STEPHEN F. JOHNSON '02 calls himself an "eco-entrepreneur" with an emphasis on the last four syllables. Finances are his specialty, but a commitment to sustainable energy has him working toward the development of synthetic fuel.
Johnson is founder and president of American Clean Coal Fuels, a Portland company that plans to develop fuels for the transportation industry. The company's flagship project is the building of a large-scale production facility in Oakland, Illinois, to convert coal and biomass to ultra-clean jet and diesel fuel. The company is using a proven process, he says, that in addition to coal, processes materials such as garbage and switchgrass.
Johnson's intention is to be "the first producer in the United States, if not the world," of carbon neutral fuel. Carbon dioxide emitted by use of the fuel is totally offset-maybe more than offset-by the CO2 removed from the air during the fuel's production process.
"I use every, single thing I learned in college every day in trying to put this project together," says Johnson, who majored in finance at PSU. He also credits being home-schooled since third grade, and becoming an Eagle Scout, with instilling in him confidence and independence.
He began taking colleges courses at Portland Community College when he was 14, and had an early interest in computers. "But I fell in love with the stock market, and switched to business finance and went over to Portland State," he says.
"When I was 18, I began managing my own money; I found I had a talent for it," says Johnson. After graduating at 20, he had learned enough to start his own hedge fund, Stonebridge Asset Management, where he was able to earn his investors a 300 percent return in three-and-a-half years.
"We had investments all over the place, but more and more were focused on energy." He realized that what the economy needs is clean transportation fuels, and that he was capable of starting an investor-owned company that could help deliver them.
Fortunately, another of his traits is patience: The required permitting and construction process means the Illinois production facility won't produce its first drop of fuel until late 2012.
By Cliff Collins