Photo of Michael E. Himmel

Michael Himmel

Senior Research Fellow I-Molecular Biology


Michael Himmel has over 40 years of progressive experience in conducting, supervising, and planning research in protein biochemistry, recombinant technology, enzyme engineering, new microorganism discovery, the physicochemistry of macromolecules, and all unit operations in biofuels production research and development. He has also supervised research that targets the application of site-directed-mutagenesis and rational protein design to the stabilization and improvement of important industrial enzymes, especially glycosyl hydrolases. In his 4 decades at NREL, Michael has served the lab by performing at all science and managerial positions leading to his current role as an NREL Senior Research Fellow. During the past 3 decades, Michael has contributed over 500 peer-reviewed journal articles to the literature. He has also edited 11 books, been awarded 40 patents, and has organized or co-organized many international conferences on aspects of biotechnology and biomass conversion.

Research Interests

Biomass comminution, pretreatment, enzyme hydrolysis, and advanced fermentation methods

Managing research designed to improve cellulase performance, reduce biomass pretreatment costs, and improve yields of fermentable sugars

Biohybrids, nanobioelectronics, and radio frequency (high frequency) vibrational probes of enzyme structure


Ph.D., Biochemistry, Colorado State University

B.S., Chemistry, University of Northern Colorado

Professional Experience

Fellow/Senior Fellow, NREL (2010–present)

Principal Scientist (I-II), NREL (2005–2010)

Staff Scientist (I-III)/Senior Scientist, NREL (1981–2005)

Academic Experience

Fellow with the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, NREL, and University of Colorado, Boulder

Editorial and Advisory Experience

Serves on the editorial boards of the scientific journals Science, Bioenergy Research, and Cellulose

Reviewing Editor (Biochemistry) for Science (retired)

Founding Co-Editor-in-Chief, Biotechnology for Biofuels

Chaired or co-chaired 15 international meetings in the field of biochemistry and biotechnology, including the 2003 Gordon Research Conference on "Cellulases and Cellulosomes"

Co-chaired the Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research Workshop on Bioenergy, which led to the inaugural Office of Science Road Map for the Bioenergy Research Centers

Featured Work

Iron Incorporation Both Intra- and Extra-Cellularly Improves the Yield and Saccharification of Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) Biomass, Biotechnology for Biofuels (2021)

Overview and Future Directions in Metabolic Pathway Engineering, Metabolic Pathway Engineering (2020)

Nanomechanics of Cellulose Deformation Reveal Molecular Defects that Facilitate Natural Deconstruction, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2019)

Lignocellulose Deconstruction in the Biosphere, Current Opinion in Chemical Biology (2017)

Fungal Cellulases, Chemical Reviews (2015)

Revealing Nature's Cellulase Diversity: The Hyperactive CelA from Caldicellulosiruptor bescii, Science (2013)

Harnessing Glycosylation to Improve Cellulase ActivityCurrent Opinion in Biotechnology (2012)

Perspectives and New Directions for the Production of Bioethanol Using Consolidated Bioprocessing of LignocelluloseCurrent Opinion in Biotechnology (2009)

How Biotech Can Transform Biofuels, Nature Biotechnology (2008)

Biomass Recalcitrance: Engineering Plants and Enzymes for Biofuels ProductionScience (2007)

The Potential of Cellulases and Cellulosomes for Cellulosic Waste ManagementCurrent Opinion in Biotechnology (2007)

Outlook for Cellulase Improvement: Screening and Selection Strategies, Biotechnology Advances (2006)

The Maize Primary Cell Wall Microfibril: A New Model Derived From Direct Visualization, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (2006)

Ab initio Molecular Dynamics Simulations of β-D-Glucose and β-D-Xylose Degradation Mechanisms in Acidic Aqueous Solution, Carbohydrate Research (2005)

Cellulase for Commodity Products from Cellulosic BiomassCurrent Opinion in Biotechnology (1999)

Enzymes, Energy, and the Environment: A Strategic Perspective on the U.S. Department of Energy's Research and Development Activities for Bioethanol, Biotechnology Progress (1999)


Engineered Zymomonas for the Production of 2,3-Butanediol, U.S. Patent No. 11,091,782 (2021)

Multifunctional Microbial Cellulases, U.S. Patent No. U.S. 10,538,753 (2020)

Enzyme Scaffolds and Methods of Use, U.S. Patent No. U.S. 10,577,633 (2020)

Cellulose-Based Composites and Methods of Making the Same, U.S. Patent No. U.S. 10,793,699 (2020)

Multifunctional Microbial Cellulases, U.S. Patent No. U.S. 10,538,753 (2020)

Awards and Honors

NREL Technology Transfer Award (2019)

American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (The PROSE Awards) Nominated (2016)

Colorado State University, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Distinguished Alumnus (2014)

Battelle Memorial Institute Inventor of the Year (2013)

Battelle Memorial Institute Distinguished Inventor (2011)

C.D. Scott Award – Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals: Society for Industrial Microbiology (2010)

NREL/Midwest Research Institute (MRI) Chairman's Award for Outstanding Performance (2007)

R&D 100 Award "Advanced Cellulase System for Biomass Conversion" (2004)

NREL/MRI H. Hubbard Award for Outstanding Research Management (2002)

NREL/MRI Staff Award for Outstanding Team (Leader) Performance (1998)

NREL/MRI Staff Award for Outstanding Research Performance (1992)

American Chemical Society Outstanding Service Award (1990)