College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

CBE’s Brent Shanks to receive inaugural catalysis award from Midwest organization

Dr. Brent Shanks
Dr. Brent Shanks

The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering’s (CBE) Dr. Brent Shanks has been announced as the recipient of the inaugural Great Plains Catalysis Society Award.

The award, created by the society to recognize an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of catalysis, will be presented to Shanks April 19 at the group’s 2nd Annual Symposium in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. As recipient of the award, he will deliver a plenary lecture at the event.

Shanks, an Iowa State University chemical engineering alumnus, is an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering, Mike and Jean Steffenson Chair and Director of the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) on the campus of Iowa State University.

Shanks testifying to US Senate
Highly involved in biorewable development, Shanks is shown testifying to the Senate Agriculture Committee on rural energy program matters relating to the 2018 farm bill.

He was nominated for the award by CBE’s Richard Seagrave Associate Professor Dr. Wenzhen Li and Assistant Professor Luke Roling. In a prepared statement, Li and Roling remarked, Dr. Shanks is a visionary in the development of new materials to bridge the gap between biological catalysis and heterogeneous catalysis. His accomplishments include the creation of new paradigms for the conversion of biomass-derived sugars to higher-value chemicals by combining biological and heterogeneous catalytic pathways. In particular, his identification of triacetic acid lactone (TAL) as a building block molecule; his elegantly combined methods to elucidate catalytic paths, the nature of the active sites and the effects of solvent in the catalytic conversion of biorenewable feedstock to chemicals to aid rational design of better catalysts; and his great contributions to the list of one hundred bioprivileged molecule candidates have significantly influenced current and future biorenewable research in the heterogeneous catalysis community.” They also cited Shanks’ leadership of CBiRC: “In addition to his own scientific accomplishments, he has served as a driving force behind the success of CBiRC for the past decade and catalyzed the further successes of those who have the privilege of working with him, including his 34 graduate students and 15 postdocs and visiting scientists.”

Shanks with Mike and Jean Steffenson and wife Jacqueline
Shanks is shown with Dept. of Chemical and Biological Engineering supporters Mike and Jean Steffenson (left) after being named to a professorship in their honor. Shanks is joined by his wife, Jacqueline, who is also an ISU CBE faculty member and ISU alumna.

In late 2018 research led by Shanks to support development of a complete, start-to-finish system for identifying biological-derived molecules that can lead to new chemical products received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office.

“I feel very honored to be the inaugural recipient of the GPCS Award, given all the excellent researchers in the Great Plains Region,” said Shanks. “The GPCS was just established last year as a regional group within the national North American Catalysis Society, which has a long history and is the preeminent catalysis professional society in North America.”