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David C. Dayton

Senior Fellow and Director, Biofuels


PhD, Physical Chemistry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

BS, Chemistry, Dickinson College

David Dayton, PhD, is an expert in alternative fuels that can be used to create cleaner, cost-effective sources of energy. A physical chemist, Dr. Dayton has more than 25 years of project management and research experience in R&D projects focused on biomass thermochemical conversion processes used to create cost-effective biofuels.

Dr. Dayton leads projects with the objective of developing advanced biofuels technology that has taken laboratory studies to the pilot plant scale, converting 1 ton per day of biomass—such as wood chips and switchgrass—into a petroleum replacement known as biocrude. He and his team are working to upgrade the biocrude to transportation fuel (gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel) using a process routinely used in the petroleum refining industry. The goal is to maximize carbon efficiency and reduce overall hydrogen demand. In this way, Dr. Dayton hopes to produce these bio-based fuels for less than $3 a gallon to be cost-competitive with conventional petroleum-based fuels.

Previously, Dr. Dayton was the technical leader of the Thermochemical Platform at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, where he managed biomass thermochemical conversion projects for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Dr. Dayton resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with his wife. He has two grown sons that graduated from Clemson as Chemical Engineers. When he’s not working on an RTI project, Dr. Dayton enjoys exercising, sports (Clemson football and UNC basketball), coaching little league baseball, hiking, fly fishing, and golf. He climbed seven peaks in Colorado, over 14,000 feet. 

Get to Know Dr. Dayton

Dr. Dayton shared the moment he became a scientist, his first job, an impactful mentor, and the best thing about working at RTI.

When I was growing up, my parents owned a Dry Cleaners, and I used to work there on the weekends and over the summer. One day I noticed that the vent pipe to the dry-cleaning machine was leaking, so I put a Styrofoam coffee cup on the floor to catch the liquid. When I came back 15 minutes later, there was a puddle of white goo on the ground where the coffee cup used to be. Turns out dry cleaning fluid dissolves Styrofoam. At that point, a chemist was born.

Aside from working in my parents’ dry cleaners, I was a post-doctoral research fellow at the Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen, Maryland, working on flame chemistry. It was my first taste of government funded research.

Dr. Thomas Milne was my first supervisor when I worked at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He taught me that focusing on the science was the most important aspect of work and not to expend too much energy on funding or office politics. Scientific excellence is the foundation for the rest.

The best thing about working at RTI is the freedom to purse new, innovative ideas. You can do anything if you receive the funding to do it.

Get in Touch

To speak to this expert or inquire about RTI services, you can reach us at +1 919 541 6000 or use the contact form below. For media inquiries, please reach out to our Media Relations team at news@rti.org.

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