Paul Roessler, the chief scientific officer at Algenol Biofuels, talks with the Business Review about his job and quest to find a competitive alternative to oil.
Title: Chief Scientific Officer
Company: Algenol Biofuels
Headquarters: Bonita Springs
Challenge: Commercialize the production of ethanol from algae for less than $1 a gallon.
Education: M.S. degree in plant physiology from Michigan State University and Ph.D. in biology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Hometown: Evansville, Ind.
First job: “My first job was as a caddy, and I had no idea what I was doing,” Roessler laughs. He was 14.
Love of science: “I had a professor who made the subject interesting,” Roessler says.
Roessler started research on the subject of plant-based energy at the Solar Research Institute starting in 1980, where he worked on hydrogen production from algae. His Ph.D. from the University in Colorado in 1987 focused on making oil-based fuels from algae.
Working for Craig Venter
Most recently, Roessler was vice president of renewable fuels and chemicals at Synthetic Genomics, a company founded and led by Craig Venter, the celebrated scientist who sequenced the human genome in 2001. At Synthetic Genomics, Roessler led a program to develop renewable fuels and chemicals from algae. About Venter, Roessler says: “He thinks big and he pushes you more.”
On Paul Woods, chairman, founder, CEO and president of Algenol: “Paul's an energetic guy. He pushes for success,” Roessler says. “He's fairly outspoken. He's got a clear vision on where he's taking the company.”
Roessler says his top scientific challenge at Algenol is to develop the commercial viability of producing ethanol from algae. That includes minimizing the production and capital costs while boosting the longevity and productivity of the algae in a pilot refinery under construction in Fort Myers.
Roessler says he's motivated by the fact that he's seeking alternatives to oil. “We're fooling ourselves if we think petroleum will be here forever,” he says. “It gives me some feeling that I'm doing something good for the world. It's definitely big stuff.”
Roessler oversees a large staff of researchers, including 55 in Florida and 40 at Algenol's office in Berlin.
Key to recruiting top scientists
“Scientists are motivated by discovery,” Roessler says. “They want to find out things that weren't previously known. The key is to keep that aspect of discovery alive.”
Roessler moved to Bonita Springs with his wife, Marty Roessler, in April. Marty Roessler has a Ph.D. in zoology and studies amphibians. The Roesslers have two daughters and one son. “I want to get back to scuba diving,” Roessler says. “I can't wait to get back to the Keys.”