After stepping down as the founding CEO of San Diego’s Sapphire Energy, Jason Pyle tells me he’s accomplished a number of key initiatives at the algae-based biofuels startup, and basically that it’s time to move on.
His departure surprised me. Founding CEOs don’t often walk away from startups that have amassed a $1 billion valuation and that have drawn nationwide attention for developing potentially transformational technology. But Pyle says it was no surprise internally, where plans for the changeover have been underway for the past six months or more.
“From my perspective, this is essentially a positive thing for me and it should be for the company,” Pyle says. “I feel like I’ve done what I came here to accomplish.” The former Sapphire CEO also says he’s been emphasizing the critical importance of reducing U.S. dependence on imported oil in meetings with top government officials. In the statement the company issued last week, Pyle says he’s moving on to his “next endeavor.”
“There’s probably never a perfect time to do it, but you try to come up with the best time for everybody and work out the details,” Pyle says. He tells me he’s “deeply involved with a new enterprise that’s in stealth mode” and that a large part of the work is being done in San Diego. But he was unwilling to say anything more.
Succeeding Pyle as CEO is Cynthia “C.J.” Warner, who was recruited to serve as Sapphire’s president and chairman three years ago from her post as group vice president of global refining for BP. Warner has spent more than 27 years in petroleum-based crude oil refining, transportation, and operations, and she is taking over as the company focuses on its near-term goal—of producing green crude oil from algae that is consistently and reliably comparable to petroleum.
“The next two to three years of the company’s existence is going to be built around the commercial demonstration facility” under construction in Luna County, New Mexico, Pyle says.
Warner’s expertise is in refining processes and production. In an interview last October, Warner said, “all the first principles [about making crude oil from algae] have actually been proved out. So we don’t have any lurking issue that we simply don’t know how to deal with. Now what it really is all about is scale-up.”
Pyle, in contrast, describes … Next Page »
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