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Pioneer in ethanol studies returning to direct research at SIUE center

Following an extensive national search, the NCERC at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has announced the hiring of Yan Zhang, PhD, as the director of research/associate research faculty.

zhang yanZhang will provide scientific and technical excellence for all client-and grant-funded research projects at the center’s pilot plant and laboratories. NCERC is an acronym for what was originally called the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center.

“Yan’s background in analytical chemistry, built upon more than two decades of experience working in the environmental, biofuels, and pharmaceutical industries, provides her an indispensable foundation to understand and quantify the myriads of biochemical conversions which occur during the production of biofuels,” NCERC Executive Director John Caupert said.

Zhang started at NCERC in 2003 and has been a lead researcher on projects for groups such as the Illinois Corn Growers Association, Illinois Department of Agriculture, National Corn Growers Association, National Pork Board, Renewable Fuels Association, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Grains Council.

In the biofuels industry, Zhang pioneered the field of coproducts research by analyzing DDGS and other ethanol coproducts from a lens of chemical composition. In 2012, Zhang was awarded more than $500,000 in grant-funded and contractual research projects at the Center.

Afterward, Zhang had a five-year hiatus to be employed as a senior analytical chemist at Mallinckrodt, a biopharmaceutical company in St. Louis.

“Yan’s return comes at an exciting time for the center and for the industry, and due to the great respect our clients and collaborators have for her technical expertise and instincts, she will be able to hit the ground running,” Caupert said. “Beyond NCERC and the SIUE community, the biofuel, biochemical, and biomaterial industries will all directly benefit from her research and leadership.”

In her return to NCERC, Zhang plans to strengthen her enviable research portfolio in improving the commercial values of corn-to-ethanol production, exploring commercially viable ways for advanced biofuel and biochemical bench scale processes, and providing training programs to ensure lab analytical chemists deliver high quality data for academia and industry.

“Since my departure in 2012, NCERC has expanded its capability from a research and development center for the corn-to-ethanol industry, to a strong partner in the development and commercialization of biofuels, biochemical and bioproducts within academia and industry,” Zhang said. “I return with intensive training at the pharmaceutical industry on unraveling and quantifying complicated chemical processing, and look forward to putting this knowledge to work in supporting our client and collaborators’ research needs.”

Jerry Weinberg, PhD, associate provost for research and dean of the SIUE Graduate School, said Zhang’s return opens the door for greater collaboration between NCERC and SIUE faculty.

“We are thrilled to have a scientist of Dr. Zhang’s caliber leading research at NCERC,” Weinberg said. “I believe her experiences with both academic and industrial research will make her an invaluable member of the SIUE community, and I look forward to the impacts of her work on SIUE’s students and its national reputation.”
The NCERC at SIUE is a nationally recognized research center dedicated to the development and commercialization of biofuels, specialty chemicals and other renewable compounds.

The center’s fully functional dry grind pilot plant and laboratories are equipped with advanced biofuels capabilities including corn fractionation, pretreatment, and a fermentation suite with 5, 30, 150 and 1500L scale-up.

Facilities are staffed by industry veterans with more than 100 years of collective experience in fermentation and biofuels production. This knowledgeable team has the flexibility and expertise to design and carry out projects in any region of the advanced biofuels or specialty chemicals space.


    From the Illinois Business Journal

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