Biofuels trailblazer elected to National Academy of Engineering

Author: Holly Ober
February 11, 2022

Charles E. Wyman, a distinguished professor of chemical and environmental engineering and Ford Motor Company Chair in Environmental Engineering at CE-CERT, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering for advances in transforming lignocellulosic feedstocks into low-carbon-footprint fuels and chemicals.

Charles E. Wyman

Election to the National Academy of Engineering is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. Academy membership honors those who have made “outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice, or education” and to “the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing innovative approaches to engineering education.” Individuals in the newly elected class will be formally inducted during the Academy’s annual meeting on Oct. 2, 2022.

“I am honored to have been elected among such incredible and accomplished individuals,” said Wyman. “My hope is that this distinction brings more attention to the urgent need to facilitate large-scale implementation of converting lignocellulosic biomass into low carbon fuels that reduce climate change.”

Wyman’s research focuses on biological, catalytic, and thermochemical conversion of sustainable sources of herbaceous and woody crops, agricultural and forestry residues, and other forms of low-cost lignocellulosic biomass into sustainable fuels, such as ethanol, as well as valuable chemicals and materials. In 2012, he cofounded Vertimass LLC to commercialize novel catalytic technology for simple one-step conversion of ethanol into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel blend stocks with low carbon footprints. 

“Charlie’s dedication to his research goes far beyond the discovery of new technologies, reshaping the future of sustainable fuels,” said Christopher S. Lynch, dean of the Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering (BCOE) at UC Riverside. “His NAE induction is a well-deserved honor, and we are proud of his tremendous accomplishments.” 

Wyman joined UCR in 2005. Prior to that, he was the Paul E. and Joan H. Queneau Distinguished Professor in Environmental Engineering Design at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College. While serving on the faculty there, he cofounded Mascoma Corporation, a company focused on advanced technologies for biomass conversion into ethanol and other products, and also was chief development officer and chair of the Scientific Advisory Board. In the past, he served as Director of the Biotechnology Center for Fuels and Chemicals and a number of previous positions at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, working closely with the United States Department of Energy to help define the strategy for the National Biomass Program. 

Wyman began his professional career developing new continuous processes for making polymers at Monsanto Corporation and later managed chemical process development for Badger Engineers and commercialization of novel biotechnology for converting agricultural residues into fuel ethanol for BC International, a startup. In addition, Wyman served as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves. 

Wyman is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Institute of Chemical Engineering (AIChE). In 2020, PLOS rankings placed him among the top 12 influential researchers in the world in the area of biotechnology, and he was also voted by Biofuels Digest subscribers as being among the top 100 people in bioenergy.

Wyman has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Massachusetts, master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from Princeton University, and an MBA from the University of Denver.

Wyman is the second BCOE professor to be elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Harvey Blanch, a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, joined the Academy in 2005. Blanch’s research also focuses on technologies for production of sustainable transportation fuels from biomass, as well as production of valuable products from living organisms through fermentation and cellular engineering.

Thumbnail photo: Stan Lim/UCR