Skip directly to content

Biorenewable Chemicals Engineering Research Center

Sub Type:
Research Areas:
NSF Award:

NSF Engineering Reasearch Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC)  (Iowa State University)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits


The NSF Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) seeks to transform the existing petrochemical-based chemical industry to one based on renewable materials. Nature uses enzymes as biocatalysts to convert sugars into various chemicals, which chemical catalysts can then turn into the desired chemical products. The production of industrial chemicals from renewable materials such as plants is still in its infancy, and significant fundamental understanding and technological developments of new bio- and chemical catalytic systems are required. CBiRC's research will focus on understanding and exploiting the integration of biocatalytic and chemical catalytic technologies to efficiently produce biorenewable chemicals. With projected long-term increases in the price of oil, developing cost-effective and sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based catalysts is essential to the viability of the chemical industry and to the nation.

Education & Outreach

The CBiRC education program includes individual and interactive components for pre-college teachers and students as well as undergraduate and graduate students. To maximize the educational impact created by the center, the high level of activity in the biorenewables area at Iowa State will be leveraged for new high-impact educational programs.

The new processing paradigms with biorenewables will necessitate educating and training engineers and scientists who can look beyond conventional chemical production approaches and compete in a global economy. CBiRC educational programs will address this need through a suite of undergraduate courses, student research projects, and a new graduate minor in biorenewable chemicals.

Growing the Green Collar Workforce for the 21st Century is a National Science Foundation-funded GK-12 project to support Iowa State University graduate students (GK12 Fellows) conducting interdisciplinary research in the area of biorenewables, as they interact with middle school educators and students within the Des Moines public school district. GK12 Fellows will spend one full day per week during the public school year in a Des Moines middle school science classroom. Each GK12 Fellow, working closely with ISU faculty and staff, will partner with a middle school teacher, leveraging their own research experiences to develop innovative and engaging science curricula for middle school students. This program is a response to President Obama’s call to the nation’s scientists to “spend time in the classroom, talking and showing young people what it is that your work can mean and what it means to you […] to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering.”

For more information, please visit:

CBiRC website: 

Engineering Research Centers (ERC) Association:
ERC Achievements Showcase: 

Science 360 

Institutional Partnerships:  Rice University, University of California at Irvine, University of  New Mexico, University of Virginia and University of Wisconsin






  • Image from a National Science Foundation-funded ERC.
Permission Granted