Dr. Nicholas (Nick) Thornburg is a chemical reaction engineer in the Fuels and Combustion Science group within the Center for Integrated Mobility Sciences (CIMS) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Nick joined CIMS in April 2020 and began his current role as a staff research engineer in October of the same year. He originally joined NREL’s National Bioenergy Center (NBC) as a postdoctoral researcher in April 2017, where he studied particle-scale reaction engineering and multiphase chemical reactor design and optimization for biomass deconstruction. Nick’s current research interests lie in multiphase reaction engineering for onboard fuel reforming and emissions management applications for the renewable synthesis of small-molecule chemicals and fuels. Nick has a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Washington University St. Louis and a Doctorate in Chemical Engineering from Northwestern University. His doctoral research at Northwestern focused on understanding heterogeneous transition metal oxide catalysts for applications in sustainable chemical manufacturing. Before joining NREL, Nick gained industrial research and development experience with The Dow Chemical Company and 3M.

Research Interests

Onboard reforming and emissions management of net-zero-carbon fuels

 Renewable ammonia synthesis and energy vector utilization

 Sustainable aviation and marine fuel synthesis, co-processing, and characterization

 Heterogeneous catalyst synthesis, design, and characterization

 Understanding catalyst deactivation in integrated process environments

 Multiphase chemical reaction engineering and transport phenomena

 Design and multiscale modeling of intermediate-scale chemical reactors and separators


Ph.D., Chemical Engineering, Northwestern University, 2017

B.S., Chemical Engineering, Washington University in St. Louis, 2012

Professional Experience

Staff Reaction Engineer, NREL, CIMS (2020–present)

Postdoctoral Researcher, NREL, CIMS (2020)

Postdoctoral Researcher, NREL, NBC (2017–2019)

Polymer Product Design Intern, 3M, Corporate Research Materials Laboratory (2015)

Environmental Remediation Intern, ARCADIS U.S., Inc. (2011)

Research Participant Program Intern, NREL, NBC (2010)

Associations and Memberships

Executive Program Chair, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Rocky Mountain Local Section

Alternate Counselor, American Chemical Society, Colorado Local Section

Symposium Co-Chair, North American Catalysis Society, Rocky Mountain Catalysis Society (RMCS) Local Section

Engineer Intern Licensee (EI.0073544), Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies

Featured Work

Impacts of Anisotropic Porosity on Heat Transfer and Off-Gassing during Biomass Pyrolysis, Energy & Fuels (2021)

Bridging Scales in Bioenergy and Catalysis: A Review of Mesoscale Modeling Applications, Methods, and Future Directions, Energy & Fuels (2021)

Flow-through Solvolysis Enables Production of Native-like Lignin from Biomass, Green Chemistry (2021)

Techno-economic Analysis and Life Cycle Assessment of a Biorefinery Utilizing Reductive Catalytic Fractionation, Energy & Environmental Science (2021)

Mesoscale Reaction-Diffusion Phenomena Governing Lignin‐First Biomass FractionationChemSusChem (2020)

Direct Visualization of Independent Ta Centers Supported on Two-Dimensional TiO2 NanosheetsNano Letters (2019)

Hybrid Approach for Selective Sulfoxidation via Bioelectrochemically Derived Hydrogen Peroxide over a Niobium(V)–Silica CatalystACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering (2018)

Consequences of Confinement for Alkene Epoxidation with Hydrogen Peroxide on Highly Dispersed Group 4 and 5 Metal Oxide CatalystsACS Catalysis (2018)

Rate and Selectivity Control in Thioether and Alkene Oxidation with H2O2 over Phosphonate-Modified Niobium(V)–Silica CatalystsChemCatChem (2017)

Synthesis-Structure-Function Relationships of Silica-Supported Niobium(V) Catalysts for Alkene Epoxidation with H2O2ACS Catalysis (2016)

View all NREL publications for Nick Thornburg.

Awards and Honors

NREL Key Contributor Award (2021)

NREL Employee of the Month, Excellence in Chemical Reactor Design, Chemical Process Safety, and Leadership in Promoting a Positive Safety Culture (2018)

Distinguished Graduate Researcher Award, Chemical & Biological Engineering Department, Northwestern University (2016)

W. L. Gore Research Fellowship Grand Prize Winner (2015)

George Thodos Teaching Assistant Award, Chemical & Biological Engineering Department, Northwestern University (2015)

NCAA Academic All-American, Men’s Swimming (2009–2012)