Clean technology is a dynamic sector, with new innovators, particularly among women, making their mark in a traditionally male-dominated field. In this occasional series, we shine the spotlight on the most savvy and accomplished women pioneers in cleantech and sustainability. Some are building their own startups, others are climbing the ranks of high-profile companies, and still others are investors. Whether they are on the front lines or behind the scenes, they inspire us to keep striving forward, to break the glass ceiling, and change how the world lives.

Virginia Klausmeier, CEO, Sylvatex

Quite possibly the youngest CEO in the biofuel/green chemistry industry, Virginia Klausmeier has spent the past five years developing the Sylvatex fuel technology with her late father, Dr. William Klausmeier. Sylvatex is currently commercializing a proprietary renewable fuel for the U.S. diesel and biodiesel markets. The company has won numerous awards at industry conferences and venture funding competitions, including Silicon Valley LAUNCH and PortTechLA, as well as funding and support through San Francisco’s Greenstart accelerator program. 

Kef Kasdin, CEO, Proterro BioFuels

Kef Kasdin is CEO of Proterro, a venture-backed startup in Princeton, New Jersey. The firm develops non-plant-based, non-cellulosic, fermentation-ready sugar feedstock, which which looks to enable the economical and scalable production of biofuels and chemicals. The company, which is transitioning from discovery to the engineering phase, has functioning prototype sucrose-producing organisms and a working model bioreactor system. Proterro’s Protose sugar aims to be a sustainable, inexpensive, geoflexible, feedstock that can be used to produce a variety of commercial-scale fuels and chemicals through standard industrial fermentation methods. Before Proterro, Kef spent nine years at 3Com, including managing a $1 billion division. She also spent 10 years as venture capitalist, and is general partner/co-founder of Battelle Ventures and affiliate Innovation Valley Partners.

Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones, CEO and Co-Founder, LiveFuels

Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones leads strategic planning and corporate development for LiveFuels, a company with the goal of developing the most efficient and scalable algae-based biofuel process. She has also specialized in biotechnology investing since 1990. After learning about turning algae and animal waste into fuel, she started her own clean energy venture capital fund in 2004 and raised $10 million from the Quercus Trust and individual investors in 2007. To date, her company has established pilot operations across the U.S., generated extensive IP, and looks to produce an economically feasible and sustainable algal fuel.

K’Lynne Johnson, CEO, Elevance Renewable Sciences

K’Lynne Johnson is leading Illinois-based Elevance, with her 19 years of experience in the oil and petrochemicals industry (Amoco, BP and Innovene). The company is striving to be the first to successfully bridge the renewables and chemicals industries. With Nobel Prize-winning technology, the company transforms natural plant-based oils, like soybean, rapeseed (canola), palm, corn, or algae, into specialty high-performance, commercial products, such as advanced biofuels, detergents and cleaners, and personal care products.

Jennifer Case, Co-Founder and CEO, New Leaf Biofuel

In 2010, co-founder Jennifer Case took the helm at New Leaf Biofuel as CEO. She has helped grow the company to 24 employees and increase its customer base, including the U.S. Navy, the City of Chula Vista, Allied Waste, and dozens of other commercial and municipal fleets in Southern California. 

Pamela R. Contag, Ph.D., microbiologist, Founder of Xenogen Corp and Cobalt Biofuels

Pamela R. Contag, Ph.D., is a microbiologist and serial entrepreneur, having founded two biotech and two biofuel startups. She is the founder of Xenogen and Cobalt Biofuels, as well as the founder and CEO of Cygnet Biofuels and ConcentRX, a biotechnology company developing a unique cancer therapy. She founded Xenogen with two colleagues while at Stanford University, where they invented in vivo biophotonic imaging. Contag has filed a patent on a process she developed that utilizes algae to produce polysaccharides that can be converted to alcohol fuels or to biolipids, and then to biodiesel. Cobalt Technologies, located in Mountain View, Calif., is developing cleaner, more efficient renewable fuels, producing biobutanol from renewable feedstock. 

Cynthia (CJ) Warner, President, Sapphire Energy

Cynthia (C.J.) Warner joined Sapphire Energy in February 2009 as President. She brings more than 27 years of experience in the energy, refining and transportation industries. At Sapphire Energy, Warner is focused on moving the company from technology trials and research into commercial-scale crude oil operations with its algae-based crude oil. A chemical engineer by training and one of the very few senior women in the oil and gas industry, she served as an executive with energy industry giants British Petroleum, Amoco Oil Company and UOP. Warner is currently a member of the National Petroleum Council. 

Dr. Claire Kinlaw, Lead Product Development, TerViva BioEnergy

Claire is an MBA-trained scientist and currently Project Lead for TerViva BioEnergy, a startup commercializing the high oil seed tree pongamia in the U.S. as a feedstock for biodiesel refining. Pongamia pinnata is a nitrogen fixing tree native to India that grows on marginal soils. TerViva is working to commercialize this tree as a renewable source of diesel fuel, planting across the southern U.S. on pasturelands and other lands not used for food production. Dr. Kinlaw leads the R&D effort at the firm. Prior to joining TerViva in 2010, she developed commercial strategies for biotechnology startups and small businesses, negotiated and managed research and business agreements, directed the USDA Institute of Forest Genetics, and led life science research projects with a molecular genetics and genomic science focus. 

Nicole Kennard, Co-Founder and Former CEO, New Leaf Biofuel

Nicole Kennard founded New Leaf Biofuel in 2006 with four co-founders, with the aim to be the biggest provider of biodiesel in San Diego County -- trucking tons of used fryer grease from 900 area restaurants to New Leaf’s San Diego processing facility and converting it into B99 (99 percent biodiesel fuel), which is then purchased by government and business fleets across the county, such as Sun Diego Charter Co and C & D Towing, and the Regional Transportation Center, San Diego’s only alternative fueling station. She built the company to 10 employees with the capacity to produce 140,000 gallons of fuel a month. Kennard has a BA in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science from UC San Diego and an MS in Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis on Renewable Energy from San Diego State University. 

Susan B. Leschine, Founder and Chief Scientist, Qteros

Susan Leschine founded and was the Chief Scientist of SunEthanol, now Qteros. Currently, Dr. Leschine is a senior faculty member in the Microbiology Department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Dr. Leschine is an authority on the biology and diversity of cellulose-digesting microbes. Her research formed the basis for Qteros’ Q Microbe biodigesting technology.

Honorable Mention: Jana Spruce, Vice-President, Marketing and Product Development Specialist, SG Biofuels

SG Biofuels is a bioenergy crop company based in San Diego, CA, using breeding and biotechnology to produce elite hybrid seeds of jatropha. In her role as VP of Marketing and Product Development, Jana Spruce has over 15 years of experience in product development with startups, Fortune 500 companies, and the U.S. Department of Defense. Spruce holds a BS in Aerospace Engineering from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, CA, and an MBA from UCLA.


Lisa Ann Pinkerton is founder of Women In Cleantech & Sustainability, a group dedicated to the advancement of women in various environmental and technology sectors. She is also Founder and President of Technica Communications, where she handles marketing and public relations strategies for cleantech and biotech companies.