BP is certainly an incubator of green people, if not green technologies. "Alternative energy seems to be a pretty well-worn exit for the really thoughtful BP exec," says Biofuels Digest's Jim Lane.
Lee Edwards, a 25-year BP veteran who was once in charge of the company's solar business, left in 2009 to join Virent Energy Systems, which makes high-octane advanced biofuels, such as jet fuel from sugar water. At BP, he says, "we were on the front edge," but with a small company "you can see the personal impact." Another BP longtimer, Janet Roemer is now EVP at Verenium, a biofuels and enzymes company. "A lot of smaller companies had great science but had come to a point in their existence where they needed that experience and leadership," she says. For K'Lynne Johnson, now CEO of Elevance Renewable Sciences, focusing on natural alternatives to petrochemicals "aligns both what I love to do in business with a personal value — sustainability."
Other BP émigrés to small green tech: John Melo, CEO of Amyris, which is working on synthetic fuels and a malaria treatment; Mark Niederschulte, COO of Ineos Bio, which gasifies biomass and converts it to bioethanol; and Rick Wilson, CEO of Cobalt Technologies, which makes biobutanol from feedstock. Says Warner: "It makes me pleased, proud, and energized that so many of us have chosen to become green entrepreneurs."
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.