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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

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)

Education/Academic Qualification

PhD, Chemical Engineering, Northwestern University

Bachelor, Chemical Engineering, Washington University St. Louis


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