John Sheehan to join the Institute on the Environment

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MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (1/8/2009) -- Noted biofuels expert John Sheehan is joining the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment in February 2009. As the scientific program coordinator for biofuels and the global environment, Sheehan will pay special attention to the direct and indirect consequences of biofuels production on land use around the world.

Sheehan has 25 years of experience in chemical engineering, analysis and planning, including 14 years working with biomass technologies. Most recently, he served as vice president of strategy and sustainable development at LiveFuels Inc., a venture capital-funded startup based in California that focuses on algal fuels technology.

Prior to that, Sheehan spent nearly two decades with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, where he conducted pioneering work on system dynamic models for strategic and policy decision-making related to biofuels.

During that time, he led the Department of Energy’s assessment of its energy efficiency and renewable energy technology portfolio; conducted landmark studies of energy, air quality, greenhouse gas and soil impacts of stover-to-ethanol; oversaw multidisciplinary teams of scientists and engineers; and published numerous peer-reviewed articles on the gamut of energy and environmental topics.

“John has made numerous, fundamental contributions to our understanding of biofuels and other renewable energy technologies,” says Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment. “At the Institute, he’ll play a lead role in bringing together our research programs on global land use and biofuels technologies to answer some of the most critical energy policy questions we face today.”

Sheehan will work closely with the Institute and two of its signature programs—the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, and the Global Landscapes Initiative—linking research on global land use and biofuels. The University of Minnesota is one of just a few places in the world to have expertise in both areas.

“The high points of my career have been when I’ve been able to tackle some of the thorniest questions about the sustainability of biofuels—and I love the interdisciplinary nature of these questions,” says Sheehan. “Coming to Minnesota is the ultimate opportunity for me to work with a talented and interdisciplinary team on the most urgent questions facing biofuels.”

Moving forward, Sheehan will help guide the Institute and IREE’s research and development portfolio. He’ll draw on 20-plus years in the bioenergy research and development community, both in the private sector and government.

His work at the Institute will address and inform the global “food versus fuel” debate. While there has much rhetoric on this issue lately, few facts have been firmly established. With a world-class research institution and Minnesota’s “living laboratory” as the backdrop, Sheehan aims to change that.