Brent H Shanks

  • Mike and Jean Steffenson Chair
  • 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 50011-1098
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, c) selective dehydration of carbohydrates, d) 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.
Teaching in Spring 2018 Semester
  • Ch E 358 - Separations

Selected Publications

  • Nolte, M.W., Zhang, J. and Shanks, B.H., “Ex Situ Hydrodeoxygenation in Biomass Pyrolysis using Molybdenum Oxide and Low Pressure Hydrogen,” Green Chem., 18, 134-138 (2016).
  • Nolan, M.R., Bejile, A., Enombo, S.-L., and Shanks, B.H., “Directing polyol dehydration via modification of acid catalysts with metals,” Top. Catal., 59, 29-36 (2016).
  • Mayes, H.B., Nolte, M.W., Beckham, G.T., Shanks, B.H., and Broadbelt, L.J., “The Alpha-Bet(a) of Salty Glucose Pyrolysis: Computational Investigations of 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural and Levoglucosan Formation Reveal Cellulose Pyrolysis Catalytic Action by Sodium Ions,” ACS Catal., 5, 192-202 (2015).
  • Zhang, J., Choi, Y.S., and Shanks, B.H., “Tailoring the composition of bio-oil by vapor- phase removal of organic acids,” ChemSusChem, 8, 4256-4265 (2015).
  • Wang, T., Glasper, J. and Shanks, B.H., “Kinetics of Glucose Dehydration Catalyzed by Homogeneous Lewis Acidic Metal Salts in Water,” Appl. Catal. A: Gen., 498, 214-221 (2015).
  • Zhang, J., Choi, Y.S., Yoo, C.G., Kim, T.H., Brown, R.C. and Shanks, B.H., “Cellulose-hemicellulose, cellulose-lignin interactions during fast pyrolysis,” ACS Sustain. Chem. Eng., 3, 293-301 (2015).
  • 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).
  • Snell, R.W. and Shanks, B.H., “CeMOx Promoted Condensed Phase Ketonization of Biomass-derived Carboxylic Acids," ACS Catal., 4, 512-518 (2014).
  • Anderson, J.M., Johnson, R.L., Schmidt-Rohr, K, and Shanks, B.H., “Hydrothermal Degradation of Model Sulfonic Acid Compounds: Probing the Relative Sulfur–Carbon Bond Strength in Water,” Catal. Commun., 51, 33-36 (2014).
  • Deutsch, K.L. and Shanks, B.H., “Copper Mixed Metal Oxide Catalysts in the Hydrogenolysis of 5-Methylfurfuryl Alcohol,” Appl. Catal. A: Gen., 470, 390-397 (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).