Green Tech: Freddie Sarhan On How Sapphire Technologies Will Make An Important Positive Impact On The Environment
April 25, 2023
"There is never a one-size-fits-all solution, so be agile in innovation. While wind and solar technologies are both apt solutions for sustainable energy, they are intermittent based on seasons and cannot meet the high energy demand in the U.S. Therefore, a multipronged approach is necessary to solve the energy crisis. Renewable energy as well as alternative energy technologies like energy recovery systems can fill the energy gap left by wind and solar."
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Freddie Sarhan.
Freddie Sarhan is a highly skilled executive with expertise in sales management, business development, and global operations management. He currently serves as the CEO of Sapphire Technologies, a leading developer and manufacturer of energy recovery systems for hydrogen and natural gas applications. With a wealth of experience in leadership roles across industries such as aviation, energy, and various industrial markets, Freddie is well-versed in both short and long-cycle businesses. He is known for driving exceptional financial results and cash generation by effectively managing costs and delivering exceptional customer service. Freddie also brings significant experience in rightsizing and restructuring organizations.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I was born and raised in Montreal. Both my parents were professionals focused on education so as a result, academics and the world of academia played a fundamental role in my childhood. I have also always loved watching and playing sports. As a Canadian, hockey was always at the top of my list. I also had a fascination with fast cars, motorcycles, and planes — anything that was “fun” technology. My hobbies outside of sports all revolved around exploring and understanding the inner workings of these machines. At an early age, I would often take things apart to see how they were built. My father, a biochemistry professor, noticed my curiosity and knack for understanding how things worked. Although I had initially set my mind on pursuing a career in medicine, my father recognized my innate abilities and inquisitive nature as more fitting for a future in engineering. It was his insight that ultimately directed me toward the path I am currently on.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
My work in the energy industry has afforded me the opportunity to explore and appreciate different parts of the world, as well as immerse myself in various cultural perspectives. These experiences have become an integral part of who I am, and I hold them in high regard. As a leader, I strongly believe in the importance of embracing a global perspective both in my personal and professional life. My understanding of the cultural impact of business in different regions has been enriched through my travels, enabling me to appreciate the unique traditions and subtleties of each culture.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Throughout my life, I have been fortunate to have several role models and mentors who have supported and guided me. However, two individuals stand out above the rest: my father and John Tucker. It was during my time working on a cleantech startup in the early 2000s that I connected with John Tucker, the CEO of Capstone Turbine Corp at that time. John’s unwavering belief in my abilities and his constant push for me to be the best version of myself left an indelible impression on me. We spent a great deal of time together, traveling the world and building a strong professional relationship. Despite the challenges we faced, I look back on those years with fondness, as they propelled me to where I am today. John’s lessons on debriefing and breaking down conversations have heavily influenced my management style, which is rooted in open communication. Additionally, John taught me the importance of engaging with customers to understand their needs, and how to use that information to make informed business decisions. Through spending time with people and learning what they need, I discovered my passion for interacting with those that I serve. As a result, I believe that interacting with customers is a crucial aspect of any business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A DREAM written down with a date becomes a GOAL. A goal broken down into steps becomes a PLAN. A plan backed by ACTION becomes REALITY.” — Greg Reid
This quote by Greg Reid highlights the importance of turning our dreams into reality through goal-setting and action. Simply dreaming about something is not enough. To make it a reality, we must take concrete steps towards achieving it. The quote suggests that when we write down our dreams and attach a deadline to them, they become goals. Goals can then be broken down into smaller, achievable steps, which form a plan. But a plan is only as good as the action that follows it. Therefore, the final step is to take action towards our plan. When we follow through with action, our plan becomes a reality. In essence, this quote encourages us to turn our dreams into tangible goals, then break them down into actionable steps, and finally, take consistent action towards achieving them.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Resilience: Successful business leaders often face setbacks and challenges along the way, and resilience is essential in bouncing back from these adversities.
In 2015, my company faced a major crisis when the oil industry crashed, causing our revenue to plummet by 70–80% overnight. This experience taught me the importance of diversification and managing individual markets, which compelled me to build a more sustainable business model.
Visionary: The ability to see the bigger picture and envision progress in the future is critical for business leaders.
During my initial stint at Rolls Royce, I was rather restless, yearning to create a notable impression. However, being in my early twenties, I lacked the know-how to make a significant breakthrough. I then ventured into the realm of clean technology and joined Capstone Turbine. This marked my first stride towards making a positive impact on the planet. Looking back, I aspire to experience a sense of fulfillment, knowing that I left my mark on the world.
Persuasiveness: The best leaders have a way of inspiring and motivating others. They are persuasive and can convince people to believe in their vision.
According to my Gallup report, four out of my top five strengths fall under the Influencing category. These invaluable traits combined with my boundless energy and passion, aid me in rallying and guiding teams to think boldly and aim for greater heights.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on the planet and the environment. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
Our vision is to drive global decarbonization and improve the way the world harvests and utilizes energy. Our ultimate goal is to transform the existing energy landscape and pave the way for a more sustainable future for generations to come. We believe that our vision will not only mitigate the negative effects of climate change, but also create a more equitable and prosperous world for all.
How do you think your technology can address this?
Sapphire Technologies’ FreeSpin® In-line Turboexpander is designed to convert energy wasted in pressure reduction processes into clean electric power without interrupting operations. By recovering this wasted pressure energy, we help companies maximize plant efficiencies, improve productivity, reduce carbon emissions, offset electrical costs and generate cash flow. Our energy recovery systems can be used in natural gas midstream or upstream infrastructures or liquified natural gas terminal stations, with the potential to significantly lower CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Throughout my career, I have been involved in power generation in various capacities, from working on the thrust of aircraft wings to energy recovery. However, since the early 2000s, my passion has been focused on cleaner energy and driving the world towards a more sustainable future.
I have always been interested in the idea of making a positive impact on the world, and cleaner energy is a critical component of that. While it’s essential for each of us to do our part, the scope of the problem is too vast to be solved by individual actions alone. That’s why we need to take a more significant, global approach to decarbonization.
If we want to make a real difference, we need to think big and tackle the issue of decarbonization on a global scale. The impact of this shift will be of an order of magnitude, transforming the world as we know it and creating a brighter, more sustainable future for generations to come.
How do you think this might change the world?
Embracing a multi-faceted strategy towards climate change is essential to transform the course of our planet. To achieve a net zero future, we must harness the power of various technologies such as turboexpanders, wind, solar geothermal, hydropower, and hydrogen fuel cells. Each of these solutions has a unique role to play in transitioning to cleaner energy sources.
It’s important to recognize that there won’t be a single solution that can tackle the issue of climate change on its own. We need to approach the problem from various angles and utilize multiple technologies to make significant progress towards a sustainable future.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
To be honest, I don’t believe there are any drawbacks to this technology. Fortunately, the U.S. government’s investment in the Inflation Reduction Act over the next decade provides a promising opportunity for both natural gas and hydrogen solutions. With sufficient funding, large-scale application of hydrogen fuel could be feasible and highly beneficial for reducing the carbon footprint.
In the meantime, natural gas remains the primary source of energy, and Sapphire Technologies’ Turboexpanders can significantly reduce carbon emissions. I strongly believe we can still make significant progress toward decarbonization using existing technologies.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
1 . Understand existing technologies and leverage partnerships to expand and accelerate social impact.
We recognize that to effect meaningful change, we need to forge the right partnerships. In a relatively short period of time, we have partnered with Toho Gas in Japan to install two units, which have been operating at full power as designed. We’ve also announced our partnership with Tallgrass, a leading US energy infrastructure company, and Evolve Energy, a leading critical infrastructure, and data center service company to spearhead the world’s largest turboexpander installation — 72 turboexpanders over the next three years. We’ve also recently announced our partnership with CNX Resources, a leading natural gas development, production, midstream, and technology company to develop a FreeSpin® In-line Turboexpander solution for high-pressure service.
2 . There is never a one-size-fits-all solution, so be agile in innovation.
While wind and solar technologies are both apt solutions for sustainable energy, they are intermittent based on seasons and cannot meet the high energy demand in the US. Therefore, a multipronged approach is necessary to solve the energy crisis. Renewable energy as well as alternative energy technologies like energy recovery systems can fill the energy gap left by wind and solar.
3 . Appoint and recognize talent that can effectively execute goals.
Appointing and recognizing talent is crucial in achieving organizational goals. It’s essential to identify individuals who have the necessary skills, expertise, and experience to execute tasks effectively. Appointing the right people to the right positions can make a significant difference in the success of a project or initiative.
Recognizing talent is equally crucial since it fosters a positive work environment and encourages employees to stay motivated and committed. Recognizing employees’ achievements and contributions not only boosts their morale, but also increases their productivity and job satisfaction.
When appointing and recognizing talent, it’s essential to consider not just technical skills, but also soft skills such as communication, leadership, and problem-solving. These skills are critical in driving collaboration, innovation, and creativity in the workplace.
4 . Passion drives our mission.
Passion is a powerful driving force that can fuel a mission and propel it towards success. When individuals are passionate about a cause or goal, they are more likely to remain committed to it and put in extra effort to ensure its success. Passion ignites enthusiasm, creativity, and innovation, leading to fresh perspectives and unique solutions to challenges. It also inspires others to become involved and contribute towards the mission. When a team shares a passion for a mission, they work together towards a common goal with a shared sense of purpose and drive. Passion can also help individuals overcome obstacles and setbacks, as the desire to achieve the mission is stronger than any obstacles that may arise.
5 . When creating technology, it’s essential to consider legislation to maximize positive social impact.
For instance, the Inflation Reduction Act allocated $370B to climate provisions in 2022, providing vital funding for climate technology. Climate change is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention, time, and funding. The Inflation Reduction Act accelerated the work of climate investors and entrepreneurs worldwide, resulting in an exponential increase in positive change.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
It’s crucial to select a cause and commit to working towards it with a clear vision. Many individuals express passionate views on social media or otherwise, but it’s essential to translate those views into action. We must transform our thoughts and beliefs into tangible steps toward progress.
Personally, I am motivated to create a better world for my children and grandchildren. To achieve this, we must prioritize taking action rather than solely relying on our idealistic views. By putting our words into action, we can make a significant impact and create a brighter future for future generations.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Elon Musk is an exceptional individual who possesses vision and conviction. Although his views may not be universally popular, he vocalizes them fearlessly. While I may not agree with some of his views, I respect his willingness to take a stand. Furthermore, Musk’s engineering expertise is impressive, and his vision for what the world requires is accurate. Most notably, he has a remarkable ability to transform his vision into reality, a feat that many before him have failed to achieve.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can follow Sapphire Technologies’ progress from our social media accounts: LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube. They can also connect with me directly on LinkedIn.