Biochemical Process Development and Integration

Our mission is to develop, test, and demonstrate improved biochemically catalyzed processes to produce fuels and chemicals from lignocellulosic biomass.

Photo of NREL's High Bay Lab at the Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility, showing people in hard hats working on the bay floor and amongst the metal tubes and pipes.

Our research scope spans bench-scale research and development (R&D) of diverse biomass conversion and separation processes to pilot-scale integrated process development and scale up. We also perform extended demonstrations of complex bioprocessing operations at bench and pilot scales.

Featured Publications

Accounting for all sugar produced during integrated production of ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass, Bioresource Technology (2016)

Continuous succinic acid production by Actinobacillus succinogenes on xylose-enriched hydrolysate, Biotechnology for Biofuels (2015)

Characterization of pilot-scale dilute acid pretreatment performance using deacetylated corn stover, Biotechnology for Biofuel (2014)

Performance and techno-economic assessment of several solid-liquid separation technologies for processing dilute-acid pretreated corn stover, Bioresource Technology (2014)


Photo of two scientists in white lab coats, rubber gloves, and safety glasses working in a laboratory.

Bench-Scale Conversion Process Development

We develop and scale fermentation processes that produce fuels and chemicals from biomass with the ultimate goal of demonstrating cost-effective processes as part of a viable biorefinery model. We are particularly focused on integrating process steps at the 0.5–20L scales, operating at process-relevant conditions whenever possible and using techno-economic analysis to focus research and guide experimental designs. Our newly updated fermentation laboratory houses 38 bench-scale fermentors, ranging in volume from 0.5L to 5L, with full process control, data logging, and off-gas analysis. Our current projects cover the fermentation spectrum including anaerobic, micro-aerobic, aerobic, and gas-to-liquid processes that produce fuel intermediates and chemicals.

View our Bench-Scale Fermentation Laboratory fact sheet.

Photo of a man in a hardhat and safety glasses in front of shiny metal pipes and yellow tubes, working on a cross flow membrane filter in the industrial plant setting.

Separations Process Development

We develop and optimize separation processes to enable renewable biomass materials to be refined into bio-based products ("biorefining"). Our primary focus is on separation science and technologies useful for converting lignocellulosic biomass to energy dense liquid biofuel and higher value chemical products via biomass-derived sugar and lignin intermediates. Our work spans separations required both upstream and downstream in an integrated biomass conversion process. Upstream in the process, solid-liquid, concentrative, and polishing separations, such as ion exchange, are used to dewater, concentrate, and clean up (where required) intermediate lignin and mixed biomass sugar streams to meet specifications required for their subsequent upgrading. Downstream separations research focuses on microbe lysis and extractive separations for recovering oleophilic or organic acid products produced by sugar or lignin upgrading. In all cases, the technical goal is to improve separation process efficiency and economics by minimizing operating and capital costs (OPEX and CAPEX).

We also investigate application of in situ separations to conversion processes to achieve process intensification and thereby improve process economics. Our current focus is to integrate in situ solid-liquid separation with enzymatic cellulose hydrolysis to increase reaction productivity and lower the cost of producing cellulosic sugars.

Photo of two high-solids enzymatic hydrolysis reactors (large metal tubes) that are staged to accept a continuous stream of pretreated biomass for semi-continuous processing.

Pilot-Scale Operations and R&D

We investigate and improve performance of integrated biochemical-based conversion processes for producing fuels and chemicals with the goal of demonstrating performance at pilot scale. We are evaluating how all of the different advanced biofuel production technology components work together and through such assessments, we are developing and implementing strategies to improve performance and reduce cost. Much of the work is done in a 500–1,000 dry kg/day pilot plant housing continuous and semi-continuous process trains performing biomass handling, pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, microbial conversion, and separation/recovery operations. We also maintain and upgrade this pilot plant to support both DOE's Bioenergy Technologies Office activities and work for industrial clients.

View our Biochemical Conversion Pilot Plant fact sheet.

Research Team

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Principal Investigators

Photo of Nancy Dowe

Nancy Dowe

Research Manager – Bioprocess Development

Photo of Ed Jennings

Ed Jennings

IBRF Pilot Plant Operations Manager

Photo of Jim McMillan

Jim McMillan

Separations Development and Applications Task Leader, Chief Engineer

Photo of Daniel Schell

Dan Schell

Manager, BioProcess Integration R&D

Ryan Davis

Erik Kuhn

Jim Lischeske

Nate Crawford

John Fei

Violeta Sanchez

Meredith (Xiaoqing) Wang

Bill Bray

Nick Cleveland

Casey Gunther

Wes Hjelm

Bob Lyons

Darren Peterson

Kailee Potter

Kelsey Ramirez

Michelle Reed

Holly Smith

Jeff Wolfe

Seina Soufiani

Ryan Spiller

Related and Integrated Programs

Biochemical Conversion Techno-Economic Analysis

Bioenergy Sustainability Analysis

Biological and Catalytic Conversion of Sugars and Lignin

Biomass Characterization

Biomass Deconstruction and Pretreatment

Biomass Feedstocks

Enzyme and Microbial Development





Japanese Gas Corporation


Membrane Science, Engineering, and Technology Center (NSF Industry/University Corporative Research Center)


R.J. Reynolds

University of Colorado

University of Pretoria


This program is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technologies Office.