Robert C Brown

  • Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering
  • Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Chemical and Biological Engineering (Courtesy)
  • Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (Courtesy)
  • Director at Bioeconomy Institute

Main Office

1140E Biorenewables Laboratory Building
Ames, IA
Phone: 515-294-7934
Fax: 515-294-3091


  • PhD, Mechanical Engineering, Michigan State University, 1980
  • MS, Mechanical Engineering, Michigan State University, 1977
  • BS, Physics, University of Missouri, 1976
  • BA, Mathematics, University of Missouri, 1976

Interest Areas

Dr. Brown is the director of the Bioeconomy Institute, which seeks to advance the use of biorenewable resources for the production of fuels, chemicals, and materials.

Brief Biography

Dr. Brown is Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering and Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University (ISU).  He holds the rank of Professor in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering.  Dr. Brown is widely recognized as a thought leader in processing of biomass into energy, fuels, and chemicals.  He has been recognized by Biofuels Digest as one of the “Top 100 People” in bioenergy for seven consecutive years.  His activities have been cited hundreds of times in the press including Nature Magazine, Scientific American, New York Times, Discovery Magazine, BBC, Aljazeera International, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.  He has dozens of invited talks to audiences ranging from the Iowa Democratic Caucus to the GE Whitney Symposium. Dr. Brown is the founding director of the Bioeconomy Institute (BEI), which coordinates ISU’s research, educational, and outreach activities related to biobased products and bioenergy.  He also helped launch ISU’s Biorenewable Resources and Technology (BRT) graduate program, the first such degree-granting program in the United States.  Dr. Brown was the director of the Center for Sustainable Environmental Technologies, a center within the Institute for Physical Research and Technology, from 1996 until it was merged with the Bioeconomy Institute in 2014. He was one of the founders of ISU’s BioCentury Research Farm, which was recognized in 2010 by Biofuels Digest as the “Institutional Research Facility of the Year.”  He organized the Symposium on Thermochemical and Catalytic Sciences for Biofuels and Biobased Products, which bi-annually brings together international experts in gasification, pyrolysis, and solvent liquefaction to discuss recent developments in the field. Dr. Brown has built multi-disciplinary teams at ISU around several promising thermochemical platforms including bio-oil production and upgrading, syngas production and upgrading, bio-oil and syngas fermentation, and biochar production and application, resulting in over $100 million in research contracts and grants as PI or co-PI.  Among the most prominent programs under his leadership is the $16.5 million ConocoPhillips Biofuels program at ISU and a $22 million NSF EPSCoR Track 1 RII Project in Renewable Energy. Dr. Brown has published over 225 refereed papers and book chapters.  He wrote Biorenewable Resources: Engineering New Products from Agriculture, now in its second edition, the most widely used textbook in biorenewables over the last decade.  He edited Thermochemical Processing of Biomass, published in 2011, a book for professionals working in this field. He co-authored Why Are We Producing Biofuels, a book targeting general readership, recognized by Biofuels Digest as the Book of the Year in 2012. Dr. Brown received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan State University in 1980. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering.  He received the Don Klass Award for Excellence in Thermochemical Conversion Science in 2015. He has eighteen patents, one of which received a R&D 100 Award from Research and Development Magazine in 1997.


  • Top 100 People in Bioenergy, Biofuels Digest, Seven Consecutive Years (2011-2017)
  • Don Klass Award for Excellence in Thermochemical Conversion Science, presented by the Gas Technology Institute at the International Conference on Thermochemical Conversion Science, Chicago, IL, November 3, 2015
  • Exemplary Faculty Mentor, Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost, Iowa State University, May 2015
  • Most cited article in Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining in 2013 and 2014 (Brown, T. R., and Brown, R. C., A review of cellulosic biofuel commercial-scale projects in the United States, Vol. 7, Issue 3, pages 235-245, May/June 2013)
  • Eminent Engineer, Tau Beta Pi, inducted as member at Iowa State University, April 28, 2013
  • Book of the Year (“Why Are We Producing Biofuels?”), Biofuels Digest, December 31, 2012
  • First Prize, Climate Change Category, Thirty-Year Challenge Policy Competition, Farm Foundation, for the essay “The Embedded Carbon Valuation System: A Policy Concept to Address Climate Change” (shared with Tristan Brown and Dermot Hayes), 2009
  • Anson Marston Distinguished Professor of Engineering, 2008-present
  • Gary and Donna Hoover Chair of Mechanical Engineering, 2008-present
  • Impact Award, ISU Alumni Association, 2007
  • Dean’s Citation for Extraordinary Contributions, College of Agriculture, Iowa State University, 2007
  • Distinguished Iowa Scientist Award, Iowa Academy of Science, April 21, 2006
  • Iowa Farm Bureau Director, Office of Biorenewables Programs, 2006
  • Distinguished Iowa Scientist Award, Iowa Academy of Sciences, 2006
  • Visiting Scholar, John Deere Company, 2004
  • Bergles Professor in Thermal Science, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Iowa State University, 2003-2008
  • Vice Provost Special Citation, for service on the BIOWA Board of Directors, Iowa State University Extension, 2003
  • Fellow, American Society of Mechanical Engineering International, March 2002
  • David R. Boylan Eminent Faculty Award for Research, College of Engineering, Iowa State University, 2002

Selected Publications

  • Haverly, M. R., Okoren, K. V., Brown, R. C. (2016) Thermal stability of fractionated bio-oil from fast pyrolysis, Energy and Fuels 30, 9419-9426.
  • Hoff, T., Thilakaratne, R., Gardner, D., Brown, R., Tessonnier, J-P. (2016) Thermal Stability of Aluminum-Rich ZSM-5 Zeolites and Consequences on Aromatization Reactions, Journal of Physical Chemistry 120, 20103-20113.
  • Benipal, N., Johnston, P. A., Gentile, J. C., Brown, R. C., Wenzhen, L. (2016) Direct pyrolysis bio-oil fuel cell, Fuel 185, 85-93.
  • Shen, Y., Brown, R., Wen, Z. (2016) Syngas fermentation of Clostridium carboxidivorans P7 in a horizontal rotating packed bed biofilm reactor with enhanced ethanol production, Applied Energy 187, 585-594.
  • Davis, K., Rover, M., Brown, R. C., Bai, X., Wen, X., Jarboe, L. (2016) Recovery and utilization of lignin monomers as part of the biorefinery approach, Energies 9, 808-835, DOI:10.3390/ en9100808.
  • Hoff, T. C., Gardner, D. W., Thilakaratne, R., Wang, K., Brown, R. C., and Tessonnier, F.-P. (2016) Tailoring ZSM-5 zeolites for the fast pyrolysis of biomass to aromatic hydrocarbons, ChemSusChem 9, 1473-1482.
  • Liu, G., Wright, M., Zhao, , Q., Brown, R. C. (2016) Hydrocarbon and ammonia production from catalytic pyrolysis of sewage sludge with acid pretreatment, ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng. 4, 1819-1826.
  • Ghosh, A., Brown, R. C., and Bai, X. (2016) Production of solubilized and depolymerized carbohydrate from cellulose using non-catalytic, supercritical depolymerization in polar aprotic solvents, Green Chemistry 18, 1023-1031.
  • Zhang, J., Wang, K., Nolte, M. W., Choi, Y., Brown, R. C., Shanks, B. H. (2016) Catalytic deoxygenation of bio-oil model compounds over acid-base bifunctional catalysts, ACS Catalysis, DOI: 10.1021/acscatal.6b00245.
  • Liu, G., Wright, M. M., Zhao, Q., Brown, R. C., Wang, K., Xue, Y. (2016) Catalytic pyrolysis of amino acids: Comparison of aliphatic amino acid and cyclic amino acid, Energy Conversion and Management 112, 220-
  • Thilakaratne, R., Tessonnier, J. P., and Brown, R. C. (2016) Conversion of methoxy and hydroxyl functionalities of phenolic monomers over zeolites, Green Chemistry18, 2231-2239.
  • Broer, K.M., Brown, R.C. (2016) The role of char and tar in determining the gas-phase partitioning of nitrogen during biomass gasification, Applied Energy 158, 474-483.
  • Broer, K.M., Brown, R.C. (2016) The effect of equivalence ratio on partitioning of nitrogen during biomass gasification, Energy & Fuels 30, 407-413.
  • Kieffer, M. Brown, T., Brown, R. C. (2016) Flex fuel polygeneration: Integrating renewable natural gas into Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, Applied Energy 170, 208-218.
  • Hu, W., Dang, Q., Rover, M., Brown, R. C., and Wright, M. (2016) Comparative techno-economic analysis of advanced biofuels, biochemicals, and hydrocarbon chemicals via the fast pyrolysis platform, Biofuels 7, 57-67.
  • Ou, L., Li, B., Dang, Q., Jones, S., Brown, R. C., Wright, M. M. (2016) Understanding the uncertainty in economic feasibility of transportation fuel production via biomass gasification and mixed alcohol synthesis, Energy Technology 4, 441-448.
  • Qi, D., Wright, M., and Brown, R. C. (2015) Ultra-low Carbon Emissions from Coal-fired Power Plants through Bio-oil Co-firing and Bio-char Sequestration, Environmental Science & Technology 49, 14688-14695.
  • Brown, T. R., Brown, R. C., Estes, V. (2015) Commercial-scale production of lignocellulosic biofuels, CEP, March Issue, pp. 62-64.
  • Haverly, M. R., Whitmer, L. E.,  Brown, R. C. (2015) Evaluation of polymer compatibility with bio-oil produced from thermochemical conversion of biomass, Energy & Fuels 29, 7993-7997.
  • Zhao, X., Davis, K., Brown, R. C., Jarboe, L., Wen, Z. (2015) Alkaline treatment for detoxification of acetic acid-rich pyrolytic bio-oil for microalgae fermentation: effects of alkaline species and the detoxification mechanisms, Biomass and Bioenergy 80, 203-212.
  • Zhou, S., Brown, R. C., and Bai, X. (2015) The use of calcium hydroxide pretreatment to overcome agglomeration of technical lignin during fast pyrolysis, Green Chemistry 17, 4748-4759.
  • Kolakaluri, R., Murphy, E., Subramaniam, S., Brown, R. C., Fox, R. O., (2015) Filtration model for polydisperse aerosols in gas-solid flow using granule-resolved direct numerical simulation, AIChE J. 61, 3594-3606.
  • Gable, P., Brown, R. C. (2015) Effect of biomass heating time on bio-oil yields in a free fall fast pyrolysis reactor, Fuel 166, 361-366.
  • Choi, Y. S., Lee, K. H., Zhang, J., Brown, R. C., Shanks, B. (2015) Manipulation of chemical species in bio-oil using in situ catalytic fast pyrolysis in both a bench-scale fluidized bed pyrolyzer and micropyrolyzer, Biomass and Bioenergy 81, 256-264.
  • Li, B., Ou, L., Dang, Q., Meyer, P., Jones, S., Brown, R., and Wright, M. (2015) Techno-economic and uncertainty analysis of in situ and ex situ fast pyrolysis for biofuel production, Bioresource Technology 196, 49-56.
  • Broer, K.M., Johnston, P. A., Haag, A., Brown, R.C. (2015) Resolving inconsistencies in measurements of hydrogen cyanide in syngas, Fuel 140, 97-101.
  • del Campo, B. G., Morris, M. D., Laird, D. A., Kieffer, M. M., Brown, R. C. (2015) Optimizing production of activated carbon from fast pyrolysis char, Technology 3, 104-113.
  • Wang, K., Zhang, J., Shanks, B.H., Brown, R.C. (2015) The deleterious effect of inorganic salts on hydrocarbon yields from catalytic pyrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass and its mitigation, Applied Energy 148, 115-120.
  • Elliott, D. C., Wang, H., Whitmer, L., Rover, M., Smith, R., and Brown, R. C. (2015) Hydrocarbon liquid production via catalytic hydroprocessing of phenolic oligomers fractionated from fast pyrolysis of red oak and corn stover, ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering 3, 892-902.
  • S. Aramideh, Q. Xiong, Brown, R. C., Kong, S.-K. (2015) Numerical simulation of biomass fast pyrolysis in an auger reactor, Fuel 156, 234-242.
  • Wang, K., Ou, L., Brown, T., and Brown, R. C. (2015) Beyond ethanol: a techno-economic analysis of an integrated corn biorefinery for the production of hydrocarbon fuels and chemicals, BioFPR 9, 190-200.
  • Zhang J., Choi Y., Yoo C., Kim T., Brown R.C., Shanks B. (2015) Cellulose−hemicellulose and cellulose−lignin interactions during fast pyrolysis, ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 3, 293−301.
  • Xue, Y., Zhou, S., Kelkar, A., Brown, R. C., Bai, X. (2015) Fast pyrolysis of biomass and waste plastic in a fluidized bed reactor, Fuel 156, 40-46.
  • Woolcock, P., Koziel, J., Brown, R., Johnston, P., Brown, R. C., Broer, K. (2015) Analysis of trace contaminants in hot gas streams using time-weighted average solid-phase microextraction: Pilot-scale validation, Fuel 153, 552-558.
  • Rover, M.R., Hall, P.H., Johnston, P.A., Smith, R.G., Brown, R.C. Stabilization of bio-oils using low temperature, low pressure hydrogenation (2015) Fuel 153, 224-230.
  • Kim, K. H., Bai, X. Cady, S., Gable, P., Brown, R. C. (2015) A quantitative investigation of free radicals in bio-oil and their potential role in condensed phase polymerization of cellulose- and lignin-derived pyrolysates, ChemSusChem 8, 894–900.
  • Ou, L., Thilakaratne, R., Brown, R. C. and Wright, M. M. (2015) Techno-economic analysis of transportation fuels from defatted microalgae via hydrothermal liquefaction and hydroprocessing, Biomass and Bioenergy 72, 45-54.
  • Daugaard, T., Mutti, L. A., Wright, M. W., Brown, R. C., Componation, P. (2015) Learning rates and their impacts on the optimal capacities and production costs of biorefineries, BioFPR 9, 82-94, DOI: 10.1002/bbb.1513.
  • Wang, W., Zhang, J., Shanks, B. H., Brown, R. C. (2015) Catalytic conversion of carbohydrate-derived oxygenates over HZSM-5 in a tandem micro-reactor system, Green Chemistry 17, 557-564, DOI: 10.1039/C4GC01784F.
  • Liu, G., Wright, M. W., Zhao, Q., Brown, R. C. (2015) Catalytic fast pyrolysis of duckweed: Effects of pyrolysis parameters and optimization of aromatic production, Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis 112, 29-36.
  • Shen, Y., Jarboe, L., Brown, R., Wen, Z. (2015) A thermochemical-biochemical hybrid processing of lignocellulosic biomass for producing fuels and chemicals, Biotechnology Advances 33, 1799-1813.
  • Broer, K.M., Woolcock, P.J., Johnston, P. A., and Brown, R.C. (2015) Steam/oxygen gasification system for the production of clean syngas from switchgrass, Fuel 140, 282-292.
A complete list of publications can be found on Dr. Brown's faculty page