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Research Interests

Derek Vardon is a senior research engineer and team leader in the National Bioenergy Center's (NBC's) Chemical and Material Process Development group at NREL. His main research focus is on catalyst design, materials characterization, and reaction engineering. Derek's research interests include:

  • Catalytic conversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals

  • Integrated biological and chemo-catalytic processes

  • Advanced catalyst material design

  • Bio-based plastics for direct replacement and advantaged materials

  • Commercialization of bio-based products

Affiliated Research Programs

Areas of Expertise

  • Catalyst synthesis

  • Catalyst characterization

  • Catalyst testing and reaction engineering

  • Analysis of complex organics products and fuel derivatives


  • Ph.D., Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2015

  • M.S., Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2012

  • B.S., Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2010

Professional Experience

  • Task Leader Biochemical Catalysis R&D, NREL, NBC, 2016present

  • Affiliate Faculty Member, Colorado School of Mines, Department of Chemistry, 2016–present

  • Staff Engineer Biochemical Catalysis R&D, NREL, NBC, 2015present

  • Research Participant Program Biochemical Catalysis R&D, NREL, NBC, 20132015

  • Nuclear Electrician's Mate, U.S. Navy, 20012007

Associations and Accreditations/Memberships

  • American Chemical Society

Featured Publications

  1. "Thermochemical wastewater valorization via enhanced microbial toxicity tolerance," Energy & Environmental Science (2018)

  2. "Iodine-catalyzed isomerization of dimethyl muconate," ChemSusChem (2018)

  3. "Renewable acrylonitrile production," Science (2017)

  4. "Ru-Sn/AC for the aqueous phase reduction of succinic acid to 1,4-butanediol under continuous process conditions," ACS Catalysis (2017)

  5. "Heterogeneous Diels-Alder catalysis for the production of aromatic compounds from biomass," Green Chemistry (2017)

  6. "Biomass-derived monomers for performance-differentiated fiber reinforced polymer composites," Green Chemistry (2017)

  7. "Renewable unsaturated polyesters from muconic acid," ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng. (2016)

  8. "cis,cis-Muconic acid: Downstream separation and catalysis to bio-adipic acid for nylon-6,6 polymerization," Green Chemistry (2016)

  9. "The techno-economic bases for coproduct manufacturing to enable hydrocarbon fuel production from lignocellulosic biomass," ACS Sustainable Chem Eng (2016)

  10. "Opportunities and challenges in biological lignin valorization," Current Opinion in Biotechnology (2016)

  11. "Valorization of waste lipids through hydrothermal catalytic conversion to liquid hydrocarbon fuels with in situ hydrogen production," ACS Sustainable Chem Eng (2016)

  12. "Towards lignin consolidated bioprocessing: simultaneous lignin depolymerization and product generation by bacteria," Green Chemistry (2015)

  13. "Adipic acid production from lignin," Energy & Environmental Science (2015)

  14. "Chapter 5: Catalysis's Role in Bioproducts Update," in Commercializing Biobased Products: Opportunities, Challenges, Benefits, and Risks (2015)

  15. "Lignin valorization through integrated biological funneling and chemical catalysis," PNAS (2014)

  16. "Hydrothermal catalytic processing of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids to hydrocarbons with glycerol for in situ hydrogen production," Green Chemistry (2014)

  17. "Complete utilization of spent coffee grounds to produce biodiesel, bio-oil and biochar," ACS Sustainable Chem Eng (2013)

  18. "Thermochemical conversion of raw and defatted algal biomass via hydrothermal liquefaction and slow pyrolysis," Bioresource Tech (2012)

  19. "Chemical properties of biocrude oil from the hydrothermal liquefaction of Spirulina algae, swine manure, and digested anaerobic sludge," Bioresource Tech (2011)

Awards and Honors

  • NREL Outstanding Performance Award, 2018

  • NREL Rising Star Award, 2016

  • NREL President's Award, 2015

  • NREL Outstanding Mentor Award, 2015

  • NREL Director's Award, 2014

  • Student Veterans of America Scholarship, 2012

  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2010

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results Graduate Research Fellowship, 2010

  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Deuchler Graduate Fellowship, 2010

  • Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, 2009