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Celebrating the Legacy of Bioenergy Director Lt. Col. William C. Holmberg

By Jonathan Male, Director of the Bioenergy Technologies Office

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) recognizes the foundational accomplishments of retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel William C. Holmberg, the founding director of DOE bioenergy efforts and a titan of the bioenergy industry. Mr. Holmberg, known to his friends as Bill, passed away in September at the age of 88.

During the Carter Administration, Bill Holmberg was appointed as the founding director of BETO—then known as the Office of Alcohol Fuels. Not only was he a champion of rural farming communities, but he drove home the idea that biofuels can provide energy security as a homegrown energy resource. Sustainable, domestic feedstock production for bioenergy has since become a major focus for BETO; in conjunction with Oak Ridge National Laboratory), BETO released volume 1 of the 2016 Billion-Ton Report this summer, confirming that the United States has the potential to sustainably produce at least 1 billion dry tons of non-food biomass resources annually by 2040. 

Bill Holmberg was also the pioneer of the term “bioeconomy,” driving the concept to be the base of global sustainable agriculture. His vision has gone mainstream and is now the focus of an inter-agency collaboration, including BETO, to triple the size of today’s bioeconomy by 2030. After his departure from the office, Holmberg received DOE’s Biomass Energy Program Distinguished Service Award for his leadership and dedication to advancing BETO’s mission.

Bill Holmberg worked tirelessly to expand stakeholder and Congressional support for biofuels and the bioeconomy. After “retiring” from DOE, he wore many hats to increase credibility and interest in the industry. Bill Holmberg served as a an aide for Senator Bill Nelson of Nebraska, united different biofuels interest groups through chairmanship of the Biomass Coordinating Council of the American Council on Renewable Energy, and developed a platform for congressional support of renewable energy and energy efficiency as a founding member of the Sustainable Energy Coalition. He also was a long-standing key member of the organizing committee of the Environmental and Clean Energy Inaugural Ball. 

Bill Holmberg was an ardent advocate for any initiative he felt passionate about, including the defense of our country. An alumnus of the United States Naval Academy Class of 1951 and a decorated Marine (Navy Cross, Silver Star), Bill Holmberg served in the U.S. military for 21 years and was a veteran of the Korean War. 

Over the past three years that I have been fortunate enough to be the Director of the Bioenergy Technologies Office, I have seen the ripples of Holmberg’s impact on the industry: the advancement of the Federal Bioeconomy Initiative, the opening of the nation’s first cellulosic ethanol biorefineries, a strong partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense to produce renewable jet and diesel fuels for the military fleet through the Defense Production Act, and the growth of a nascent bioenergy and bioproducts industry. Bill Holmberg understood the importance of bioenergy in growing our nation’s energy future, and the force of his eternal optimism of reaching a thriving bioeconomy is still felt within the halls of BETO and on Capitol Hill to this day. Bill Holmberg was a giant that led the way in bioenergy.