John Degenstein

Graduate Research Assistant

Co-advised by:
   Professors Rakesh Agrawal1, W. Nicholas Delgass1, and Fabio Ribeiro1

Research Collaborator:
   Professor Hilkka Kenttämaa2

      1. Purdue University, School of Chemical Engineering

      2. Purdue University, Department of Chemistry

Professional Networks



University of North Dakota, M.S. Chemical Engineering (2011)
      Thesis: "Lewis Acid Co-Catalyzed Dilute Sulfuric Acid Pretreatment and Enzymatic Hydrolysis of Lignocellulosic Biomass"
University of North Dakota, B.S. Chemical Engineering (2009)


  • Co-winner of the Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels' 2013 Multidisciplinary Award for Research Collaboration (MARC)
  • University of North Dakota, Distinguished Master's Thesis Award (2013)
  • Purdue University, Ross Fellowship (Aug. 2011 - Aug. 2012)
  • University of North Dakota, Men's Swimming and Diving, Highest GPA (2007 and 2008)

Project Description

Previous work with process simulation and systems analysis in the biomass group has identified pyrolysis as a key route towards carbon-efficient renewable fuels and chemicals. Currently, there is not much agreement concerning the chemical transformations that occur during pyrolysis. I work to investigate these chemical transformations in detail with the long term goal of identifying key modifications (either structural, procedural, or process) which will enable greater carbon efficiency.

I have been directly involved in the development of several new analytical techniques that have led to a greatly improved understanding of the products from pyrolysis. These developments included implementation of a novel LC/MS method for analysis of cellulose pyrolysis bio-oils that is capable of identifying pyrolysis products of very low volatility with excellent mass closure. I participated in the development of several new ionization methods for analysis of a wider range of pyrolysis products for use with the pyrolysis/mass spectrometer reactor in collaboration with Prof. Hilkka Kenttämaa’s research group in the Chemistry department.

I also collaborate with molecular orbital theorists concerning simulations of fragmentation of oligosaccharides (McKay Easton, and Dr. John Nash). This collaboration is synergistic in the sense that we perform experiments to identify key fragmentation pathways that should be evaluated energetically using molecular orbital theory.

We showed that genetically modified feedstock such as Arabidopsis Thaliana, as well as Maize Stover (sourced from our collaborators) form different pyrolysis product distributions via our pyrolysis/mass spectrometer. We have begun further investigation into pyrolysis of lignin and related model compounds to identify their fragmentation mechanisms as part of a wholistic theory of biomass fragmentation mechanisms.

Patents and Publications