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Ken Field is the lead shareholder and chairman of Greenfield Specialty Alcohols Inc. (ANTHONY JENKINS FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Ken Field is the lead shareholder and chairman of Greenfield Specialty Alcohols Inc. (ANTHONY JENKINS FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

THE LUNCH

Ethanol producer Ken Field dreams of corn-based fuel Add to ...

Backed by the federal government’s Sustainable Technology Development Corp., Greenfield has developed and construction a demonstration version of an extruding technology for preparing straw, corn stover and other material to be processed into ethanol.

“The way we invented this is ingenious, and it is going to change the world. That’s why I’m so thrilled and so passionate about this industry,” he said.

The company is now talking to major multinationals about licensing the technology, which he believes will make cellulosic ethanol competitive with gasoline. All that is needed now, he said, is for North American auto makers to market vehicles that run on either ethanol and gasoline, as they do in Brazil.

Mr. Field is at heart a builder, rather than a manager.

A graduate of the University of Toronto and York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, he left real estate law as a young man to help build Bramalea into one of North America’s largest developers. When he left Bramalea in 1988, it had, over 20 years, been the best-performing stock on the Toronto Stock Exchange. A person who invested $1 in Bramalea in 1969 could have cashed out with $12,000 in 1989. (The company went bankrupt five years later after the 1990-91 recession sent real estate into a tailspin.)

He lets his managers run their various businesses, including an expanding industrial alcohol operation that has 70 per cent of the North American market and, among other products, supplies vodka to some very well known brands. (He can’t say who – they put a lot of money into their marketing.)

He and his four-person executive team based in Toronto are responsible for launching new ventures. That includes a compressed natural gas business that has a deal with TransCanada Corp. to take gas off its mainline in Nrthern Ontario, and then compress it and ship it by truck to industrial users. Now, Greenfield is using the gas to generate steam for Bruce Power nuclear station.

It’s no coincidence that he suggested we dine at Greenfield’s 14th-floor conference room, rather than a nearby restaurant. Before I arrived, he asked what type of food I preferred and promised a fine meal.

Greenfield employs its own chef at the Toronto Street headquarters, but Mr. Field insisted she is no luxury for overindulged corporate executives. The management team has lunch together in the same boardroom nearly every day. And at each meal, they generate ideas; test concepts with their incisive peers and ensure they are generally moving in sync.

“We don’t usually talk about the present; we talk about the future,” Mr. Field said. “To me, that interaction is critical team building.”

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CURRICULUM VITAE

 

PERSONAL

Age: 70. Born Nov. 17, 1943

Family: Three children, seven grandchildren

Education:Forest Hill Collegiate Institute, Toronto. University of Toronto, BA in economics; York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.


CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

After graduating from law school, he became the youngest director of United Trust.

At 27, became president and CEO of Bramalea Ltd., overseeing its dramatic growth in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1989, led a group of investors to form what became Greenfield Specialty Alcohols Inc. and its Greenfield Energy, which became a driving force in the booming ethanol business. Mr. Field was a founding member of Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, which lobbied successfully for federal and provincial support for the biofuels sector.

In 2001, he was named “entrepreneur of the year” by Ernst & Young.

In 2013, his company won the private business growth award in a competition run by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Grant Thornton LLP.

 

IN HIS OWN WORDS

On ethanol as an answer to global warming:

“When you dig up coal or oil or natural gas that’s been buried underground for millions of years, and then you burn it, you’re adding new [carbon dioxide] to the atmosphere. When you take ethanol that’s made from a corn kernel, that corn kernel took the CO2 that was already in the atmosphere.… It’s not the new CO2 that you get when you dig below the crust and take that out and put it into the atmosphere. I think that’s important.”

On the future growth of biofuels and opposition from the oil industry:

“There is enough biomass in North America to replace all the gasoline that’s being used now [with next-generation ethanol]. So if you were the oil industry, and you knew this was coming, what would you do?” They want to protect their monopoly over your gas tank. And it’s so well-funded, and so well organized in the public relations and government relations that they have a tremendous ability to get a message out. I have to sit back and I have to admire them.”

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