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Philip T. Pienkos

Photo of Philip Pienkos with Dan Arvizu. Pienkos holds a certificate for Outstanding Mentor 2013.

Phil Pienkos is the Principal Manager of the Bioprocess R&D Group of the National Bioenergy Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. He joined NREL in September 2007 after 25 years in the biotech industry. Although his primary focus at NREL is on algal biofuels, he is also active in efforts to produce hydrocarbon fuels from sugars, lignin, and natural gas. In addition to his research responsibilities, he leads a group that consists of three sections—Bioprocess Research, Bioprocess Development, and Biochemical Process Research—and serves as line manager for approximately 20 interns, technicians, scientists, and engineers within the Biochemical Process Research section who are involved in various aspects of both biochemical conversion and catalytic upgrading for biofuels and bioproducts.

Research Interests

Some of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-funded programmatic efforts that involve members of the Biochemical Process Research section are:

  • Biological upgrading of sugars
  • Catalytic upgrading of sugars
  • Lignin utilization
  • Biological lignin depolymerization
  • Separations development and application
  • Computational modeling and prediction
  • Biogas to fuels
Photo of Phil Pienkos, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Ron Pate, Sandia National Laboratories, Rene Wijffels, Wageningen University and Research Center, and Makoto Watanabe, University of Tsukuba, during the panel titled 'A View of the Algae Testbed Program and International Consortia.'

Panel at the 7th Annual Algae Biomass Summit in Orlando on October 1, 2013. Credit: Lynn Scheevel.

In addition to these activities, Phil is the Algal Biofuels Platform Lead and project lead or NREL PI on a number of advanced biofuels projects. These include:

  • Algal Biomass Conversion, an NREL AOP project funded by the U.S. DOE's Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO)
  • Growth of Algae on Solid Supports funded by the NREL Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program (LDRD)
  • Algal Testbed Public Private Partnership (ATP3), a multi-institutional project funded by BETO and led by Arizona State University
  • Biological Conversion of Natural Gas to Liquid Fuels funded by ARPA-E and led by University of Washington.

Phil is very active in the international algal biofuels community, resulting in his being named in Biofuels Digest's list of the top 100 people in biofuels four years running. He played a role in writing an algal biofuels report to Congress (released in 2008) and in organizing the DOE algal roadmapping workshop in December 2008, as well as helping to draft the roadmap itself, which was published in 2010. He was a co-author on the International Energy Agency Task 39 report on Current Status and Potential for Algal Biofuels Production and on the report to DOE on the harmonization of algal biofuels analysis. Phil was selected to serve on the steering committee of the fledgling Algae Biomass Organization in 2007 and has served on the board of directors from 2008 to 2013. He has recently been chosen to serve on the board of directors of the Algae Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization established to support research, development, and other educational activities relating to the use of algae for the production of renewable and sustainable commercial products. He is also on the editorial board for the journal Algal Research.

Much of his time is spent in partnership development at NREL, and Phil is involved in discussions with both public and private organizations to identify collaborative opportunities in various aspects of biofuel R&D involving both cellulosic and algal biomass.

Phil's technical experience spans a wide range of topics including:

  • Molecular biology
  • Microbial physiology
  • Fermentation development
  • Metabolic engineering
  • Enzyme and protein engineering
  • Techno-economic analysis.
Illustration depicting a biorefinery system where algae are grown in open ponds using water, inorganic nutrients, CO2, and sunlight. Cells are harvested by flocculation and dissolved air flotation and then concentrated by centrifugation. Most recovered water is recycled but some is discarded to avoid a concentration of salts and culture waste products. Solvents extract lipids, which are used to create fuel. Solvents are recovered and reused. Lipid-extracted biomass is converted to biogas by anaerobic digestion. Biogas is used to drive turbines to generate power for the biorefinery, and the digester sludge is used to recover and recycle nutrients to the ponds.

Diagram of a production scheme for a typical algal lipid upgrading process. Credit: Barbara Aulicino, American Scientist magazine.


Ph.D., Molecular Biology, University of Wisconsin, 1980
B.S., Honors Biology, University of Illinois, graduated cum laude, 1974

Professional Experience

  • Principal Group Manager, NREL, Golden, CO, 5/11–present
  • Principal Research Supervisor, NREL, Golden, CO, 8/07–5/11
  • Research Director, Molecular Logix, Inc., The Woodlands, TX, 2/03–8/07
  • Interim Research Position, Advisys, Inc., The Woodlands, TX, 8/02–2/03
  • Research Director, Enchira Biotechnology Corp./Energy BioSystems Corp., The Woodlands, TX, 10/94–5/02
  • Staff Scientist, Celgene Corp., Warren, NJ, 5/86–10/94
  • Senior Research Scientist, Celanese Research Company, Summit, NJ, 6/84–5/86
  • Senior Research Scientist, Lederle Laboratories, Pearl River, NY, 6/82–6/84
  • Post-Doctoral Fellow, Dept. of Microbiology, University of Texas, Austin, TX, 10/79–6/82

Publications and Presentations

Co-author of numerous technical publications, including most recently:

Co-inventor on three patents:

  • Coco, W.M.; Pienkos, P.T.; Loomis, A.K. "Epidermal Growth Factor Agonists and Methods of Use." U.S. Patent No. 7,084,246.
  • Bishop, J.S.; Loomis, K.A.; Monticello, D.J.; Pienkos, P.T. "Epidermal growth factor receptor antagonists and methods of use." U.S. Patent No. 7,470,769.
  • Pienkos, P.T.; Monticello, D.J. "Pan-HER antagonists and methods of use." U.S. Patent No. 7,557,181.

Presentations at national and international meetings, including most recently:

  • 3rd Asia-Oceania Algae Innovation Summit (2014)
  • Spring BETO Algae Workshop (2014)
  • 4th International Conference on Algal Biomass, Biofuels and Bioproducts (2014)
  • 36th Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals (2014)
  • 7th Algae Biomass Summit (2013)
  • International Symposium on Algal Biomass (2013)

Contact Information

Philip T. Pienkos
Principal Manager
Bioprocess R&D Group
National Bioenergy Center
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
15013 Denver West Parkway
Golden, CO 80401
Phone: 303-384-6269
Fax: 303-384-6363