As executive vice president of Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies, Gerson Santos-Leon has spent more than 10 years driving cellulosic ethanol’s transformation into a viable, successful and effective commercial product. In February, the Renewable Fuels Association recognized Santos-Leon’s role as a pioneer and his enormous contributions to the industry by awarding him the prestigious RFA 2014 Industry Award.
Santos-Leon was laying the groundwork for a biofuel future long before his arrival at Abengoa.
At the U.S. Department of Energy, he led the Biofuels Program and established many of the scientific and strategic touchstones that companies like Abengoa use today to advance and guide bioenergy initiatives. He pushed the U.S. government to invest in cellulosic biofuel and the technologies required to make processing more cost-effective, understanding that non-food energy crops would play a critical role in a sustainable future.
He has seen this vision become a reality while overseeing the development of Abengoa’s first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kan. The 385-acre site will produce 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year. In seeking support from the USDA Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), Santos-Leon helped Abengoa establish 20,000 acres of switchgrass, which delivers significantly more energy return than corn, as a local feedstock. As part of Abengoa’s think-local approach, BCAP will reimburse 75% of the costs required to plant the crop and provide five years of maintenance to local farmers.
With the launch of the Kansas plant, Santos-Leon continues to drive a new era of innovation across the biofuel industry. With his support, Abengoa is researching new sources of energy, including certain strains of algae blooms that can be cultivated on a large scale to create biofuel. Like Abengoa, Santos-Leon’s vision is far-reaching, but locally focused; we both continue to invest in transforming innovations into commercial realities as we look toward a world of clean energy and sustainability that draws closer every day.