Chemical Engineer Paul J. Dauenhauer Receives Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award

Paul J. Dauenhauer

AMHERST, Mass. – Paul J. Dauenhauer, a leading researcher in biofuels and an assistant professor of chemical engineering at UMass Amherst, is one of 15 researchers in the country to receive the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award. The award, from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, comes with an unrestricted research grant of $75,000.

Dauenhauer is the Armstrong Professional Development Professor and DuPont Young Professor at UMass Amherst. He is the fourth member of the UMass Amherst chemical engineering department to win this award. The others are Dimitri Maroudas in 1999, Jeffrey Davis in 2007 and George Huber in 2011.  

Since 2011, Dauenhauer’s biofuels research has received more than $3.6 million in grants from both government and private industry.

Dauenhauer says, “It is a great honor to receive such a prestigious and generous award that has such a strong reputation in the chemical sciences.”

The Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards Program supports the research and teaching careers of talented young faculty in the chemical sciences. Based on institutional nominations, the program provides discretionary funding to faculty at an early stage in their careers. Criteria for selection include an independent body of scholarship attained within the first five years of their appointment as independent researchers and a demonstrated commitment to education, signaling the promise of continuing outstanding contributions to both research and teaching.

T.J. Lakis Mountziaris, head of the chemical engineering department at UMass Amherst, says Dauenhauer’s research into renewable chemical technology that converts biomass to commercially valuable chemicals is already having significant impact on the chemical industry. It has also spawned significant research activity. Dauenhauer’s research group’s discovery in 2012 of a high-yield pathway to making p-xylene, used to produce plastic called PET, has become a central focus in the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation, a U.S. Department of Energy – Energy Frontier Research Center. Dauenhauer is co-director of the center. 

Dauenhauer joined the university in 2009. He received a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation CAREER Program in 2012 to fund his research into an experimental technique known as “pulsed-film pyrolysis.” It gives biofuels researchers the ability to test the speeds of hundreds of chemical reactions that occur inside a fast-pyrolysis reactor when converting biomass into the chemicals that make up green fuels and many other products. Dauenhauer says, “Pulsed-film pyrolysis is the last missing tool in our efforts to make sustainable biofuels economically competitive with unsustainable fossil fuels.”

In 2013, he received a $75,000 DuPont Young Professor Award. Dauenhauer was one of 14 researchers selected for the award. It supports Dauenhauer’s research into developing an economical green process for the production of aromatic chemicals – key building blocks for the production of polymers including polystyrene, polyurethane, nylon and PET– from various forms of sugar common in sustainable biomass.

Dauenhauer also received an $800,000 Early Career Award in Basic Energy Sciences from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2011. The grant was used for his research on “the conversion of wood, grasses and agricultural byproducts to fuels and chemicals that occurs through rapid heating methods including pyrolysis, gasification, and combustion.” He says that during the rapid heating of biomass, the long polymer chains that make up many types of plants thermally degrade to chemicals which can then be refined into fuels and other products.