Remembering Eugene's Biofuels Man, Will Klausmeier

Author, Affiliation, Date: 
Marc Dadigan, Register-Guard, 12/25/08
Body: 

Will, we'll miss you and all your inspiring work toward our localized bio-fuels future. Will was also one of the co-organizers of our 2007 Lane County Relocalization Conference...

Chemist leaves legacy in both art and science

By Marc Dadigan

For The Register-Guard

Published: Dec 25, 2008 09:16AM

There’s always been something about William Klausmeier’s landscapes that captures the eye’s attention.

The subjects for his oil paintings — primarily tranquil Pacific Northwest vistas — belie a mysteriously kinetic style. The water of “Montana’s Glacier Lake” ripples electrically like purple springs suddenly uncoiled. The barks of his “Heceta Trees” swirl and eddy like the roiling currents of brown rapids. Giant boulders at “Devil’s Churn” are enveloped by their crevices like slender fingers grasping a stone.

“Something about his art just draws them in,” said Steve La Riccia, gallery coordinator at the New Zone Gallery where Klausmeier served as vice president. “Whenever we display his work outside, people would comment about it.”

Perhaps it was his special understanding of the precarious state of the environment that lent such effervescence to his artwork.

A chemist by trade, Klausmeier founded his own consulting firm, Sylzatex Biofuels, about 25 years ago. Traveling around the globe and working on projects for the World Bank and USAID, his scientific life centered on developing and evaluating energy sources less harmful to the land that served as his artistic inspiration.

The 61-year-old Klausmeier died Sunday evening just a month after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. A celebration of life will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at New Zone Gallery, 164 W. Broadway.

Those in Eugene who knew him are mourning the loss of a tireless environmental scientist and a generous contributor to the local arts community.

On Dec. 13, his wife and three adult children (Jessica, Virginia and Charlie) helped organize a party in his honor at New Zone, where an eclectic mix of artists, colleagues and relatives celebrated both aspects of his life work. The back gallery, which contained a collection of his art at the party, has been named the Klausmeier Room, La Riccia said.

“I’m not sure where my art and my science intersect,” Klausmeier said last Friday from his Eugene home where he lived with his wife, Linda Powel. “I just know I need both to be totally fulfilled.”

Klausmeier’s interest in biofuels blossomed while he was a graduate student in medicinal chemistry at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor during the oil embargo of 1977, he said.

“That’s when the bug bit me,” he said.

After a short stint doing “conventional” steroid and vitamin synthesis work, Klausmeier said he began working on biofuels, particularly sugar ethanol and later biomass-based fuels. Crisscrossing the globe for almost three decades, he was hired to evaluate and monitor projects in Honduras, El Salvador, Mali, Kenya and other South American and Asian countries. He and his family lived in Thailand for four years before moving to Eugene in 1992, Powel said.

“I was working a lot with the sugar industries, which were hit hard by the introduction of corn syrup,” he said. “We wanted to make them more profitable by using their byproducts for energy.”

At Lane Community College, where he taught chemistry for about seven years, he ran a program for which students developed biodiesel from leftover cafeteria cooking oil.

His last project, which he expected to be carried on in his absence, is the development of a low-emissions diesel fuel mixture that contains vegetable oil, water and ethanol.

“You can do a lot with waste,” he said. “I hope in the future we think about how we can utilize everything but the squeal, so to speak. That’s my major message.”

For most of his life, it was spreading this message that consumed his time. But he rediscovered his art during his last five years while being seduced by the scenery of the Pacific Northwest. He first developed his artistic side growing up in Wilmington, Del., where a nearby arts academy regularly held classes taught by famous painters.

“I lived in a very arts-wise town,” he said. “It’s just something I’ve always done. In a way, the painting has always complemented my science.”

In his “Menacing Oak,” a solemn tree’s barren limbs spread toward an ocher sunset like lonely tendrils. Even as time moves forward, it’s clear Klausmeier scientific and artistic legacy will, like the oak, remain rooted in Eugene for others to remember.

Marc Dadigan is a Eugene free-lance writer.

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