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Photo of Singfoong Cheah

Singfoong Cheah

Chemistry | 303-384-7707

Research Interests

  • Catalyst and material development

  • Renewable fuels and chemicals

  • Interface between renewable energy and geochemistry

    • Speciation of micronutrients such as sulfur, potassium, and phosphorous in biomass, biochar, and bio-oil

    • Water-energy nexus for a secure and sustainable future

Areas of Expertise

Singfoong has 13 years of experience in renewable energy and 7 years of experience in environmental aqueous geochemistry, with some of that period spent in industrial pilot studies. Her environmental chemistry expertise focuses on the reactions of metal and organic ligands with minerals of geological interest, which impacts our understanding of global biogeochemical cycling of elements such as iron, factors affecting pollutant transport, and water treatment. Her renewable energy experience spans the areas of biofuels, batteries, and solar energy. While her focus in the last 10 years has been on the development and characterization of biofuel synthesis catalysts, Singfoong has also worked in a startup company that developed low-cost battery manufacturing methodology and a standalone photovoltaic powered desalination system that was pilot tested in Nevada. Her experiences in piloting and technology transfer also include working in an Intel semiconductor manufacturing process development fab. Areas of expertise include:

  • Advanced catalyst and material characterization techniques

    • X-ray absorption spectroscopy and X-ray spectromicroscopy

    • Operando and in situ experiments

    • Electron paramagnetic resonance, infrared, and Raman spectroscopies

    • Scanning electron microscopy

  • Heterogeneous catalysis

    • Catalyst deactivation and regeneration

    • Continuous flow stirred-tank reactor and microreator

  • Environmental aqueous geochemistry

    • Mineral-water interfacial reactions

    • Water desalination

  • Pilot testing and manufacturing process development

    • Analysis of large data sets, with a focus on advanced yield analysis

    • Scale-up and technology transfer


  • Ph.D., Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University

  • M.S., Physics, Stanford University

  • B.S., Physics, Dartmouth College

Professional Experience

  • Research Scientist, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, National Bioenergy Center, 2007present

  • Senior Scientist, ITN Energy Systems, 20012004

  • Senior Process Engineer, Intel Corporation, 20002001

Featured Publications

  1. "Exploring low-temperature dehydrogenation at ionic Cu Sites in beta zeolite to enable alkane recycle in dimethyl ether homologation," ACS Catalysis (2017)

  2. "Effects of thermal pretreatment and catalyst on biomass gasification efficiency and syngas composition," Green Chemistry (2016)

  3. "Speciation of sulfur in biochar produced from pyrolysis and gasification of oak and corn stover," Environmental Science and Technology (2014)

Two black and white electron microscope images of corn stover biochar with red and purple dotted lines pointing to specific in the elements in the photos. There are also two smaller square images, one labeled "S" is a black box with a fuzzy green circle inside; one labeled "K" is a burgundy square with a fuzzy red circle inside.

  1. "Photovoltaic Reverse Osmosis Desalination System," in Desalination and Water Purification Research and Development Report No. 104, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior (2004)

  1. "Steady-state dissolution kinetics of goethite in the presence of desferrioxamine B and oxalate ligands: Implications for the microbial acquisition of iron," Chemical Geology (2003)



Illustration showing the molecular structure of Desferrioioxamine B as a series of connected and layered grey, white, blue, and red spheres that undulate from left to right. The molecular structure of oxalic acid is shown as an x-shape of connected white, grey, and red spheres.Grey spheres represent carbon, blue spheres represent nitrogen, red spheres represent oxygen, and white spheres represent hydrogen.

Additional Publications

  1. "Enhanced hydrodeoxygenation of m-cresol over bimetallic Pt-Mo catalysts through an oxophilic metal-induced tautomerization pathway," ACS Catalysis (2016)

  2. "Organometallic model complexes elucidate the active gallium species in alkane dehydrogenation catalysts based on ligand effects in Ga K-edge XANES," Catalysis Science and Technology (2016)

  3. "Reactions of mixture of oxygenates found in pyrolysis vapors: deoxygenation of hydroxyacetaldehyde and guaiacol catalyzed by HZSM-5," Topics in Catalysis (2015)

  4. "Initial reduction of the NiO(100) surface in hydrogen," The Journal of Chemical Physics (2013)

  5. "Nickel cerium olivine catalyst for catalytic gasification of biomass," Applied Catalysis B (2013)

  6. "Transformation of sulfur species during steam/air regeneration on a Ni biomass conditioning catalyst," ACS Catalysis (2012)

  7. "Manganese and ceria sorbents for high temperature sulfur removal from biomass-derived syngas—the impact of steam on capacity and sorption mode," Fuel (2012)

  8. "Integrated process configuration for high-temperature sulfur mitigation during biomass conversion via indirect gasification," Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research (2012)

  9. "Regenerable manganese-based sorbent for clean-up of simulated biomass-derived syngas," Energy & Fuels (2011)

  10. "Catalysts and Sorbents for Thermochemical Conversion of Biomass to Renewable Biofuels--Material Development Needs," in Materials Challenges in Alternative and Renewable Energy (2011)

  11. "Review of mid- to high-temperature sulfur sorbents for desulfurization of biomass- and coal-derived syngas," Energy & Fuels (2009)

  12. "Temperature dependence of goethite dissolution promoted by trihydroxamate siderophores," Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (2002)

  13. "XAFS study of Cu model compounds and Cu2+ sorption products on amorphous SiO2, ϒ-Al2O3, and anatase," American Mineralogist (2000)

  14. "Effect of hydroxamate siderophores on Pb (II) adsorption and Fe release by goethite," Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (1999)

  15. "Structure and composition of copper (II)-2, 2'-bipyridine sorption complexes on amorphous SiO2," Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (1999)

  16. "XAFS spectroscopy study of Cu (II) sorption on amorphous SiO2 and ϒ-Al2O3: effect of substrate and time on sorption complexes," Journal of Colloid and Interface Science (1998)

  17. "The effect of substrate type and 2,2'-bipyridine on the sorption of Cu (II) on silica and alumina," in Aqueous Chemistry and Geochemistry of Oxides, Oxyhydroxides and Related Materials (1996)  

Awards and Honors

  • President's Award (Team), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2017)

  • Outstanding Mentor Award, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2016)

  • President’s Award (Individual), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2014)

View all NREL Publications for Singfoong Cheah.