Brian Goodall grew up far from Los Angeles, in a British town called Letchworth. There, among a population of 30,000, his parents didn’t own a car, nor did any of his immediate neighbors.
Now an L.A.-area resident, the recently hired chief technology officer at OriginOil hopes to overhaul the automobile industry with algae-to-oil technology that could replace fossil fuels and cut down on carbon emissions.
“It’s a pain in the butt using public transportation,” Goodall said of another way to reduce carbon emissions. “If you can’t use the current infrastructure, you’re not in the fuel business, you’re in the infrastructure business.”
Goodall is the first person in his extended family to get a college education. He became interested in science at 10 while following the Soviet Union’s Sputnik satellite program. He later earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a doctorate in organometallic chemistry at the University of Bristol.
In 1974, after completing postdoctorate work at the University of Chicago, Goodall started as an educator at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. But after a year, he tired of the classroom.
“I wanted to work on things that would make a big impact – something that if it was successful, would become commercial,” he said.
Goodall moved to oil and petrochemical company Shell, where he worked on the invention of the Super High Activity Catalyst – which is crucial in manufacturing an estimated 40 percent of today’s polypropylene plastic.
“It spoiled me,” he said of the 1981 patent. “I tasted what success was like very early in my career. At first, when your technology takes off, it’s really exciting.”
Goodall moved into biofuels in order to return to the excitement of working on new technology. While he says converting algae to oil is doable, the main question for L.A.-based OriginOil is cost. Algae fuel is 10 times more expensive to produce than diesel.
“What everybody wants to do is make it cost-effective,” he said. “We’ve shown that you can go from algae to oil; it’s all a matter of cost.”
Goodall, 61, lives with his wife, Sabrina, in Huntington Beach. In his spare time, Goodall enjoys traveling – he is going on an African safari this month – and reading biographies of other inventors.
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