Dr. Nicholas (Nick) Thornburg is a chemical reaction engineer in the Fuels and Combustion Science group in NREL’s Center for Integrated Mobility Sciences (CIMS). He joined CIMS in April 2020 as a postdoctoral researcher and advanced to his current role in April 2023. 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. His current research interests lie in multiphase reaction engineering for renewable small-molecule chemical syntheses facilitated by multiple renewable energy reactor inputs (e.g., electrons, photons, heat, hydrogen) for deep decarbonization of the chemical industry and heavy transportation sectors.

Thornburg leads research and development projects in the following areas: renewable ammonia synthesis, separation, and utilization; electrochemical COx conversion, scale-up, and energy systems integration for the synthesis of valuable commodity chemicals; onboard fuel and hydrogen carrier reforming; and catalyst deactivation in integrated chemical process environments. Before joining NREL, he gained industrial research and development experience at The Dow Chemical Company and 3M. His doctoral research focused on heterogeneous transition metal oxide catalysts in sustainable chemical manufacturing applications. He is passionate about industrial decarbonization, entrepreneurship, and student development and welcomes outreach by interested parties.

Research Interests

Renewable ammonia synthesis, separation, and energy vector utilization

Understanding catalyst deactivation in integrated process environments

Multiphase chemical reaction engineering and transport phenomena

Electrochemical, photochemical, and plasma-driven reaction engineering

Heterogeneous catalyst synthesis, design, and characterization

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

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


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

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

Professional Experience

Senior Reaction Engineer, NREL, CIMS (2023–present)

Staff Reaction Engineer, NREL, CIMS (2020–2023)

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

Board Member, Washington University in St. Louis, Department of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Advisory Committee

Treasurer, North American Catalysis Society, Rocky Mountain Catalysis Society Local Section

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

Alternate Counselor, American Chemical Society, Colorado Local Section

Conference Co-Chair, Rocky Mountain Catalysis Society Annual Symposium

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

Featured Work

Model Assessment of Synthetic Jets for Turbulent Combustion Experiments, Flow, Turbulence, and Combustion (2023)

Catalytic Ammonia Reforming: Alternative Routes to Net-Zero-Carbon Hydrogen and Fuel, Chemical Science (2022)

Mass Transport Limitations and Kinetic Consequences of Corn Stover Deacetylation, Frontiers in Energy Research (2022)

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)

Mesoscale Reaction-Diffusion Phenomena Governing Lignin‐First Biomass Fractionation, ChemSusChem (2020)

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

MOFs and their Grafted Analogues: Regioselective Epoxide Ring-Opening with Zr6 Nodes, Catalysis Science & Technology (2016)

Synthesis–Structure–Function Relationships of Silica-Supported Niobium(V) Catalysts for Alkene Epoxidation with H2O2, ACS Catalysis (2016)

Periodic Trends in Highly Dispersed Groups IV and V Supported Metal Oxide Catalysts for Alkene Epoxidation with H2O2, ACS Catalysis (2015)

View all NREL publications for Nick Thornburg.


Bioderived Heat Transfer Fluids and Methods of Making the Same, U.S. Patent Application No. 2021/0261749 A1 (2020)

Awards and Honors

NREL Key Contributor Award (2021 and 2022)

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 and Biological Engineering Department, Northwestern University (2016)

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

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

National Collegiate Athletics Association Academic All-American, Men’s Swimming (2009–2012)