Brent H Shanks

  • Mike and Jean Steffenson Professor
  • Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering
  • Director of NSF Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC)
  • Chemical and Biological Engineering

Main Office

1140L Biorenewables Research Laboratory
Ames, IA 50011-2230
Phone: 515-294-1895
Fax: 515-294-2689


Ph.D. Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology, 1988 M.S. Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology, 1985 B.S. Chemical Engineering, Iowa State University, 1983

Interest Areas

BRENT SHANKS' RESEARCH PAGE Research Interests: Heterogeneous catalysis, catalytic conversion of biorenewable feedstocks, catalyst supports: carbon and mesoporous metal oxides, thermal deconstruction of biomass Research Areas: Catalytic Conversion of Biorenewable Feedstocks - Biorenewable feedstocks represent a potentially attractive source of organic chemicals. However, biorenewable feedstock conversion with heterogeneous catalysts provides new challenges in inorganic catalyst research and development relative to the voluminous historical work with petrochemical feedstocks. These unique challenges include the need to convert selectively, highly functionalized molecules and to develop catalytic liquid-solid interfaces in which the liquid phase is commonly aqueous. Examples of projects in our group include: a) esterification of carboxylic acids to alkyl esters -- we have synthesized and tested nanostructured organic-inorganic hybrid catalysts for use in esterification reactions. b) C-O bond hydrogenolysis of biorenewable molecules -- we have examined the mechanism involved in C-O bond hydrogenolysis over supported metal catalysts to better understand the potential for selectively converting a specific hydroxyl group within a polyhydroxylated molecule. c) selective dehydration of carbohydrates -- we are exploring novel chemical catalyst systems that can selectively dehydrate carbohydrates or their derivatives to valuable products such as 5-hydroxymethylfurfural and diols. d) ketonization of carboxylic acids – C-C bond formation can be accomplished via ketonization of carboxylic acids. Catalyst Supports – a) Carbon Supports – Carbons are promising supports to create catalysts with improved hydrothermal stability over that possible with metal oxides. However, the surface chemistry of carbons can be quite complicated and difficult to characterize. We are interested in developing improved understanding of carbon surface chemistry so that we can rationally design carbon-supported catalytic materials: b) Mesoporous Metal Oxides as Nanostructured Catalytic Hosts - Nanostructured metal oxides hold promise for applications as unique catalytic hosts in which catalytic reactions requiring directed conformational synthesis can be achieved. We are interested in the controlled synthesis of mesoporous metal oxidess to produce nanostructured materials with specific surface chemistry and particle morphology. The surface chemistry properties to be manipulated during material synthesis include the population and type of catalytic sites. To control the interplay of diffusional effects with reactivity, the ability to manipulate pore size as well as particle morphology is important. Thermal Deconstruction of Biomass – Rapid heating of biomass in the absence of air, known as fast pyrolysis, can yield a liquid product. These thermal deconstruction reactions are quite complex, so we are interested in understanding the fundamental reactions occurring during pyrolysis. Using this knowledge, we are developing strategies to improve the quality of the liquid product resulting from pyrolysis.

Brief Biography

Honors and Awards Superior Engineering Teacher Award, 2007 ISU Engineering Student Council Leadership Award, 2004 Teaching Award, AIChE Student Chapter, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008 Shell Faculty Fellow, 2000-2002 VEISHEA Engineering Faculty of the Year, 2000 Work Experience 1997-1999; Department Manager, Shell Chemical Co. 1988-1997; Research Engineer, Shell Chemical Co. Professional Memberships American Chemical Society American Institute of Chemical Engineers North American Catalysis Society Omega Chi Epsilon Tau Beta Pi

Selected Publications

  • Zhang, J., Nolte, M., and Shanks, B.H., “Investigation of Primary Reactions and Secondary Effects from the Pyrolysis of Different Celluloses,” ACS Sustain. Chem. Eng., 2, 2820-2830 (2014).
  • Zhou, X., Nolte, M.W., Shanks, B.H. and Broadbelt, L.J., “Experimental and Mechanistic Modeling of Fast Pyrolysis of Neat Glucose-based Carbohydrates. Part 1: Experiments and Development of a Detailed Mechanistic Model,” Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., 53, 13274-13289 (2014). Johnson, R.L., Anderson, J.M, Shanks, B.H. and Schmidt-Rohr, K., “A simple one-step synthesis of polyaromatic materials with high concentrations of stable catalytic sites, validated by NMR,” Chem. Mater., 26, 5523-5529 (2014).
  • Schwartz, T.J., O’Neill, B.J., Shanks, B.H., and Dumesic, J.A., “Bridging the chemical and biological catalysis gap: challenges and outlooks for producing sustainable chemicals,” ACS Catal., 4, 2060-2069 (2014).
  • Anderson, J.M., Johnson, R.L., Schmidt-Rohr, K, and Shanks, B.H., ”Chemical Structure and Hydrothermal Deactivation of Moderate-Temperature Carbon Materials with Acidic SO3H Sites,” Carbon, 74, 333-345 (2014).
  • Wang, T., Nolte, M.W. and Shanks, B.H., “Catalytic Dehydration of C6 Carbohydrates for the Production of 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF): A Versatile Platform Chemical,” Green Chem., 16, 548-572 (2014).
  • Snell, R.W. and Shanks, B.H., “Insights into the ceria-catalyzed ketonization reaction mechanism for biofuels applications," ACS Catal., 3, 783-789 (2013).
  • Cinlar, B., Wang, T., and Shanks, B.H., “Kinetics of Monosaccharide Conversion in the Presence of Homogeneous Acids,” Appl. Catal. A: Gen., 450, 237-242 (2013).
  • Snell, R.W., Hakim, S.H., Dumesic, J.A., and Shanks, B.H., “Catalysis with ceria nanocrystals: bio-oil model compound ketonization,” Appl. Catal. A: Gen., 464, 288-296 (2013).
  • Deutsch, K.L. and Shanks, B.H., “Hydrodeoxygenation of Lignin Model Compounds over a Copper Catalyst,” Appl. Catal. A: Gen., 447, 144-150 (2012).
  • Chia, M., Schwartz, T.J., Shanks, B.H., and Dumesic, J.A., “Triacetic Acid Lactone as a Biorenewable Platform Chemical,” Green Chem., 14, 1850-1853 (2012).
  • Deutsch, K.L., Lahr, D.G., and Shanks, B.H., “Probing the ruthenium-catalyzed higher polyol hydrogenolysis reaction through the use of stereoisomers,” Green Chem., 14, 1635-1642 (2012).
  • Wang, T., Combs, E., Pagan-Torres, Y.J., Dumesic, J.A., and Shanks, B.H., “Water-compatible Lewis acid-catalyzed conversion of carbohydrates to 5-hydroxymethylfurfural in a biphasic solvent system,” Top. Catal., 55, 657-662 (2012).
  • Pagan-Torres, Y.J., Wang, T., Gallo, J.M.R., Shanks, B.H., and Dumesic, J.A., “Production of 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural from Glucose Using a Combination of Lewis and Brønsted Acid Catalysts in Water in a Biphasic Reactor with an Alkylphenol Solvent,” ACS Catal., 2, 930-934 (2012).