Sayings and aphorisms from 12 years traveling on the bioeconomy road : Biofuels Digest


Today, the Digest turns 12.

Since the Digest was launched in July 2007, we’ve had the privilege of telling the amazing success story of the bioeconomy— new applications, companies, and platform technologies have been pouring out of research labs and many of them are deploying rapidly at commercial scale. If you’ve seen the rise of renewable diesel, the expansion of renewable natural gas, the wide dispersal of advanced vegan foods, or the revolution in omega-3s, plastics, fabrics, protein, skin care and more, you’ve seen it too. What began as a handful of technologists working on a handful of feedstocks to produce one or two key molecules has become a rainbow of amazing stuff.

Along the way, we formed a few few observations that we’ve tucked away in the back of our journalist’s notebook — we hope some will amuse and provide some insight.  They’re short, and in alphabetical order, and we would like to celebrate our 12th birthday by sharing them with you.


Able was I ere I saw lignin.

Ah, the clear thinking and pain tolerance that flows from the use of Someone’s Else’s Money.

Absolutely, as Rogers and Hammerstein said, Climb  Ev’ry Mountain, except the Thermodynamic one

A friend in DC is a friend indeed.

A person who makes their living selling research will usually try and sell you some more.

Algae are not puppies, they are little wolves.

Algae, I heard somewhere, is ancient Arabic for “the company grows slower than the biomass does”

Allow us to summarize. You can finance a liquid renewable fuel as long as the market is solid, especially if you are making solids, and the market for solids is liquid, and your liquidity is solid. Adding solids to your liquids will make you more solid, and eventually more liquid. If you know what I mean. In other words, to get altitude, all you need is a little more grounding. So that clears up that.

Among feedstocks, waste makes haste.

As Jennifer Holmgren says, never fall in love with a feedstock.

As Napoleon said: Never make decisions based on assumptions about what the other guy is thinking

Ask any poppy farmer – distributors rule the earth unless interrupted by cartels.

Ask not what the oil majors can do for you, ask what you can do for the oil majors.


Bacteria are using you, not the other way around.

Before embarking on a biofuels venture, chew and digest a car, just for practice.

Big Oil, Big Chemicals, and Big Ag will be the only enduring friends you will have.

Build the smallest thing you can.

Beauty is in the eye of the debtholder.

Before you invest, check the mass balance.

Bow to your partner, do se do.


Climb one hundred feet above your proposed site – whatever you can see, that’s your feedstock.

Confuse the enemy and plant seeds of doubt


Date what you see in the lab, marry what you see in the demo

Darn it, why can’t microorganisms understand plain English?

Do not begin an algal biofuels adventure until you have found an affordable way to get the algae out of the water, or the water out of the algae.

Don’t expect a government hand-out, or a hand-up, but if you expect a hand-slap, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Don’t think gallons per acre, think dollars per acre.

Don’t’ think megatonne, think negatonne

Dude, it’s the residue.


Easier to use an organism than make one.

Eat humble pie at every meal.

Even bad companies can make money in great times, great companies make money in bad times

Every feedstock will eventually cost too much.

Everybody in the world has the best catalyst.

Everything tracks oil prices.


Fats and fast are two different things.

Find the smartest people in the world, then hire someone else.

First comes the cash flow, then the world domination.


Half of your cost will be the pipes.

High oil prices make investors want to fund fossil fuel projects, not alternatives.

History is like the greatest constitutional monarch of all. As majestic, diverting and entertaining as it is, history has no direct power over us. It only retains the power to encourage and to warn, and in that endeavor, the closer we are connected to history and see ourselves inside the story, the more we draw lessons of real value, and that is why the story of our friends, relations, neighbors, fellow citizens and ancestors is something that can be of real value to study.

Hit your milestone, or someone surely will hit you.

How Green Was My Valley of Death


I wish that the world was a lot more like Iowa.

I Wood iI I Could

If you are making CO2, you are losing carbon.

If you are thinking long-term, think about it in Mandarin.

If you make a million using someone else’s garden, they are going to want it back.

In finance, begin with the exit in mind.

In life, you do not get what you want, or what you deserve, or even what you negotiate. You get what everyone else overlooked at the time.

Indirect impacts will never be well enough understood for policy purposes.


“Invictus revisited”

Out of the market that buries me
Black as the pits of Chicago or Seoul,
I “thank” whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable shorts and trolls.

In the fell clutch of my quarterlies
my plan now but a mushroom cloud
Under the bludgeonings of analyses
My shares are nuked, my team is cowed

If I overpromise did, and underdeliver too
And loometh not Bulls but market Bears,
Yet in the shareholder lawsuit queue
Shall ye find me hustling preferred shares

It matters not how bad the data
How sadly our pilot fails
I shall reposition this: just a beta
Tomorrow, friends, we find the Holy Grails

It is nice to fix a problem quickly, but it is transformative to fix carbon dioxide so.

It is not what you know, or who you know, but what you do with who you know.

It rained all night the day I left, the biomass was dry, the hype so hot, we burned to death,  investor don’ you cry

In a Moore’s Law environment, the number of suckers born per second doubles every two years.

Incentives are like people, cutest when they are young and small.

Investor at the climate change pitch event:  I was shaken, not stirred.

If you think 100 Years of Solitude was bad, try pitching biofuels in Silicon Valley

If your technology is uncool, put “nano” on the front of it.

It’s a small step from Wonder Crop to Blunder Crop


John Benemann tells me, if algae looks good, we’re in big trouble.

“Joint venture” is an Old English phrase meaning “you’re paying for it”.


Land use change is caused by land zoning, not crop prices.

Let Not Your Motto Be: 1, 2, skip a few…99,100.

Look it up, the oldest profession is agriculture, the second is stock-jobbing.


Maize is a craze, cane’s insane, but grass and wood are always good.

Make all your failures fail quickly.

Malthusians and Luddites are everywhere.

Many bad things start with the pretreatment.

Measure twice, cut once, overpromise nonce

Meet a spec, let someone else make one.

Microalgae is the wild, wild wet.

Money smalls like terpenes and terpenes smell like money

More important than land use change is land use intensification

More important than peak oil is peak investor patience.

More valuable than diamonds and the harder to find is the hard data


Never enter a field that is exactly five years away from commercialization.

Never move water, no matter what they tell you.

No matter what you think you are inventing, you are inventing something else.

No one knows anything about tomorrow.

No one will give you infrastructure for Christmas.


Ode to [Redacted Company Name]





Hath, er,


Jammed up)










Trust me!



We are

X-rayed and




“Off we go, into the wild green yonder” doesn’t quite cut it any more

Once you find a profitable use, waste becomes a feedstock with a price

One amazing success will drive a thousand admirers on to your Band Wagon

Opponents don’t really want biofuels to exist without subsidies, they want biofuels to go away.


Palo Alto the concept, San Diego the genes, DC the money, but build next to the feedstock.

Partner early and often. Things go better with Koch.

People are interested in their opportunity, not your opportunity.

People never exaggerate so much as after a pilot, during a conference, or prior to a cap raisePetrochemical companies are filled with very smart, often very frustrated people.

Pick a VC who knows more than you do.

Plan like a skeptic, build like a miser, imagine like a child.

Plants have had 500 million years to learn how to protect their sugars.

Prepare for the worst. It’s coming.

Pressure makes the world go ‘round, the world go ‘round, the world go ‘round


Seek truth, seek wisdom, and above all seek hydrogen.

Sell a problem, only that will bring people to your product

Sing the scale with me: “DOE spray me fast a lot of dough”

Smart people follow fuel prices, smarter people follow fish meal prices

Solve one very big problem and partner for everything else.

Somebody didn’t tell you something important.

Someone else is doing it too.

Someone in the oil industry is laughing right now at your concept of scale.

Standing between you and all the riches of the world is “Infrastructure change”.

Success begins with the letter $.


That fourth law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Law of the Conservation of Experts, states that everything will be described as thermodynamically impossible until you pay me enough to state otherwise.

The autobahn of excess leads to the palace of restructuring.

The bad news with jatropha is that no one has ever domesticated it.   The good news with jatropha is that no one has ever domesticated it.

The biggest pop singles of 1969 and 1970 were “Sugar, Sugar” and “I Think I Love You” – we agree.

The deepest mystery in life may be the innermost workings inside a million liter fermenter.

The devil is in the demo.

The funny thing about Stealth is that no on notices you until it’s too late, for you

The genome is the mother of all opportunity.

The key word in seaweed is weed.

The only limitation on the power of propaganda is the rate at which people fall for it.

The only spreadsheet color is rosy.

The rat in your nest is your rate

The replacement of the fuel supply by industrialized nations is the biggest commercial thing that will ever be done. You can’t meet enough people. Network like crazy.

The Road from Trash to Cash is Littered with Cash-to-Trash

The road to Hell is paved with compelling spreadsheets.

The scariest 60 seconds in all of biotechnology is the pretreatment.

The secret lies in crushing the timeline.

The secret of life is in Tom Sawyer, that is, getting everyone to paint the fence for you

The sun doesn’t like free-riders – beware.

The thief is the one who says everyone is stealing.

The trash can is filled with really great ways to make $1 per gallon fuel.

The trick with offtake contracts is the term, not the terms.

The problem with partners is they step on your toes just as you’re having such a great dance.

The winner is the one who mastered the value chain, not the use case

The world is stranger than a lab.

The world will only be changed by ideas that make money for someone

There are no shortcuts to the top, but there is strain engineering

There are lies, damned lies, and scale-up projections.

There are the Knowns, and the Known Unknowns, and then there is the Strategic Investor going through a Management Shakeup

There are very few successful fuel producers for very good reasons.

There is no green premium, just a green pillory you get to sit in once in a while.

There is no patent on folly, it is in the public domain and used all too frequently.

There is not a food shortage, there is an income distribution problem.

There is nothing new under the sun, but there are always new things inside of it.

There isn’t enough fresh water for anything, much less everything.

There’s too much oxygen in your bio-oil.

Think about how many cattle or fish or people there are to eat all the protein you will be producing at scale.

Think twice about getting the upper hand over a Brazilian.

This Magic Microbe / So Different and So New / Someone is Stealing right now / Out from Under You

Thou that first reacheth oil price parity and hath unlimited affordable feedstock shall inheriteth the earth.

Thrilling, your magic algae, until a grazer eats it

To every presentation on a biofuels investment opportunity, bring a copy of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

To everything there is a skeptic.

Tolerance in all things, but above all tolerate salt.

To the connected go the spoils, you have to network like crazy

Too many companies are joined at the hype.

Too many companies are Upside Down companies, where the CEO does the entry-level work through lack of trust and the entry-level workers make the big strategic decisions by deciding what they will care about

Trade secrets will not stay that way.

Treat nitrogen and phosphorus as if they are gold and silver.

Try explaining “food vs fuel” to the horse you’re riding around on.


Use someone else’s everything wherever possible.


Values drive habits, habits drive actions, actions change the world. So if you want to change the world, start with values.

Value, like Kurtz, is found upstream

Vocês serão mais felizes se você compreender o que isto diz


Waste makes haste

We were for fuels until there were chemicals, and for algae until there was natural gas, for jet fuel until there were fragrances, and for CNG until there were skin creams. We were for enzymes until there were gasifiers, and we were for corn sugars until there were cane sugars, and we were for cellulosic sugars until there were gas streams. We were for biomass until there was fracking, fuel cells until there was Tesla, feed without the fish until there was meat without the cow. And what really annoys those of us who’ve been around in this sector is the lack of policy stability.

What this world needs is a good five-cent sugar.

What is unsustainable will not be sustained unless it’s from Texas.

Whup me, beat me, sadly mistreat me, I will never reveal my catalyst

What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar, and a good 5-cent sugar, and is going to get neither.

What’s a renewable chemical? It’s a biofuel trying to raise a Series C venture round.

Why make a $2 fuel instead of a $5 chemical? With a $2 fuel, you can make both.

Write nothing to anyone that you would not feel comfortable seeing on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.


You are attacking someone else’s business model and livelihood. Don’t complain when they try and send you to the devil.

You are not the first one to discover the opportunities in Africa.

You are the CEO of a corporation called “you”.

You better figure out where the phosphorus is coming from.

You cannot think too small.

You need speed. There is nothing more important than a rate of fermentation.

You never know until you know, and then unfortunately you know.

You think you are developing a technology, but you really are building a company

You will make more friends downstream by making substitute fuels, not alternative fuels.

You will never have enough affordable hydrogen.

You will never have a business until you can compete on price.

Your magic bug is excreting something because it does not like it.

Your microorganism has no idea what you are doing.

Your true competitors are beef and cheese.

You can think win-win, but did Genghis Khan?

You can never have too much hydrogen.

Your customer is an engine – research it.

Your enemy is entropy.

Your microbe didn’t read the company prospectus


99.999% of the planet’s people have no idea who you are, or why you matter, and won’t.

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