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Charles Wyman

Ford Motor Company Chair in Environmental Engineering
Distinguished Professor of Chemical & Environmental Engineering
Charles Wyman
Developing Eco-Friendly Biofuels
Seeking to find alternative, renewable energy sources, UCR chemical engineer Charles Wyman is pioneering new approaches involving the pretreatment of non-food biomass sources such as poplar wood and switchgrass. With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, Wyman’s work may enable companies to commercialize bioenergy crops and potentially profit from fuels produced at a much lower cost.

Areas of Expertise

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Fellow, American Association for Advancement of Science, 2006
  • C.D. Scott Award in Biotechnology, 1999
  • Honorary Master of Arts, Dartmouth College, 2004
  • NREL Hubbard Leadership Award, 1992
  • NREL Staff Leadership Award, 1991


Q: What is the goal of your research?
Our research is focused on technology that converts low cost, abundant, sustainable sources of plant biomass (called cellulosic biomass) into transportation fuels. Our goal is to improve the understanding of biomass fractionation, pretreatment, and hydrolysis to support applications and advances in biomass conversion technologies for production of low cost commodity products.

Q: Why is your research important?
Currently the transportation sector is the largest user of petroleum, which is not only very costly but also one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide that contributes to global climate change. The U.S. relies more on petroleum than any other source of energy so we need to find ways to create and use new sources of transportation fuels. Biomass is the only sustainable resource that is sufficiently abundant and inexpensive to make a large impact on production of liquid transportation fuels.

Q: What are the benefits of using cellulosic biofuels?
Cellulosic means non-edible parts of plants; we work with grasses, wood, agricultural residues, and waste materials that are not precious food sources. The use of cellulosic biofuels would lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the dependence on petroleum that is a large strain on the economy and makes the United States vulnerable to changes in supply.

Q: What is the biggest obstacle in creating sustainable biofuels?
The cost to breakdown products (conversion) is the key barrier to biomass fuels being economically feasible. Cellulosic biomass is itself a low cost resource, but the cost to convert it into fuel is expensive. Our research is directed at improving the understanding and technology for breaking down cellulosic biomass into sugars for fermentation to transportation fuels such as ethanol. Our findings are useful to industry trying to develop new technologies and processes for converting cellulosic biomass into fuels, giving them new insights into approaches for advancing this technology and lowering costs to make them commercially viable in the marketplace.

Q: Why is UCR a great place to do research?
There are a number of factors – one is that we have really nice facilities at CE-CERT to conduct research. We also have very strong graduate students who are motivated in their research and interested in making notable contributions. Another is that UCR is very supportive of research, enabling researchers to come together and move forward.

Q: What does “Living the Promise” mean to you?
It means trying to accomplish a number of important things. One is, for example, to develop technology that has a strong, positive impact on the future such as providing sustainable transportation fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Another is providing opportunities for students to learn about these technologies and be directly involved in moving them forward, addressing real world issues.

Q: What advice do you have for students graduating in the next five years?
Make sure you do your best to learn in the classroom and laboratory. One advantage of a strong fundamental education is the ability to adapt your skills to the needs of your job and apply what you know to make the world a better place.

Charles Wyman “Biomass is the only real source we have that is sustainable for production of liquid transportation fuels”

—Charles Wyman
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