Biomass Formation and Modification | Biomass Deconstruction and Conversion | Enabling Technologies | Key Research Personnel and Expertise | Research Partners | Scientific Advisory Board | Board of Directors | BESC Staff

BESC Center Management

Paul Gilna - Director

Dr. Gilna previously held a position at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology and the Center for Research in Biological Systems, both located at the University of California, San Diego. At San Diego he served as executive director for the Community Cyber infrastructure for Advanced Marine Microbial Ecology Research and Analysis project. Previously, Dr. Gilna was director of the Joint Genome Institute at Los Alamos National Laboratory and has worked at the National Science Foundation. His research interests range from molecular biology to microbiology to computational biology.

Brian Davison - Science Coordinator

Dr. Davison is Chief Scientist for Systems Biology and Biotechnology at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Adjunct Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Tennessee. He has managed individual and multi-institutional projects. He has authored over 100 publications and six patents, including one of the first reports that genetic variation in populus composition can affect hydrolysis. Dr. Davison is the awardee of the Charles D. Scott Award by the Society of Industrial Microbiology.

Renae Speck - Technology Transfer and Partnerships

Dr. Speck is the Director of Technology Transfer and Partnerships for BESC. She is managing the BESC Commercialization Council and tracking all Intellectual Property created using BESC Funds. Dr. Speck is responsible for managing research relationships for large multi-partner, multi-year awards involving researchers and staff in the Energy and Environmental Sciences Directorate. Dr. Speck earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a Bachelor of Science degree in Recombinant Genetics and Chemistry from Western Kentucky University.

Cheri Foust - Project Manager

Ms. Foust joined BESC in April 2012 to take on the role of BESC Technical Project Manager. Cheri comes to BESC with over 20 years of project management experience, with a considerable amount of that focused on developing project plans and managing project stakeholders, the project team, risk, schedules, milestones, budgets and conflicts. In addition Cheri has a background and formal training in public health. She holds a Master in Public Health (MPH) from the University of Tennessee, B.S in both Business Administration and Health.

Lee Lynd - Biomass Deconstruction and Conversion Lead

Dr. Lynd is Professor of Engineering and Biological Sciences at Dartmouth College. He is a recipient of the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award as well as a two-time recipient of the Charles A. Lindbergh Award for his efforts to promote balance between technological progress and preservation of the natural and human environments. He has been awarded the Charles D. Scott award for outstanding contributions to the field of biotechnology for fuels and chemicals and is the Inaugural winner of the Lemelson-MIT Sustainability Award.

Debra Mohnen - Biomass Formation and Modification Lead

Dr. Mohnen is the BESC Biomass Formation and Modification Lead and Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and at the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center at the University of Georgia. Her research program centers on the biosynthesis function and structure of plant cell wall polysaccharides. Her emphasis is on the biosynthesis of pectin, pectin function in plants, human health and on the improvement of plant cell wall structure so as to improve the efficiency of conversion of plant wall biomass to biofuels.

Mark Davis - Enabling Technologies Lead

Dr. Davis of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) research program is focused on integrating multivariate statistical data analysis and spectroscopic methods such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and pyrolysis-molecular beam mass spectrometry (PyMBMS) follow changes in plant cell wall chemistry due to transgenic modification. He has developed pyMBMS methods to rapidly analyze cell wall chemistry and teamed with plant geneticists to use the results of these analyses to identify quantitative trait loci (QTLs) in poplar and loblolly pine. We have also developed several NMR methods to characterize pyrolysis oil and liquid products from lignin.

Suzy Fowler - Operations

Ms. Fowler is the Operations Manager for the Energy and Environmental Sciences Directorate at ORNL and for BESC. Ms. Fowler brings over 15 years of diverse management experience in both the government contractor and commercial sectors. She holds a MS degree in Business Administration and a BS degree in Biochemistry.

Dennis Parton - Finance

Mr. Parton serves as the DOE BESC Deputy Director for Finance and Business Management, responsible for procurement and management of the center finances. He is the ORNL business/financial manager for the Energy and Environmental Sciences Directorate.

Biomass Formation and Modification

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Alan Darvill - Cell Wall Formation

Dr. Darvill is a Regents Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Plant Biology at the University of Georgia (UGA). He brings to his role in BESC more than 35 years studying the structure and function of plant cell walls (biomass). He is also the Director of the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center at UGA. His research program involves the advances in a wide range of related sciences. His research program involves the characterization of the non-cellulosic polysaccharides that constitute the primary cell walls of plants.

Richard Dixon - Switchgrass

Dr. Dixon is a Distinguished Research Professor at the University of North-Texas (UNT) and former Senior Vice President, Professor and Director of the Plant Biology Division at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation. Dr. Dixon founded the Plant Biology Division at the Noble Foundation in 1988 and has built it into one of the world’s leading institutes for molecular plant sciences. His research programs focus on understanding how plants produce natural products and how this understanding can be applied to generate improved plants with altered natural product profiles. A goal of his lab is to apply the understanding of lignin to reduce the recalcitrance of biofuel crops for ethanol production.

Jeffrey Bennetzen - Switchgrass

Dr. Bennetzen currently serves as the Giles Professor of Molecular Biology and Functional Genomics in the Department of Genetics at the University of Georgia. He has spent his career teasing out the intricacies of plant genomes with respect to their gene number, arrangement and evolutionary traits.

Gerald Tuskan - Populus

Dr. Tuskan, Distinguished Scientist, Plant Genetics Group, Environmental Sciences Division, ORNL, has more than 15 years experience leading and working with DOE on the development of biomass feedstocks, Dr. Tuskan is the DOE lead for the Laboratory Sciences Program at the Joint Genome Institute and is the project leader of the International Populus Genome Consortium.

Biomass Deconstruction and Conversion

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Michael Himmel - Enzymatic

Dr. Himmel, Principal Scientist at National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), brings to his role in BESC more than 25 years of experience establishing and leading successful DOE projects and laboratories. He is the Principal Supervisor of the Bimolecular Sciences Section within the Energy Sciences Directorate at NREL. His research program involves protein purification and characterization facilities at NREL with special emphasis on robotics systems for screening libraries derived from directed evolution technology.

James Liao - Fuel Synthesis

Dr. James Liao is a Chancellor's Professor and Vice-Chair at UCLA Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, a member of the NanoBiotechnology and Biomaterials at the California NanoSystems Institute and a faculty member of ACCESS, Biomedical Engineering IDP and Molecular Biology IDP. His research program focuses on developing novel technologies for metabolic genomics research in microbial and human systems. It integrates molecular biology and chip-based technologies to investigate molecular recognition, signal amplification and biological regulation.

Enabling Technologies

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Arthur Ragauskas - Biomass Characterization and Pretreatment

Dr. Ragauskas started his academic career in 1989 as an Assistant Professor of Wood Chemistry at the Institute of Paper Science and Technology. He was promoted to Professor of Wood Chemistry and in 2003 transferred to the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Institute of Technology. He has published 140 peer-reviewed papers, and another 130 conference proceedings. Professor Ragauskas is the first holder of the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Alternative Energy Technology at Chalmers University.

Charles Wyman - Biomass Characterization and Pretreatment

Dr. Wyman is the Ford Motor Company Chair in Environmental Engineering at the University of California in Riverside. Since 1980, he has devoted his career almost exclusively to biological conversion of abundant and inexpensive cellulosic biomass to commodity products including ethanol for use as a transportation fuel based on his conviction that modern biotechnology provides a powerful tool for cost-competitive, sustainable production of ethanol and other fuels and chemicals with unique and powerful environmental, economic, and strategic benefits.

Ying Xu - Computational Biology and Modeling

Dr. Ying Xu is a professor and the Regents-Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar chair of bioinformatics and computational biology in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department, and the director of the Institute of Bioinformatics, University of Georgia. Before joining UGA, he was a senior staff scientist and group leader at ORNL, where he still holds a joint position.

Key Research Personnel and Expertise

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Michael Adams

Dr. Adams is a Distinguished Research Professor of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Microbiology at University of Georgia and has directed research to elucidate the novel biochemistry and microbiology of anaerobic thermophiles for more than 25 years. He has published over 250 papers in refereed journals and edited seven books.

Gary Sayler

Dr. Sayler, Director, UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Biological Sciences. Dr. Sayler is a Beaman, Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He has edited five books and contributed 285 publications in broad areas of molecular biology, environmental microbiology, biodegradation of PCB, PAH, BTEX and TCE and biotechnology.

Jeremy Smith

Dr. Smith is Governor's Chair at the University of Tennessee and Director of the ORNL Center for Molecular Biophysics. He specializes in high-performance computer simulation of biological systems and also pioneered the combination of neutron scattering experiments with molecular dynamics simulation in the investigation of the dynamics of biomolecules.

Neal Stewart

Dr. Stewart holds the Racheff Chair of Excellence in plant molecular genetics and is a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Stewart has degrees from North Carolina State (BS) and Virginia Tech (MS and PhD) with postdoctoral experiences at the University of Georgia.

Tim Tschaplinski

Dr. Tschaplinski is Distinguished Scientist in ORNL's Environmental Sciences Division. He has more than 28 years of experience in plant physiology, specifically in the application of chromatographic analyses to research problems in genomics, systems biology and bioenergy crop production.

Udaya Kalluri

Dr. Kalluri is a Staff Scientist in the Plant Systems Biology Group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Her research interest includes characterization and modeling of biological phenomenon across single cell to whole plant levels using molecular biology, nanotechnology, neutron sciences and computational sciences. Other related bioenergy projects include plant imaging analysis and modeling, plant cell wall biosynthesis and remodeling, genome-enabled study of carbon biosequestration genes and molecular mechanism of auxin action and response.

Janet Westpheling

Dr. Westpheling is a professor at the University of Georgia within the Department of Genetics. She has more than 25 years' experience in microbial conversion with specific interest in Streptomyces. Her research in this area includes investigation of how these complex metabolic and developmental processes interact involves characterization of the regulatory mechanisms that control the transcriptional activity of genes involved in carbohydrate utilization.

William York

Dr. William York is an Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Plant Biology and Computer Sciences at the University of Georgia. He has a distinguished research program focused on the development and application of spectroscopic, computational and informatic methods for analysis of the structures and conformations of complex carbohydrates in primary cell walls.

Research Partners

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Steve Difazio - West Virginia University

Dr. Steve Difazio is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology and the Director of the Genomics Core Facility at West Virginia University. His research program examines genomics to gain enhanced understanding of natural ecosystems as part of the Populus genome sequencing project and enhancing the carbon sequestration potential of Populus by identifying genes involved in allocation and partitioning of carbon. His expertise involves, plant genomics, molecular ecology, plant population genetics and biotechnology risk assessment.

Robert M. Kelly - North Carolina State University

Dr. Robert M Kelly, Alcoa Chair Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University. He is also the Director of the NCSU Biotechnology Program. Kelly is recognized as a world leader in extremophiles - the physiology, enzymology and biotechnological potential of microorganisms that thrive in extreme environments.

Brian Stanton - Greenwood Industries

Dr. Brian Stanton is the chair of the Poplar and Willow Working Party for the International Union of Forest Research Organizations and the past chair for the Society of American Foresters Genetics and Tree Improvement Working Group. He is also an adjunct professor at the Washington State University Department of Natural Resource Sciences.For 20 years, Brian has overseen the technological developments for poplar on commercial tree farms in the U.S. where he has produced over 40,000 varieties of hybrid poplar that have been tested throughout Chile, China, Europe and the United States.

Scientific Advisory Board

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Edward Bayer

Dr. Ed Bayer is a Full professor in the Department of Biological Chemistry at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel. During his scientific career, he has pioneered two separate areas of research: the avidin-biotin technology and the field of cellulosomes. He is co-discoverer of the cellulosome concept in the early 1980s. In 1999, he was organizer and Co-chair of the first Gordon Research Conference on "Cellulases and Cellulosomes", and he served as Chairman of the same conference in 2001. In 1994, he proposed the use of "designer cellulosomes" for biomass degradation, waste management, and as a general tool in the biological sciences. During his career, he has collaborated with groups in the United States, Canada, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Finland, Denmark, Guatemala, China, Japan, Australia, and the Republic of Georgia.

Sharon Shoemaker

Dr. Shoemaker, Founder and Executive Director of the California Institute of Food and Agricultural Research (CIFAR) is the author of several patents on novel yeast strains to convert biomass-to-ethanol and novel bacterial strains to produce new forms of cellulose. She is currently researching the application of cellulases in biomass conversion (e.g. rice straw, wood, missed waste paper), the integration of various unit operations in biomass conversion processes (membrane filtration, enzymes) and the development of new analytical methods for quantifying specific cellulose activities. Dr. Shoemaker has directed research in new enzyme and strain development, and bioprocessing to chemicals, materials and fuels.

Judy Wall

Dr. Wall works on a variety of research areas in the University of Missouri biochemistry department including environmental microbiology, bioremediation of toxic metal, and the genetics and biochemistry of sulfate-reducing bacteria. Dr. Wall is a Member of the Working Group for EU-US, Editor in Chief of Applied and Environmental Microbiology from 1995 to 2001, a member of the Editorial Board for J. Bacteriol., AEM, Environ. Microbiol, Omics, and Faculty of 1000, the Board of Governors, American Academy for Microbiology, 2002-2008 and the Co-editor of Bioenergy, ASM Press in 2008.

David Benton

David Benton is the Informatics and Information Technology Director at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) in Madison Wisconsin. David has more than twenty years' experience in biological data management and analysis, with particular expertise in the areas of biological databases, information integration and visualization, knowledge management and component architectures. He has held positions at GlaxoSmithKline, the National Human Genome Research Institute, IntelliGenetics and the ARCO Plant Cell Research Institute. The Informatics and Information Technology (IIT) group develops and delivers computational solutions to support the research mission of the GLBRC. IIT operates the GLBRC data center and central laboratory information management system and provides bioinformatics analysis services and consulting.

Terry Papoutsakis

Terry Papoutsakis is the Eugene DuPont Chair Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute at Delaware University in Newark Delaware. His research focuses on areas of systems biology, metabolic engineering, experimental and computational genomics with applications in stem-cell biology and prokaryotic biology for the production of biofuels and chemicals from biomass. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a founding fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers. His awards include the Amgen Biochemical Engineering Award and the Merck Cell Culture Engineering Award.

Gary Peter

Dr. Gary Peter is a Professor in the Forest Genomics and Cell Biology Department and Co-Director of the Forest Biology Research Cooperative at the University of Florida. His research interests involve genomics, biotechnology and development of the plant vascular system. He is recipient of the President's Award of Scientific Team Advancement at the Institute of Paper Science and Technology and the TAPPI Foundation Research Award from the University of California at Berkeley.

Deborah Delmer

Dr. Deborah P. Delmer is Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Davis in plant biology. Her research interest involves the identification of genes involved in synthesis of cellulose and callose in higher plants; mode of action of herbicide(s) which affect cellulose biosynthesis. Dr. Delmer served as the Associate Director for Food Security for the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City, President of the American Society of Plant Biologists in 2000, recipient of the American Chemical Society Anselme Payen Award and is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Board of Directors

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Marilyn A. Brown

Dr. Marilyn A. Brown is a Professor at Georgia Tech after a distinguished career at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory. At ORNL, she led several national scenario studies of climate change technology and policy options and held various leadership positions. Her current research addresses the development and deployment of sustainable energy technologies, the design of policy options to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the evaluation of energy programs and policies. At Georgia Tech, her research projects have included an assessment of the $3 billion/year multi-agency R&D portfolio comprising the U.S. Climate Change Technology Program, analysis of the geography of metropolitan carbon footprints, development of a national climate change technology deployment strategy, and an assessment of the cost and availability of supply- and demand-side electricity resources in the Southeast.

W. Densmore "Denny" Hunter

W. Densmore Hunter is the former Chief Technology Officer for Catchlight Energy LLC, a joint venture of Weyerhaeuser Company and Chevron Corporation formed in 2008 to commercialize the production of liquid transportation fuels from sustainable, forest based biomass resources. Prior to the formation of Catchlight Energy he served as Weyerhaeuser's VP of Technology for Pulp, Paper and Packaging, responsible for leadership of research, development and technology support across the business and manufacturing systems.

Kevin Gray

Kevin Gray is the Vice-President of Biobased Chemicals a leader in the field of advanced biofuels and biochemical compounds. Prior to joining Qteros, he was Senior Director of Biofuels Research and Development at Verenium Corporation in San Diego, California. Dr. Gray managed collaborative projects between Diversa Corporation (predecessor to Verenium Corporation) and companies such as Dow Chemical Company, Dupont and Syngenta AG, as well as with national laboratories such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Dr. Gray holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Texas Tech University and a B.S. in Zoology from Duke University.

Richard Flavell

Richard Flavell is the retired Chief Science Advisor, member of the board of directors and serves as an exclusive consultant in the field of commercial bioenergy crops for Ceres - Incorporated. Dr. Flavell joined Ceres in 1998 and has been instrumental in the establishment and development of Ceres core technology platforms in plant genomics and biotechnology. Most recently, he has also focused on outreach to the scientific community and public policymakers. From 1987 to 1998, Dr. Flavell was the Director of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, a premier plant and microbial research institute after being at the Plant Breeding Institute, Cambridge, from 1969 to 1987. He has published over 200 scientific articles, lectured widely and contributed significantly to the development of modern biotechnology in agriculture. His research group in Cambridge was among the very first worldwide to successfully clone plant DNA, isolate and sequence plant genes, and produce transgenic plants. Dr. Flavell is an expert in plant genomics, having produced the first molecular maps of plant chromosomes to reveal the constituent sequences.

Martin Keller

Dr. Martin Keller is an Associate Laboratory Director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and Director of the Energy and Environmental Sciences Directorate. He is responsible for the energy, biological and environmental research programs at ORNL supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Institutes of Health. The directorate includes four research divisions (Biosciences, Environmental Sciences, Energy and Transportation Science, and Measurement Science and Systems Engineering) and several research centers including the DOE BioEnergy Science Center and the Climate Change Science Institute. Dr. Keller is the Founding Director of the DOE BioEnergy Science Center.

David Lee

Dr. Lee is the Vice President for Research at the University of Georgia (UGA) and also the Executive Vice President of the UGA Research Foundation (UGARF). Dr. Lee is recognized for research into the molecular regulation of normal and cancer cell growth, and in particular for studies describing Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF)-like protein activators of the erbB/HER family of tyrosine kinase receptors. He was elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2004.

David Millhorn

Dr. David Millhorn is University of Tennessee Executive Vice President, serving as the Chief Operating Officer of the University's four campuses and three statewide institutes. He continues as UT Vice President for Research and Economic Development. Before coming to UT, Millhorn served the University of Cincinnati as the inaugural director of its Genome Research Institute and chairman of its Department of Genome Science. He is a member of the American Physiological Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Society for Neuroscience, and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Ray Stults

Dr. Ray Stults is the Associate Laboratory Director for Energy Sciences at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. Dr. Stults is responsible for the fundamental research at NREL including: chemistry, biology, physics, scientific computing and materials science. He is the program manager for research at NREL sponsored by DOE's Office of Science and he leads NREL's expansion of basic research programs that underpin NREL's applied research in solar, biomass, wind, buildings, and transportation. Dr. Stults develops and maintains effective business relationships with government and industry and works with NREL management and staff to maintain and strengthen established research programs in addition to developing new programs that meet U.S. energy demands. Dr. Stults has more than thirty years of experience in conducting and managing research in industry and at four DOE National Laboratories.

BESC Staff

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Darlene Holt

Darlene Holt is the Assistant to the BESC Director and the Director of the Joint Institutes for Biological Sciences. She has over 20 years' experience at ORNL with expertise in managing/assisting large groups. Ms. Holt's responsibilities include organization of the annual BESC retreat for all BESC members, commercial council, and industrial affiliates. Ms. Holt has been with the BESC project since its inception and since 2010 manages the overall administrative processes of BESC.

Tamara Rogers

Tamara Rogers is the Project Management Assistant, Business Development and Communications Associate for the BioEnergy Science Center. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Marketing with continuing education in project management. She has over 20 years' experience for the Department of Energy in Oak Ridge including facilities, logistics management and procurement. She is responsible for the BESC wiki, website, publications database, monthly science reports, and metrics. She also serves as the BESC advocate for the BESC post-docs and students.