A reflection on past 7 years of headlines from The Digest’s Managing Editor : Biofuels Digest | #teacher | #children | #kids | #sextrafficing | #childsaftey


 

‘Be the best version of yourself’ – It’s great advice and I’ve tried to live it during my 7 years with The Digest. Since 2016, I’ve been honored to work with Jim Lane and his team as Managing Editor and Writer – synthesizing thousands of press releases and news, conducting fascinating interviews with CEOs, scientists and other leaders in the biofuels industry, writing over 2,500 Digest articles including over 400 top stories and proofreading thousands more, and speaking on the ABLC stage amazed at how far we’ve come in innovating more sustainable ways to live in this world. I focused on facts while trying to incorporate humor and superheroes (and more Marvel, Harry Potter, Kermit the Frog, and poop references than I ever thought possible).

In today’s Digest, as my journey shifts to teaching, I reflect on what I think the most underrated stories were, the craziest ones, the most surprising popular ones, the stories I was sure would be popular but, well…weren’t, my favorite pop culture references, headlines and images, and more.

My first top story

I started writing for The Digest in 2016 but my first official published article with my byline came in 2017 with Whisky in the Jar, Whisky in Your Car – First Ever Test Drive on Whisky Biofuel. My friends and family thought it was appropriate that my first byline was an article about whiskey and biofuel…I was fascinated about biofuels of all kinds and had some lovely aged whiskey homemade by my grandfather reserved for special occasions, so the combination seemed perfect.

Most underrated stories

Do you ever write something you think is fantastic, full of important news and EVERYONE was going to devour it? Like when you turn in a paper thinking you will get an “A” but the teacher gives it back to you with a “C-”? Yeah, I had a few like that over the past few years. Here are 3 top stories I thought would get more attention than they did:

  1. I was so confident this story would get more attention. I mean, the launching of the AlphaFold Protein Structure Database offers the most complete and accurate picture of the human proteome to date, more than doubling humanity’s accumulated knowledge of high-accuracy human protein structures. That is just incredible! But I guess not many people found it as groundbreaking and full of possibilities as I did. Check out “Building Blocks of Life – DeepMind to release shape database of every protein known to science” here.
  2. I really thought this top story from last year was going to get more attention than it did. And not because the headline image was of John Travolta in the 1970’s disco dancing but because of what this article dove into – the proposed New Mexico Clean Fuel Standard, the counterpoints to the California LCFS report, the charts, the graphs, the data, the analysis and commentary from leaders in the industry. Check out New Mexico Clean Fuel Standard proposed, Counterpoints to CA LCFS report here.
  3. This top story from summer 2021 surprisingly didn’t get as many reads as I thought it would considering it was such a heartbreak for biofuel producers and dove into the SCOTUS decision details, reactions and more. Check out “SCOTUS biofuel waiver decision – What it means, the good news, reactions, why it isn’t over yet” here.

Surprised it got so many clicks

Here are 3 of my most clicked on articles that I never expected to get so many reads, but apparently you, the Digesterati, found worthy.

  1. “U.S. Army gets super strong spider silk bulletproof panels” – I see the appeal. U.S. military and spider silk that is stronger than steel conjures images of our military finest as superheroes like Superman, the man of steel, and Spiderman of course, but I was still surprised it was one of my most read pieces considering the narrow topic.
  2. “Marine biodegradable plastics offer hope for oceans and waterways” – The environmentalist side of me was happy to see this get so many readers but it was surprising since it wasn’t strictly biofuels focused.
  3. “The Golden Cow – Is India the place to be for biofuels?” – Ok this one shouldn’t have surprised me as it had to do with biofuels, a core interest of our readership, but I wasn’t sure if a geographic specific article like this would get much attention, yet it did!

Most clever headlines

Here are some of my favorite headlines over the years.

  1. “Rockin’ the cassava: The Shareef don’t like it but Nigeria does” – As a child of the 1980s, The Clash was one of my favorite bands as a kid. Decades later, I still sing their lyrics when random phrases remind me of one of their songs. So it was only natural I create this headline in their honor.
  2. “Marine BioEnergy going to great lengths to kelp the environment” – How can you not love this one?! Help the environment…kelp the environment…I laughed for days with this one. My family thinks I’m insane but I laughed out loud again today…over 5 years later.
  3. “Cows and Cannabinoids: Aemetis’ dairy digestor biogas, Hyasynth’s yeast-based cannabinoids” – Both cows and cannabinoids were really hot at the time and this was a fun one to research and write. Plus a great excuse to create an image of a cow smokin’ a joint.
  4. “Udderlessly Amazing – Perfect Day raises $350M, prepares for IPO, launches cheese category” – I mean, come on…”udderlessly amazing” for an article about a company that creates milk proteins without the cow.

Dumbest headlines

Here are a few headlines that seemed clever at the time, but now looking back seem silly. I should have known when they resulted in eye rolls from my family.

  1. “Finland looks to “Finnish” first in biofuels”
  2. “Velocys picks up velocity while rockin’ with red rock”
  3. “Nest egg + Renewables help protect Neste in 2020 – Even with COVID-19 uncertainty, Neste hits renewables production record”

Best image

Creating the banner images for top stories is often one of the most challenging parts for me as I’m a writer, not a graphic artist. But this pushed me outside my comfort zone and allowed me to experiment with creativity in a different way, and for that I’m thankful. Here are a few of my favorite top story images.

  1. “HERO BX – Even kryptonite can’t stop the largest biodiesel producer in the Eastern U.S. from getting stronger and bigger” – Superimposing HERO BX Founder & CEO Samuel P. “Pat” Black, III on a superhero body, it can’t get better than that!
  2. “Quest fulfilled? Holy Grail found? 40% crop yield increase really possible?” – In reference to Monty Python’s movie, “Holy Grail”, I had so much fun making this image and hope it gave others a chuckle.
  3. “Avantium Avengers – Avantium secures $27.5M funding for FDCA flagship plant” – This was another fun one to create. Superimposing Avantium’s FDCA bottles in Iron Man’s outstretched hands in the middle of a battle just seemed right.

Most pop culture references

Biofuels tie in with everything in our world, so it seemed natural to integrate our world into biofuels stories whenever it made sense. And even sometimes when it didn’t make sense but we all needed a bit of levity and laughter. The list is long and multi-generational pop culture was covered.

Marvel and superheroes

There were a lot of Marvel and super hero references but here are some of my favorites:

  1. “Captain Canola – Yield10 Biosciences one step closer to canola feedstock superhero”
  2. “Fighting Fraud with Tech – RSB, Bioledger build up blockchain for biofuels traceability”
  3. “Avantium Avengers – Avantium secures $27.5M funding for FDCA flagship plant”

Musicians and Bands

  1. “Deere and Cargill say “Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto” – Artificial intelligence infiltrating agriculture and farming” (Styx)
  2. “Commonwealth countries get knocked down, but get up again” (Chumbawamba)
  3. “Switching to switchgrass – will DOE and USDA funding turn switchgrass into a Rockstar biofuel feedstock?” (AC/DC)

Movies and TV shows

  1. “Professor Snape and partners create magic with first Hydrothermal Carbonization plant in UK” – No writer is complete without at least one Harry Potter reference.
  2. “Genomatica Magica – $90 Million Financing, Commercialized Technologies, Biobased Nylon” – Oh wait, I had another Harry Potter reference.
  3. “EPA Strikes Icy Blow to Ag & Biofuels: 31 waivers hit heart of American farmers and biofuels” – Word of the second Frozen movie came out around this time and since I just couldn’t stop singing “Do you wanna build a snowman?” even years later, this just came naturally.

I also referenced Dirty Dancing and Godzilla, and Wizard of Oz – twice. From the older Bonanza show and The Jeffersons, Mr. Rogers, Cheech & Chong to more recent The Office, there was a spattering of TV show references. I am surprised I never referenced Stranger Things though.

Cartoon Characters and Puppets

Sometimes I still feel like a kid when I watch shows like Sesame Street and The Muppets. My “It’s not easy being green” buddy Kermit the Frog made an appearance in The Digest a few times, with “Delta commits $1B to become world’s 1st carbon neutral airline” and with “Cummins, Sinopec, Oberon Fuels and more – The latest green hydrogen initiatives from power-to-hydrogen, methane, DME”.

I also brought in the Cookie Monster with “Water-based tech converts biomass into food ingredients – Renmatix and Cargill sign Joint Development Agreement” and when folks were angry, of course Angry Birds seemed appropriate for “EPA’s proposed RFS biofuel volumes for 2020 being slammed by biofuel industry”.

I even managed to find a way to bring in toys like Barbie and Transformers into bioeconomy articles, which was easier than you think given the evolution of plastics and bioplastics in the toy industry.

The one thing I never expected was to do an image and headline related to Dabbing, but that one just fell in my lap. I mean, with a company name like “DAB.bio” making news with their turbocharged fermenter that reduced biomanufacturing costs by 50%, how could I resist?

Most vulgar

Ok, my family and friends know I’m not always the most prim and proper person in the room, so it doesn’t surprise them that I wrote so many articles about poop, liquor, and farting unicorns…yes, really, farting unicorns. But here are some of my favorite ‘unrefined’ stories.

  1. “Poop to plastic and biofuel, innovators put crap to good use” – One of my early articles with The Digest from back in 2017, complete with a poop emoji, which to my defense was extremely popular at the time!
  2. “Poop to Power – $30-40M Anaerobic digestion RNG deal between Bioenergy DevCo and Cheseapeake Utilities” – Here I went from poop to plastic to now poop to power.
  3. “Chicken and Cow Champions – Chevron, bp dive into poultry poop and dairy doodoo for RNG” – Apparently writing ‘poop’ was no longer good enough for me and I had to add ‘doodoo’ to my list.

I guess I really like to write about feces. And gas. A rainbow-farting unicorn and references to eating too many burritos? Yes, I did go there in “Biogas projects popping up everywhere – are they the magical solution we’ve been looking for?”. 

Most memorable/historical

One of the most memorable articles for me was when Texas froze over – I never thought that would happen in my lifetime, but it did. 2021 was supposed to be better than 2020, but it sure had some twists and turns we didn’t expect.

But 2020 was probably my most memorable writing year. The pandemic turned the world upside down including the ethanol industry and these will be proof to my future grandkids that I survived the ‘Rona Cyclona, that there really was a toilet paper shortage, that biofuels and biomaterial companies stepped up and helped with vaccines, hand sanitizer and some like White Dog Labs even switched from ethanol to protein production, during a global historical event. It really amazed me seeing how quickly and adaptable the biofuel industry was in 2020 and this article on how the industry pivoted rom biofuel to hand sanitizer during a public emergency, made me proud to work in this industry.

Thank you

As I move onto my next adventure, which some think I’m crazy for venturing into (teaching public middle school Career & Technical Education classes), I have many to thank.

First, I thank each and every one of you for reading my articles through the years, sending me thoughtful emails when something I wrote particularly moved you, and sending me kind emails when I made a mistake so that I can fix it (because we are all human).

I couldn’t have done any of this without my family and their incredible support – when I was unsure about a headline or story, I often would run it by them first to get their honest feedback, because I knew they’d tell me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

I also can’t thank Jim Lane and Flavia enough for their continuous support and the wonderful opportunities they have given me over the past 7 years to pursue my passion of writing and biofuels. They are making a positive difference in this world and I often told my kids “I want to be like them when I grow up” because really, we should all strive to have the knowledge, passion, and impact for change that they do.

In fact, Jim was one of several people who inspired me to go into teaching because while my passion is writing and biofuels, I felt the need to make more of an impact in the world. And what better way than to inspire the next generation to become thinkers and innovators for a better tomorrow.

One of my favorite writers, Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I hope that I have left you all with some laughter, smiles, thought-provoking articles, and most importantly hope for the future.

And as Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” So be the best version of you there is and the rest will follow.



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