of the Renewable Energy and Chemicals business unit of UOP LLC, a Honeywell Company, Jennifer Holmgren and her team made history by revolutionizing aviation fuel.

As the CEO of LanzaTeck, one of the hottest companies in advanced bioeconomy, Holmgren is leading her company in the effort of turning carbon-rich industrial waste gases into fuels and other useful chemicals.

From a little girl who dreamed about becoming an astronaut to a highly regarded leader who is making a global impact, Holmgren has come a long way in her career.

How did she get where she is today?

Turns out, it started with a childhood inspiration, and it was fueled with love and passion.

Here Holmgren describes how she was drawn to chemistry, the importance of believing in what you do, and the power of role models.

An early inspiration

I was 9 when NASA landed a man on the moon – and like every child at the time, I wanted to be an astronaut. This spurred my interest in science and I devoured every article I could about all aspects of the program. My interest in chemistry came about because my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Green, was great and his enthusiasm for the topic was infectious. This made me enjoy the subject even more and it was then that I realized that I could have a career doing something I absolutely loved. I have never looked back nor regretted my decision.”

Believing in what you do

“I have been blessed with a naturally positive outlook and I think that there have been many things I have lived through that make me happy both professionally and personally. I do think that it helps to passionately believe in what you do. I am lucky to be working in a field (although challenging at times) that I believe will make a difference. That is something that I consider to be very important.”

Taking risks

Holmgren likes to do things that many consider undoable. Taking those risks has led her to new opportunities. Where did she get the courage to take risks? More importantly, can courage be taught?

“I don’t know if courage can be taught but I do know that I ‘learnt to take risks by watching my parents move us from Colombia to the US. That was a huge risk as they were leaving their friends and family and entire support network to take their kids to a better place,” says Holmgren. “I suspect my biggest motivator for taking risks is knowing that what we are trying to do must be done and that there is no downside to failure; the only downside is not trying.”

The power of role models

“Throughout my career and my education I have been fortunate to have professors, managers and peers who have inspired me and whom I look up to. Along the way they have all pushed me to be the best I can be, which has naturally helped me overcome any challenges that have arisen.”

“Two particular women come to mind, however,” says Holmgren, “Mary Good and Edie Flanigen.”

“Mary was the VP of Aled Signal’s R&D. They owned UOP when I was hired. She then became the US Undersecretary of Commerce under the Clinton Administration. She was the first woman that was elected president of the American Chemical Society. She retired 15 years ago and was a huge mentor for me.”

“Edie Flanigen was the woman that invented synthetic molecular sieves and the first woman that ever received the Perkin Medal – the highest honor conveyed to a chemist in the US. Both of these women worked exceedingly hard to succeed in what was essentially a man’s world when they were young and not only have they been a source of inspiration to me but they have encouraged me along the course of my career.”

Life lessons

“I believe we should all just do our things. Learn and learn and learn as much as you can, seek role models (both men and women), work at what you love, and remember you are equal and have a seat at the table.”


Holmgren’s main recognitions:

2015: The BIO Rosalind Franklin Award for outstanding work and leadership in the field of biotechnology.

2015: The Environmental Protection Agency, Presidential Green Chemistry Award for Greener Synthetic Pathways.

2013: The Malcolm E. Pruitt Award from the Council for Chemical Research. Holmgren was the first woman to receive this award.

2010: The Leadership Award  from the Civil Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative for her work in in establishing the technical and commercial viability of sustainable aviation .

2013-2014: One of the top 5 most influential leaders in the Biofuels Industry, according to Biofuels Digest.

2015-2016: The #2 influential leader in the Bioeconomy, according to Biofuels Digest.

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