Biomass Deconstruction and Pretreatment

Our mission is to transform lignocellulose into intermediate streams with low toxicity, high sugar concentrations, and utilizable lignin for biological and thermochemical upgrading to fuels and products with minimal waste generation and material and energy use.

Full Publications List

Photo of a 200 kg/day Small Horizontal Reactor in an industrial plant setting. It is the smallest of four continuous chemical pretreatment reactors and is used for piloting to the larger throughput systems. A man in a hardhat and safety glasses stands to the right the reactor.

Chemical Deconstruction

We develop alkali, acid, and oxidative-based chemical deconstruction processes that result in intermediate streams tailored to specific biochemical and catalytic upgrading strategies.

A series of 3 photos and 3 electron microscope images showing the effect of increasing mechanical deconstruction severity on the structure of corn stover particles via Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM).  Raw corn stover is shown in the left-most images, disc refined corn stover is shown in the middle column, and szego-milled corn stover is shown in the right-most column.  The SEM images clearly show increased defibrillation of cellulose fibers from native corn stover to disc refined corn stover to disc refined and szego milled corn stover.

Mechanical Deconstruction

Integrated chemical and mechanical deconstruction strategies, such as the NREL deacetylation and mechanical refining (DMR) process, result in low-toxicity, high-concentration sugar streams and native-like lignin following enzymatic hydrolysis.

Photo of an interior view of a shiny, large mixer.

Enzymatic Deconstruction

After chemical and/or mechanical deconstruction, an enzymatic hydrolysis is performed to convert biomass polysaccharides into their monomeric sub-units for biological fermentation and/or catalytic upgrading.

Photo of the interior of an industrial, two-story building with high-bay, piping, and large processing equipment. Three workers are in hard hats.

Equipment and Capabilities

The majority of the pretreatment and biomass deconstruction equipment is located in the NREL Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility (IBRF).

Research Team

Photo of a group of men and women standing along a spiral staircase in an office setting.

Principal Investigators

Ryan Davis

Qiang (John) Fei

Casey Gunther

Dave Sievers

Ling Tao

Lintao Bu

Peter Ciesielski

Steve Decker

Ed Jennings

David Johnson

Rui Katahira

Ali Mohagheghi

Rob Nelson

Ryan Ness

Darren Peterson

Kailee Potter

Michelle Reed

Amy Sluiter

Holly Smith

Drazenka Svedruzic

Larry Taylor

Thieny Trinh

Wei Wang

Hui Wei

Nate Crawford

Bill Bray

Wes Hjelm

Bob Lyons

Leslee Pohlee










Green Earth Institute

Idaho National Laboratory




North Carolina State University

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory



University of North Dakota


Washington State University