University of California, Riverside

Center for Environmental Research & Technology



Researcher Charles Cai Featured in Forbes 30 under 30


Researcher Charles Cai Featured in Forbes 30 under 30

January 25, 2017

Charles CaiCE-CERT Assistant Research Faculty Charles Cai was recently named as one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 for his research accomplishments in sustainable energy.

Forbes is an American bi-weekly business publication that features articles on topics such as business, investing, marketing, technology, and leadership. There are currently 16 international editions of the magazine, which is known for its lists and rankings. The annual 30 Under 30 list honors 30 game changers in 20 industries such as Art & Style, Consumer Tech, Education, Enterprise Tech, Science, and Entertainment (see full list here). Placement on this list is a highly competitive process, with over 15,000 nominations for 600 spots, resulting an acceptance rate of 4%.

Charles describes himself as an avid environmentalist and science junkie, and attributes his keen interest in environmental start-ups to his early years in the Bay area, with its young and vigorous entrepreneurial culture.  His early experience includes employment with Marrone Bio Innovations and Amyris – both high profile environmentally-conscious success stories. While pursuing his PhD in Chemical and Environmental Engineering, he invented an award-winning technology, called CELF, which works by converting all kinds of plant biomass into liquid fuels in a single step using only renewable chemicals. Cai later co-founded MG Fuels with Michael Gurin of CogniTek to commercialize this process, which will make the replacement of petroleum-based fuels with biofuels a more viable alternative through the lowering of production costs.

Given his interest in environmental causes, it should be no surprise that Dr. Cai was also the driving force behind CE-CERT’s 2016 entry into the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition. The winner of the competition will be awarded a $100 million grant to fund research that promises real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time (https://www.macfound.org/programs/100change/).  The CELF technology, with its potential produce cost effective biofuels from local community resources, was a natural fit for both the competition and for Dr. Cai’s research philosophy.

He states, “I believe in spending money to deploy long-lasting solutions that address the root cause of a major issue. Humanity’s greatest issue is energy scarcity, affecting almost 20% of the world’s population. Without affordable and sustainable power, access to clean drinking water, modern medical treatment, food refrigeration, and quality education is impossible. Providing impoverished communities with a one-time investment of a community-based energy solution that converts local plant waste to fuel for power can result in transformational change.”

Judging for the 100&Change competition is currently underway (see CE-CERT's competition entry video here).


In addition to his work as an assistant research faculty member, Charles is currently an assistant adjunct professor for the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of California Riverside, and the Chief Technology Officer for MG Fuels.

For information on other UCR alumni featured in this year's Forbes 30 Under 30, please click here.

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