Peter Ciesielski

Peter Ciesielski

Research Scientist

Biomaterials Sciences

Photo of Peter Ciesielski
(303) 384-7997
At NREL Since: 

Dr. Peter N. Ciesielski is a research scientist with the Biomolecular Sciences Group and the National Bioenergy Center at NREL. His interdisciplinary education, training, and research skill set encompass a variety of areas within biomaterials science, including quantitative microscopy and modeling, photoelectrochemistry, simulation of transport phenomena and chemical kinetics, data visualization, and design and characterization of biohybrid systems and devices. Several of these reserach areas are described in greater detail below. All the images on this page were captured or rendered by Peter N. Ciesielski; do not reproduce without permission.

Research Interests 

  • Microscopy and Modeling of Plant Cell Walls
  • In the Biomass Surface/Structure Characterization Laboratory (BSCL), we work to apply multimodal microscopy techniques to characterize and model the chemical and structural changes that occur over multiple length scales in plant cell walls as a result of various thermochemical treatments and genetic modifications. Core capabilities include scanning and transmission electron microscopies, 3D electron tomography, hyperspectral Raman imaging, atomic force microscopy, and confocal scanning laser microscopy. Several examples of images of Arabidopsis plant cell walls are shown below (from left to right: confocal scanning laser microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and transmission electron microscopy)
  • Recently, we used 3D electron tomography to investigate the nanostructure of thermochemically treated biomass. We developed novel quantitative analysis methods to discern the longitudinal geometry of cellolose microfibrils within the tomographic volumes. These geometric parameters were used to construct and evaluate atomic models for the cellulose microfibrils. (Ciesielski et al. ACSNano, 2013). An example of atomic models of cellulose constructed in this manner are shown below (atomic models are shown as blue and black spheres; the measured tomographic density is shown as the semi-transparent light brown isosurface.
  • Modeling Biomass Geometry for Microscale Simulations of Biomass Conversion
  • We are developing methods to construct realistic 3D models of biomass particles with accurate dimensions from microscopy data. Many particle models assume over-simplified geometry and neglect biomass microstructure. While such assumptions faciliate fast computaion times in large systems, they are inadequate to probe questions regarding microscale, intra-particle transport phenomena in many cases. Our detailed structural models enable simulations of various biomass converion processes in teh context of biomass microstructure, which can vary extensively between plant species and genetic variants. Examples of models of poplar particles of several sizes are presented below (left) with an SEM image of a real poplar particle for camparison.
  • Data Visualization
  • Accurate and aesthetic visual presentation of scientific data is critical in order to convey concepts efficiently. Peter often uses POV-Ray ( for, in part for professional data visualization and part oas artistic hobby. This ray-tracing software is especially well-suited for displaying scientific data of various forms because it requires that the scene be described by quantitative geometric entities in a scripting environment (as opposed to a GUI). Several examles of the POV-Ray visualizations of an atomic model of a glycopolymer are shown below. The atomic model depicted was constructed by Michael Crowley and visualized by Peter Ciesielski.


  • Ph.D., Interdisciplinary Material Science, Vanderbilt University, 2010

  • B.S., Chemical and Biological Engineering, Colorado State University, 2006

Selected Publications 

  1. Ciesielski, P.N.; Crowley, M.F.; Nimlos, M.R.; Sanders, A.W.; Wiggins, G.M.; Robichaud, D.; Donohoe, B.S.; Foust, T.D. "Biomass Particle Models with Realistic Morphology and Resolved Microstructure for Simulations of Intraparticle Transport Phenomena." Energy & Fuels (29:1); pp. 242-254.
  2. Wang, W.; X. Chen; B. Donohoe; P.N. Ciesielski; R. Katahira; E. Kuhn; K. Kafle; C. Lee; S. Park; S. Kim; M. Tucker; M. Himmel; D. Johnson (2014). "Effect of mechanical disruption on the effectiveness of three reactors used for dilute acid pretreatment of corn stover Part 1: chemical and physical substrate analysis. ." Biotechnology for Biofuels (7 :1); p. 57.
  3. Bonawitz, N. D.; Kim, J. I.; Tobimatsu, Y.; Ciesielski, P. N.; Anderson, N. A.; Ximenes, E.; Maeda, J.; Ralph, J.; Donohoe, B. S.; Ladisch, M. "Disruption of Mediator Rescues the Stunted Growth of a Lignin-Deficient Arabidopsis Mutant. ." Nature 2014 (509:7500); pp. 376-+.
  4. Ciesielski, P.N.; M.G. Resch; B. Hewetson; J.P. Killgore; A. Curtin; A.N.Chiaramonti; D.C. Hurley; A. Sanders; M.E. Himmel; C. Chapple; N. Mosier; B.S. Donohoe (2014). "Engineering plant cell walls: tuning lignin monomer composition for deconstructable biofuel feedstocks or resilient biomaterials.." Green Chemistry (In press, 2014);
  5. Vardon, D.R.; B.K. Sharma; H. Jaramillo; D. Kim; J.K. Choe; P.N. Ciesielski; T.J Strathmann (2014). "Hydrothermal catalytic processing of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids to hydrocarbons with glycerol for in hydrogen production.." Green Chemistry (In press);
  6. Sturgeon, M.R.; M.H. O'Brien; P.N. Ciesielski; R. Katahira; J.S. Kruger; S.C. Chmely; J. Hamlin; K. Lawrence; G.B. Hunsinger; T.D. Foust; R.M. Baldwin; M.J. Biddy; G.T. Beckham (2014). "Lignin depolymerisation by nickel supported layered-double hydroxide catalysts.." Green Chemistry (In press, 2014);
  7. Ciesielski, P.N.; W. Wang; X. Chen; T. Vinzant; M. Tucker; S. Decker; M. Himmel; D. Johnson; B. Donohoe (2014). "Effect of mechanical disruption on the effectiveness of three reactors used for dilute acid pretreatment of corn stover Part 2: morphological and structural substrate analysis.." Biotechnology for Biofuels (7:1); pp. 47-47.
  8. Resch, M. G.; Donohoe, B. S.; Ciesielski, P. N.; Nill, J. E.; Magnusson, L.; Himmel, M. E.; Mittal, A.; Katahira, R.; Biddy, M. J.; Beckham, G. T. "Clean Fractionation Pretreatment Reduces Enzyme Loadings for Biomass Saccharification and Reveals the Mechanism of Free and Cellulosomal Enzyme Synergy.." ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering (2:6); pp. 1377-1387.
  9. Olek, A. T.; Rayon, C.; Makowski, L.; Kim, H. R.; Ciesielski, P.; Badger, J.; Paul, L. N.; Ghosh, S.; Kihara, D.; Crowley, M. "The Structure of the Catalytic Domain of a Plant Cellulose Synthase and Its Assembly into Dimers.." The Plant Cell Online 2014 (26:7); pp. 2996-3009.
  10. Mukarakate, C.; X. Zhang; A.R. Stanton; D.J. Robichaud; P.N. Ciesielski; K. Malhotra; B.S. Donohoe; E. Gjersing; R.J. Evans; D.S. Heroux; R. Richards; K. Iisa; M.R. Nimlos (2014). "Real-time monitoring of the deactivation of HZSM-8 during upgrading of pine pyrolysis vapors.." Green Chemistry
  11. Katahira, R.; Mittal, A.; McKinney, K.; Ciesielski, P. N.; Donohoe, B. S.; Black, S. K.; Johnson, D. K.; Biddy, M. J.; Beckham, G. T. "Evaluation of Clean Fractionation Pretreatment for the Production of Renewable Fuels and Chemicals from Corn Stover.." ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 2014 (2:6); pp. 1364-1376.
  12. Karp, E. M.; Donohoe, B. S.; O’Brien, M. H.; Ciesielski, P. N.; Mittal, A.; Biddy, M. J.; Beckham, G. T. "Alkaline Pretreatment of Corn Stover: Bench-Scale Fractionation and Stream Characterization.." ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 2014 (2:6); pp. 1481-1491.
  13. Inouye, H.; Y. Zhang; L. Yang; N. Venugopalan; R.F. Fischetti; S.C. Gleber; S. Vogt; W. Fowle; B. Makowski; M. Tucker; P.N. Ciesielski; B.S. Donohoe; J. Matthews; M.E. Himmel; L. Makowski (2014). "Multiscale deconstruction of molecular architecture in corn stover." Sci. Rep.
  14. Ciesielski, P.N.; J.F. Matthews; M.P. Tucker; G.T. Beckham; M.F. Crowley; M.E. Himmel; B.S. Donohoe (2013). "3D Electton Tomography of Pretreated Biomass Informs Atomic Modeling of Cellulose Microfibrils.." Acs Nano (7:9); pp. 8011-8019.
  15. Kim.J.I.; P.N. Ciesielski; B.S. Donohoe; C. Chapple; X. Li "Chemically-induced conditional rescue of the ref8 mutant of Arabidopsis thaliana reveals rapid restoration of growth and selective turnover of secondary metabolite pools.." Plant Physiology 2013
  16. Jiao, Y.; J.D. Ryckman; P.N. Ciesielski; C.A. Escobar; G.K. Jennings; S.M. Weiss (2011). "Patterned nanoporous gold as an effective SERS template.." Nanotechnology (22); p. 29.
  17. Ciesielski, P.N.; D.E. Cliffel; G.K Jennings (2011). "Kinetic Model of the Photocatalytic Effect of a Photosystem I Monolayer on a Planar Electrode Surface." Journal of Physical Chemistry a (115:15); pp. 3326-3334.
  18. Ciesielski, P. N.; Hijazi, F. M.; Scott, A. M.; Faulkner, C. J.; Beard, L.; Emmett, K.; ; Rosenthall, S. J.; Cliffel, D. E.; Jennings, G.K. (2010). "Photosystem I-Based Biohybrid Photoelectrochemical Cells." Biorescource Technology (101:9); pp. 3047-3053.
  19. Ciesielski, P.N; C.J. Faulkner; M.T. Irwin; J.M. Gregory; N.H. Tolk; D.E. Cliffel; G.K. Jennings (2010). "Enhanced Photocurrent Production by Photosystem I Multilayer Assemblies.," Chapter 23. ed. Advanced Funtional Materials. Vol. 20, pp. 4048-4054.
  20. Ciesielski, P.N.; A.M. Scott; C.J. Faulkner; B.J. Berron; D.E. Cliffel; G.K. Jennings (2008). "Functionalized Nanoporous Gold Leaf Electrode Films for the Immobilization of Photosystem I.," Chapter 12. ed. Acs Nano. Vol. 2, pp. 2465-2472.