Virent Moves Biofuels Closer to Market as New CEO Takes Over
by Judy Newman (Wisconsin State Journal) If Madison-based Virent‘s biofuels are going to fill the tanks of cars and airplanes, it will be up to Stacey Orlandi to drive the company there.
Orlandi, 45, took over as chief executive of Virent, 3571 Anderson St., in April, succeeding Lee Edwards, a former CEO of BP Solar, who retired after leading Virent for the past eight years.
“It’s an exciting time to join a company that’s got a long history, and to take it to the next step of commercializing the technology,” Orlandi said.
Virent’s BioForming process, whose roots came from UW-Madison research by Randy Cortright and James Dumesic, can turn waste agriculture products, such as corn cobs and stalks, into fuel that has the same chemical makeup as gasoline or jet fuel and can be used as a substitute for the petroleum products.
BioForming also is used to manufacture chemicals that are the basis for producing polyester fabrics and recyclable plastics, currently made from petroleum.
The technology is in its final stages of development, Orlandi said. “We still have a couple of milestones to hit, in terms of performance. … Our technology can produce a product very similar to what an oil refinery today also produces.”
A native of North Carolina’s mountain country, Orlandi has worked in the energy industry for about 20 years, including management positions at Royal Dutch Shell and BP. She has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from North Carolina State University.
At Shell, she was a vice president in the field of new energy and technology.
“We don’t talk about specific timelines, but it’s safe to say that it is finally in the demonstration stage. We may be able to progress into early stages of the design phase in the next one to two years,” Orlandi said.
“In general, when you have a novel process technology, from the time where we are now until we actually have a plant built and product coming off that plant, we could still be four to five years away from that,” she said.
As for whether the first plant will make renewable fuels or chemicals for plastics, she said it could be designed for either or both. “We’ll make that choice as it gets closer, based on where we think the highest (profit) margin is.”