Biological and Catalytic Conversion of Sugars and Lignin

Our research group—composed of staff scientists, postdoctoral associates, students, and technicians—develops biological and chemical catalysts for cost-effective production of fuels and chemicals from terrestrial biomass.

Full Publications List

Molecular illustration of a lignin polymer showing the molecular bonds.

Lignin Valorization

Our group is pursuing strategies to depolymerize lignin in an integrated biorefinery context and subsequently upgrade lignin-derived aromatics into value-added chemicals to realize a more holistic, integrated approach to biomass conversion.

Photo of several flasks partially filled with reddish and yellowish liquids on a shake flask and fermenter apparatus.

Biological Upgrading of Sugars

Our group focuses on biological upgrading of some of the most commonly sought products from lignocellulosic biomass, pentose, and hexose sugars trapped inside the polysaccharides, to fuel precursors and value-added chemicals.

Illustration showing a flow chart of the processing of lignin-derived intermediatesa counter clock-wise arrow moves from lignocellulosic biomass through pretreatment-fractionation, lignin depolymerization, microbial fermentation, separations, and catalytic hydrogenation, and ends with lignin-platform chemicals.

Chemical Catalysis and Separations for Fuels and Chemicals Production

We are developing bench-scale catalytic and separations processes to produce hydrocarbon fuels and value-added co-products from biologically and catalytically derived intermediates from biomass.

Illustration of a cellobiohydrolase that looks like a silver globular bug-shaped creature with blue, yellow, and green components, on the surface of rows of flat green cellulose.


Our group has a keen interest in the development of molecular insights into enzymatic processes for both deconstructing cellulose and also assembling it as well as in the use of novel metabolic enzymes for biologically producing fuel precursors.

Research Team

Group photo of a large number of people in an outdoor setting.

Principal Investigators

Laura Berstis

Steve Chmely, Assistant Professor at University of Tennessee Knoxville

Anna Knapp, Olson College

Heather Mayes, Postdoctoral Fellow at University of Chicago

Kellene McKinney, Technician at NREL

Kathleen Moyer, RPI

Jennifer Nill, Ph.D. student at UC Davis with Professor Tina Jeoh

Claire Nimlos, Ph.D. student at Purdue University

Christy Payne, Assistant Professor at University of Kentucky

Deanne W. Sammond, Staff Scientist at NREL

Matthew Sturgeon, Staff Scientist at NREL

Courtney Taylor, Engineer at ExxonMobil

Xiaoqing Wang


Linda Broadbelt (Northwestern University)

Robert Brown, Laura Jarboe, Marjorie Rover, Brent Shanks, Zengyi Shao, and Ryan Smith (Iowa State University)

Dave Dayton (RTI International)

Richard Dixon and Fang Chen (University of North Texas)

John Dorgan (Colorado School of Mines)

Vincent Eijsink, Svein Horn, Morten Srlie, Gustav Vaaje-Kolstad, and Bjrge Westereng (Norwegian University of Life Science [NMBU])

Tom Elder (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Lindsay Eltis (University of British Columbia)

Shinya Fushinobu (University of Tokyo, Japan)

John Gladden and Blake Simmons (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories)

Adam Guss and Amit Naskar (Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

Clare McCabe (Vanderbilt University)

John McGeehan and Simon Cragg (University of Portsmouth)

Ellen Neidle (University of Georgia)

Willie Nicol (University of Pretoria)

Christy Payne (University of Kentucky)

Allison Ray (Idaho National Laboratory)

Yuriy Roman (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Mats Sandgren, Jerry Sthlberg, and Henrik Hansson (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences [SLU])

Zhongping Tan (University of Colorado)

Jochen Zimmer (University of Virginia)

Funding and support is provided by the U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technologies Office and Office of Science, the BioEnergy Science Center, the Energy Frontier Research Center, and C3Bio.