In Canada, Enerkem announced the death of co-founder and long-time CEO Vincent Chornet following a prolonged illness. He was 45.
The company noted, “faithful to himself, he fought this terrible disease with the passion and determination that we know him for. He has been active even in the last moments, exchanging emails last week with different members of his team. In recent months, he has continued to chair Enerkem’s Board of Directors, with the best interests of the company at heart.”
Prior to founding Enerkem, Mr. Chornet helped design and finance several industrial projects and start-up companies in the energy production and fine chemicals sectors, including Bioxalis Medica, Fractal Systems and Kemestrie. He has also worked at the Laurentian Bank of Canada.
Mr. Chornet was a member of the Clean Technology Advisory Committee of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada from 2012 to 2014 and served on the board of the Advanced Biofuels Business Council in the United States. He held a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in Finance from the École des Hautes Études Commerciales de Montréal.
It takes steel in one’s fibers to lead a company from start-up through to significant size, and Vincent was not short in it. Nor was he short on determination, and optimism. No problem could not be solved, no setback was permanent, no disappointment could distract, no triumph could beguile him from the knowledge that growth if hard, scale-up is hard, and people have to find the metal inside themselves if they are to succeed, and the pedal, and push the pedal to the metal when necessary. But he was unfailingly gracious in person, never too busy to take a call or take a moment to look into the industry’s future. He was all those things that an industrialist should aim to be — one little part dreamer, a pair of big shoulders, a clear mind, transparent when the occasion called for it, guarded when the wolves came to the door. Immediately, his warmth emerged whenever you asked about the family, or about the struggles of the early days.
I knew Vincent for a decade, years in which Enerkem rose from obscurity to world-recognition — many honors came the company’s way, for which Vincent always deflected the credit to the technical and commercial teams. I can think of a hundred times when, as CEO, he touted some exciting thing about the company’s development, but not a single time he ever praised himself or took credit for Enerkem’s success. That’s hard to find.
Enerkem’s project portfolio is long these days; the monumental success was the project at Edmonton, converting municipal waste to methanol and then to ethanol. There just isn’t anything as valueless as landfill, and to see the potential and build a company to extract that value — that’s a mighty Everest scaled that few have dared to attempt, and fewer still have done it. Like finding the face of Presidents in stone outcropping at Mt. Rushmore, there’s a lot more than vision involved, there’s an awful lot of sweat and an awful lot of money — getting it done ranks as one of the singular achievements of the advanced bioeconomy, and it happened on his watch, with his crew, under the technical inspiration of his own father.
Thanks to his vision and leadership, Vincent has guided our company from the founding to the commercialization of our patented technology. His entrepreneurial spirit has made Enerkem a leader in biofuels and renewable chemicals, with a team of more than 200 employees today. The company is now taking advantage of a significant intellectual property asset that it has acquired throughout years of unprecedented state-of-the-art technology development to implement Enerkem biorefineries around the world. Today, we are setting a new standard for smart waste management and the production of biofuels and renewable chemicals, in large part thanks to him. His legacy is immense, and we now have the responsibility to continue his work and to realize his most ambitious dreams for the company.
The whole Enerkem family now shares a deep sense of loss. Vincent has always been a source of inspiration for all those who have crossed his path. His memory will always be part of Enerkem’s DNA.
And part of the industry’s DNA there is a long strand of Chornet, too.