Personal Profile

Nic Rorrer is a senior researcher in the Biomaterials Development and Polymer Engineering group at NREL. His main research interests include the synthesis of performance-advantaged materials from biomass conversion, polymer characterization, polymer modeling, and recyclable-by-design thermosets.

Nic specializes in synthesizing polymers from biomass, which includes separating monomers from fermentation media, purifying the separated monomers, and subsequently polymerizing the monomers. Polyester, polyamides, and other polymers with a high degree of functionality are of interest due to the inherent functionality available to biomass. Performance advantages can manifest in manufacturing, operation, or end-of-life options.

Many monomers created by the biological conversion of biomass possess both carboxylic acid and olefinic moieties that make them ideal for use in unsaturated polyesters. The carboxylic acid moieties enable olefinic moieties to be placed into the backbone of unsaturated polyesters (UPEs), whereas olefinic moieties enable UPEs to be cross linked with reactive diluents. Nic is exploring these monomers, such as muconic acid, to see if they can enable performance-advantaged behavior over their petroleum counterparts. In the case of muconic acid, the two olefinic bonds provide rigidity to the UPEs and two sites for cross-linking, enabling UPEs with higher storage moduli and lower loss moduli. Additional work is dedicated to exploring reactive diluents to find alternatives to styrene.

Nic has been responsible for expanding NREL’s polymer synthesis and characterization laboratory. Due to the lab’s investments, researchers at NREL can characterize the size, shape, molecular weight, and thermomechanical properties of every polymer and plastic currently on the market, including but not limited to polyethylene, polypropylene, poly(ethylene terephthalate), and nylons. Such properties are necessary to compare new materials to those they could replace and understand their deconstruction.

Recently, work funded initially by NREL’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development program and subsequently by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicles Technology Office has investigated methods of resigning today’s plastics recyclable by design. Part of this work is the redesign of resin for carbon-fiber-reinforced composites, which can, among other benefits, reduce the costs and emissions associated with carbon fiber use.

Research Interests

Biomass-enabled performance-advantaged products

Synthesis of polymers from renewable sources

Plastics recycling and upcycling

Carbon fiber composite redesign

Experimental determination of polymer rheology and modeling of polymer processing

Professional Experience

Senior Researcher, Biomaterials Development and Polymer Engineering, NREL (2020–present)

Researcher, Biomaterials Development and Polymer Engineering, NREL (2018–2020)

Postdoctoral Researcher, Polymer Engineering, NREL (2016–2018)

Graduate Intern, NREL (2015–2016)

Graduate Researcher, Colorado School of Mines (2011–2015)

Unit Operations Laboratory Instructor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (2011)

Undergraduate Research Associate, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (2009–2011) 

Education/Academic Qualification

PhD, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

Master, Chemical Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

Bachelor, Chemical Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


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