Meet the Researcher, Catherine Brewer, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Catherine Brewer, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month’s featured researcher is Catherine (Catie) Brewer, an associate professor for the Chemical and Materials Engineering Department at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Catie teaches three classes at NMSU, including an introduction to chemical engineering calculations, brewing science and engineering, and heat and mass transfer. She is the director of NMSBrew (Brewery Engineering). Catie has affiliate faculty status with the Water Science and Management (WSM) graduate program, and works closely with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI). Two master’s students she previously supervised completed the WSM graduate program, and two of her doctoral students have been sponsored by NM WRRI research grants. These awards were given to study the use of biomass energy in water desalination and the use of biomass-derived chars for the removal of metals from contaminated water. Brewer states that one of the most important aspects of her position is “training students to better communicate across disciplines, develop efficient research skills like improvisation and resourcefulness for when things do not go as planned in the lab/field, and the importance of teamwork.”

Catie is currently supervising four doctoral, five master’s, and approximately twelve undergraduate students. One of her students, Hengameh Bayat, was recently awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for the project entitled, Wastewater treatment and water recycling through use of byproducts from hydrothermal liquefaction of food waste. Brewer states that this research will evaluate the best uses for co-products created from hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) of food waste, the aqueous phase, and the char. Nutrients and carbon from the food waste end up in these co-products, which have the potential to improve the economic feasibility of food waste HTL if value-added applications can be implemented. Further information on this topic can be found in their recent publication entitled, Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Food Waste: Effect of Process Parameters on Product Yields and Chemistry.

Brewer’s research interest focuses on biomass utilization, which is the process of using plant materials for energy, environmental remediation, and sustainable agriculture. Her group works with alternative crops (hemp, hops, guayule, halophytes, algae, etc.) to develop new processes and products, and with agriculture/forestry residues to better manage waste.

Catie earned her BS degree in Chemistry with a minor in Mathematics from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, located in western Pennsylvania (2007). She received her PhD in Chemical Engineering and Biorenewable Resources and Technology with a minor in Soil Science from Iowa State University, located in Ames, Iowa (2012). Her dissertation was entitled, Biochar Characterization and Engineering.

Throughout her research career, Brewer has contributed to over forty peer-reviewed publications and three book chapters. She currently has seven manuscripts under review or in preparation for publication. Catie is a member of several professional affiliations, including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), the American Society of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineers (ASABE), and the Pink Boots Society. She has received several funded grants, with her most recent one being from The Department of Energy Sandia National Laboratory Lab Directed Research and Development program (2020) for her proposal entitled, Techno-economic Analysis of Extracting Rare Earth Elements from Coal and Coal Fly Ash Using Supercritical CO2-H20-Chelator Systems. Other awards include winning the Best-in-Show Beer and the grand prize at the AIChE Young Professionals 3rd Annual Brewing Competition in 2019. She has been an invited speaker at several national and international seminars, conferences, and workshops, and her group has presented their research at over eighty academic engagements.

When asked about future endeavors, Brewer anticipates many upcoming research opportunities on a multi-university/departmental scale. She hopes to become more involved with educational grants and activities related to alternative crops and/or products, and agricultural engineering. Catie also plans to expand and develop NMSBrew to become a better resource for NMSU students and the NM brewing industry.