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Photo of Marykate O'Brien

Mary Kate O'Brien

Bio-process Engineer | 303-384-7285

Research Interests

Marykate O'Brien is a Bio-Process Integration R&D Engineer at the National Bioenergy Center at NREL. She has 10 years of experience spanning the bioenergy field. This includes material and catalyst design, process design and retrofits, and integrated lignocellulosic biomass conversion operations. She uses her knowledge of continuous process improvement and quality control to execute projects in the research and demonstration of biofuels processes for both industry partners and NREL programmatic R&D.

  • Sustainable energy/fuels research and development

  • Catalyst design

  • Lignin valorization

  • Integrated biomass conversion

  • Enzyme and sugar hydrolysis science

  • Fermentation processes

  • Techno-economic analysis

  • Pilot plant operations and process scale up

  • Continuous improvement and quality control


  • M.S., Engineering Management, University of Colorado, 2013

  • B.S., Chemical and Biological Engineering, University of Colorado, 2009

Professional Experience

  • Bio-Process Engineer, NREL, 2013present

  • Catalyst Design and Synthetic ChemistryResearch Participant Program, NREL, 20122013

  • C2B2 Biofuels Professional Research Assistant, University of Colorado, 20072012

  • Engineering Intern, Baxter Healthcare, 2007

  • Engineering Intern, BIPM, Paris, France, 2007

Associations and Memberships

  • American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE)

  • American Chemical Society (ACS)

Featured Publications

  1. "Enhanced lipid production by Rhodosporidium toruloides using different fed-batch feeding strategies with lignocellulosic hydrolysate as the sole carbon source," Biotechnology for Biofuel (2016)

  2. "Pilot-Scale Batch Alkaline Pretreatment of Corn Stover," ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering (2016)

  3. "Acidolysis of α-O-4 Aryl-Ether Bonds in Lignin Model Compounds: A Modeling and Experimental Study," ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering (2015)

  4. "Alkaline pretreatment of switchgrass," ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering (2015)

  5. "Alkaline pretreatment of corn stover: Bench-scale fractionation and stream characterization," ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering (2014)

  6. "Lignin depolymerization by nickel supported layered double hydroxide catalysts," Green Chemistry (2014)

  7. "Controlled selectivity for palladium catalysts using self-assembled monolayers," Nature Materials (2010))

Awards and Honors

  • Six Sigma Green Belt Certification

Please contact me with research questions, ideas for collaborations, and questions about projects at NREL. Please do NOT contact me directly for jobs—see instead information on NREL's Director's Postdoctoral Fellowship program or on NREL Careers in general.