Meet the Researcher: Brian Barry

Selfie photo of a man, background is brick fireplace
July 2, 2020

Meet the Researcher: Brian Barry enjoys transforming biomass into high value products.

To meet a mission that includes broadening the portfolio of products from Minnesota’s natural resources, NRRI onboarded unique expertise in transforming biomass into high value products. Now one year on the job, Brian Barry is NRRI’s Chemistry and Materials Science Program Leader, supervising a team of three chemists.

“Minnesota needs to be nimble in how it deploys its resources to accommodate emerging markets,” said Barry. “Finding new opportunities for Minnesota’s timber resources is critical for future economic stability.”

Barry is especially excited about working on the effects that thermal (heat) pretreatment of biomass has on subsequent gasification. Under the right conditions, gasification of biomass produces syngas, a gaseous mixture of the basic chemical building blocks, hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Through interaction with the right catalysts, syngas can be transformed into liquid fuels and chemicals or can be used directly as a reducing agent in metallurgical processing. The higher quality this syngas is, the better the results.

Barry joined the team in July 2019 with a Ph.D. in Chemistry and experience researching solid-state materials for next generation batteries, carbon dioxide activation and metal-free organic reducing agents. This wide ranging background has exposed Barry to many different areas of research and has led him to appreciate collaborative efforts.

“Every one of the projects I work on – both big and small – involves working with other disciplines, from water science to mechanical engineers to microbiologists,” Barry said. “I work with industry partners, academic collaborators at the U and abroad, and also with government entities, like the City of Minneapolis.”

Keeping track of equipment purchases, lab supplies and personnel time for each project can be complicated. Barry appreciates the NRRI Central Support of Linda Klint, NRRI finance manager, to stay on top of things and answer spending questions.

“Linda’s effort allows my team to focus more of our energy on the research,” he added.

Pre-pandemic nostalgia

Outside of work, Barry enjoys fishing trips in the Boundary Waters and occasionally hops onto his mountain bike for a ride. But he says that with NRRI lab access limited and mostly working from home, he finds he misses the daily, simple interactions with co-workers.

“While I’m happy that we have great video conferencing technology available, it really doesn’t lend itself to one-on-one chats about things unrelated to work.”