Yemm studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Edinburgh from 1985 to 1989, gaining a first class honours degree. As an undergraduate, he was also awarded a Half Blue for sailing in 1986–87 by the Edinburgh University Sports Union, denoting performance to a very high standard. He completed his PhD in 1994 under Professor Stephen Salter, former Saltire Prize medallist and inventor of the Edinburgh duck wave energy device.
He went on to pursue a career as a self-employed design and development engineer on renewable energy projects, gaining experience in the wind energy industry. He invented the Pelamis Wave Energy Converter for generating electricity from marine waves, and established Ocean Power Delivery Ltd in 1998 to develop the product. The company is now called Pelamis Wave Power Ltd. Yemm was CEO until August 2007, raising substantial investment and gaining commercial orders from 2005 onwards. He then became CTO of the company.
Yemm was Chairman of the Board of Scottish Renewables trade association for over five years, and is active in promoting renewable and wave energy.
In March 2012 Yemm was presented with the Saltire Prize medal by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. The chief executive of Scottish Renewables, Niall Stuart, said, "Richard Yemm will undoubtedly be looked upon as one of the most influential people to the development of Scotland's marine industry; from the drawing board to grid connected devices and making important steps to commercial scale projects."
- "Pelamis founder honoured for key role in marine energy". The Scottish Government. 28 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-29.
- "Saltire Prize medal for inventor of Pelamis wave 'sea snake'". BBC News. 28 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-29.
- "Richard Yemm, Founder and Chief Technical Officer, Ocean Power Delivery, Limited". The Scottish Oil Club. 23 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-29.
- "Blues & Half Blues". Edinburgh University Sports Union Alumni Association. Retrieved 2012-03-29.
- "Richard Yemm, Ocean Power Delivery". Scottish Institute for Enterprise. 10 December 2002. Retrieved 2012-03-29.
- "European Entrepreneurship and Innovation Thought Leaders - ME421 - Stanford University". May 2009. Retrieved 2012-03-29.