Robert C. Brown

Robert C. Brown


Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering
Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Professor of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
Director, Bioeconomy Institute


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

Areas of Interest

  • Thermal deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass
  • Gasification, fast pyrolysis and solvent liquefaction of biomass
  • Biorenewable resources
  • Biofuels and biopower
  • Fluidized beds
  • Process intensification


Bioeconomy Institute


Thermochemical Processing of Biomass: Conversion into Fuels, Chemicals and Power, 2nd Edition

By Robert C. Brown

A comprehensive examination of the large number of possible pathways for converting biomass into fuels and power through thermochemical processes. Bringing together a widely scattered body of information into a single volume, this book provides complete coverage of the many ways that thermochemical processes are used to transform biomass into fuels, chemicals and power. Fully revised and updated, this new edition highlights the substantial progress and recent developments that have been made in this rapidly growing field since publication of the first edition and incorporates up-to-date information in each chapter.


Biorenewable Resources: Engineering New Products from Agriculture, 2nd Edition

By Robert C. Brown

Immense potential for sustainable development lies in the production of fuels, chemicals, and materials from bioresources. This timely book provides comprehensive coverage of the engineering systems that convert agricultural crops and residues into bioenergy and biobased products. Leading the way as the first textbook for coursework on biobased products, “Biorenewable Resources: Engineering New Products from Agriculture” covers not only pertinent technologies but offers a primer on necessary foundation subjects the student or other reader may lack: organic chemistry, thermodynamics, plant science, crop production, environmental science, and process economics.


Why are We Producing Biofuels?

By Robert C. Brown, Tristan R. Brown

“Why Are We Producing Biofuels?” is written for those who are curious about efforts to introduce biofuels into our energy supply but are not satisfied with the publically accessible information on the subject. Written by experts in the field, this book provides educators, policy makers, business leaders, and the general public with an insider’s understanding of the current research in the field as well as an appreciation of the debates surrounding biofuels.



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 six 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.

brown_robert_bei 2015 med

Robert C. Brown

Distinguished Professor
1140 E BRL Building