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Center for Applied Energy Research - 1970s

The 1970s Oil Crisis

1972 - The Kentucky General Assembly appropriated $400,000 to establish the Kentucky Coal Utilization Research Program at the University of Kentucky's Institute for Mining and Minerals Research (IMMR).

1973 and 1974 - The Arab Oil Embargo created new era of consciousness regarding energy security.

1974 - Kentucky's General Assembly approved Governor Wendell Ford's request to create an Energy Development and Demonstration Trust Fund and authorized up to $50 million for coal development projects. It also appropriated $3.7 million for coal research to support the demonstration projects and $4 million to construct a coal research laboratory.

1975 - Governor Julian Carroll strengthened the synfuels-focused energy research program by establishing the Kentucky Center for Energy Research to administer the demonstration projects and related laboratory research.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony to Celebrate Opening of the UK Energy Center

1977 - The U.S. Department of Energy (US DOE) was created.

1977 - Construction of the Kentucky Center for Energy Research Laboratory was completed. The General Assembly appropriated $1.25 million to equip the laboratory. IMMR, which began the Kentucky Coal Utilization Program, was vested with the laboratory's management under contract with the state.

1978 to 1980 - Events in Iran and Iraq led to another round of crude oil price increases.

Center for Applied Energy Research - 1980s

Catlettsburg H. Coal Pilot Plant

1980 - Catlettsburg's H-Coal direct liquefaction facility, the largest ever built in the U.S., began operations. The Commonwealth contributed funds for the design and construction; purchased options for the plant site; and conducted research at the laboratory on conversion of Kentucky coals. Engineering design and site acquisition for a commercial plant to employ indirect liquefaction technology utilized at Sasol in South Africa to produce motor fuels also began.

1981 - A program to develop a fluidized bed technology for retorting Kentucky oil shale began. This technology was selected because of its potential for extracting greater amounts of oil from shale than was possible with typical retorting. A bench-scale retort was constructed and experimentation began.

Utility-Scale Atmospheric Fluidized Bed Combustion (AFBC) Unit

1982 to 1992 - A 1.2MW atmospheric fluidized bed combustion (AFBC) unit for combustion and emissions control started in 1982. It was operated and tested over a decade to ascertain the performance (thermal efficiency and emissions control) of a variety of Kentucky coals and limestones. The unit also provided research support for the design and operation of a 20 MW AFBC demonstration unit constructed at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Shawnee Power Plant and later for the world's first utility scale AFBC unit.

1982 - Governor John Y. Brown, Jr., restructured the Kentucky Department of Energy and created a new cabinet-level agency, the Kentucky Energy Cabinet. The laboratory's research program continued to be managed by the University of Kentucky's Institute of Mining and Minerals Research under contract to the Energy Cabinet.

1982 - The Center began research on the utilization of coal combustion by-products (ash and flue gas desulfurization materials) for road building and construction applications. The utilization of coal combustion by-products for wallboard, cinder blocks and concrete were investigated.

CAER Research Building

1983 - The Center initiated the Hope Creek Project to determine the most environmentally sound way to dispose of shale from which the oil has been extracted and to find economical ways to utilize spent shale. A lysimeter facility was constructed as a field research station in Montgomery County. The eight-chamber, six inch concrete chamber studied leaching behavior under natural conditions.

1984 - Combustion by-products work was expanded to include agricultural uses of AFBC spent-bed material as a lime substitute and soil amendment, as well as to investigate the environmental consequences associated with landfill disposal of AFBC solid wastes.

Development of KENFLOTE, a Commercial Column Flotation Unit

1984 - The Center's synfuels research capabilities were improved by installation of the Prototype Integrated Process Unit. This was a 10 pound per hour pilot-scale continuous-flow direct coal liquefaction mini-plant.

1986 - The United States synfuels demonstration program ended with the abolishment of the Synthetic Fuels Corporation. Kentucky's projects were also discontinued.

1986 - The management contract for the Center for Energy Research Laboratory was moved by the Kentucky Energy Cabinet from IMMR to the University of Louisville Speed Scientific School and the laboratory was renamed the Kentucky Energy Cabinet Laboratory.

Impact of CAER's research programs

1987 - Work with industry to develop column flotation processes to recover low-ash coal from coal fines resulted in KENFLOTE, a commercial column flotation unit.

1988 - The General Assembly passed legislation which again restructured the Commonwealth's energy research program, and returned management responsibility for the laboratory back to the University of Kentucky. The laboratory was renamed the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER), and has remained so.

1989 - A proprietary process (KENFLOTE) based on column flotation that was developed by CAER for cleaning fine coal was licensed and commercialized at a Powell Mountain Coal Company Preparation Plant in West Virginia.

Center for Applied Energy Research - 1990s

1990 - Governor Wallace Wilkinson abolished the Energy Cabinet by Executive Order. Later, by act of the General Assembly, conservation and renewable energy programs were placed in the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet. Coal policy and market development responsibilities were placed in a new Governor's Office for Coal and Energy Policy.

Carbon Graphic

1990 - A carbon materials research program was established to investigate alternative, high-value uses for coal and other carbonaceous feedstocks for producing structural, amorphous and graphitic carbons. Early carbon research investigated the synthesis and application of granular and powdered activated carbons, activated carbon fibers and related composite materials.

Early 1990's - CAER developed an array of indirect liquefaction reactor types, ranging from the large 1/8 ton per day reactor to smaller continuous stirred tank reactors for catalyst testing associated with improved processes for coal, biomass and natural gas feedstocks. The center established a leading open-access laboratory for producing and testing catalysts for the synthesis of liquid hydrocarbons.

Fischer Tropsch slurry phase liquefaction process

1991 to 2001 - A US DOE-funded project developed and tested catalysts and operating methods for the Fischer Tropsch slurry-phase liquefaction process to produce ultra-clean transportation fuels. This project attracted more than $14 million (sponsor and matching) in total funding during its eleven-year span.

1991 - The "Coolside" Project explored alternative uses of cement-forming desulfurization byproducts and fly ash from a pulverized coal combustion plant. It also determined the leachate properties and long-term environmental stability of the materials in the laboratory and under natural weathering conditions at the CAER field lysimeter test site at Hope Creek.

KENTORT II was completed in 1993 after 10 years of development

1991 to 1993 - Combustion research shifted from AFBC to circulating fluid bed combustion for control of flue-gas emissions. The CAER constructed a 0.6 MW circulating fluid bed pilot unit concentrating on Gas Suspension Adsorption (GSA) technology, one of 45 clean coal technologies developed under US DOE's Clean Coal Technology Program for power plant emissions control.

1992 - The CAER had a longstanding research and development program on oil shale retorting. Kentort II processed 50 pounds per hour of oil shale. It was a multi-staged fluidized-bed oil shale retort, designed to maximize the extraction and use of the shale's organic and inorganic components through pyrolysis, gasification and combustion. The main product of the KENTORT II process was a crude shale oil that could be upgraded to transportation fuel or potentially used as asphalt paving material.

1992 to 2002 - The CAER conducted research related to Advanced Concepts for Coal Liquefaction, sponsored by the US DOE. The first phase evaluated process concepts to effect reductions in the cost of producing coal liquids in a two-stage direct liquefaction process. The project was later extended to the production of potential value-added materials from coal liquids. The project's total value with extensions was nearly $8 million (sponsor and matching).


1992 - CAER was selected to administer the Kentucky DOE Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The program is designed to improve the research capabilities (human capital and physical infrastructure) of select states so that they may better compete for federal research funding.

1993 - Based on the CAER's work related to activated carbon, The Lexington Carbon Company, LLC (and its successor-in-interest companies) was incorporated.LexCarb, LLC was formed to commercialize advanced separation and adsorption products - primarily activated carbons, carbon fibers and related composite materials - for use in chemical recovery, water treatment, environmental processing of gas and liquid streams, catalysis, military and industrial protective filters, and other applications.

CAER demonstrated a technology to recover fuel and aggregates from the coal combustion waste at the Coleman Power Station

1994 - CAER began assessing the impact of low NOx burner conversion on fly ash quality, including the problem of significant carbon carry-over associated with incomplete combustion. The CAER developed methods for carbon removal from ash for re-burn in the power plant, and as potential precursors for active carbon. The Center's work concentrated on both dry and wet methods for separating and recovering carbon from ash, as well as other materials (course aggregate, etc.) for re-use in other applications. Dry separation research included the triboelectric separation of materials from ash. Wet methods incorporated the use of flotation equipment, improved surfactants, spirals and hydraulic classification, among other technologies.

1995 - Catalysis expertise was extended to the problem of low-cost production of reformulated gasoline (RFG), in which aromatics associated with ozone formation were reduced. The use of RFG is required by the EPA in a number of urban areas. Supported by grants from US DOE, CAER made progress in preparation, activation, and utilization of sulfated zirconia catalysts to create high octane paraffins needed for RFG production.

1997 - An initiative was launched to extend CAER's analytical and consulting services to include problem-solving, collaborative research and testing for industry. Called the Industrial Support Initiative, the purpose was to provide a single point of contact for requests from industry.

Creating carbon nanotubes

1997 - Based on earlier nano-catalyst work, the Carbon Materials program at CAER was expanded to include research on the synthesis and application of fullerene solids (e.g., primarily single and multi-walled carbon nanotubes). The CAER, along with several departments on campus, won a prestigious $4.0 million award from the National Science Foundation for the creation of a Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at UK focusing on advanced carbon materials for structural, thermal, electrical and adsorption applications.


1998 - Catalyst Research and Testing Center within the CAER was established to recognize the prominence of this program, and its large industrial support.

Center for Applied Energy Research - 2000s

CAER began assessing the impact of low NOx burner conversion on fly ash quality

2001 - From the project on dry ash separation that began in the early 1990s, a spin-off company called TFS - Tribo Flow Separations - was incorporated. TFS received a two-year, $1.8 million start up grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), making TFS the first Kentucky-based company to receive a grant from the NIST program since its inception in 1990.

2002 - CAER demonstrated a technology to recover fuel and aggregates from the coal combustion waste ponds at Western Kentucky Energy's Coleman Power Station in Hawesville, Kentucky. The high-quality fuel was very low in sulfur. Its recovery and use increased the overall efficiency of the power plant. Some of the carbon recovered was so high in quality that it could be useful as a low-cost adsorbent for environmental clean up.

Sunflowers and biofuels

2003 - Two new hires that year brought experts in the fields of electrochemistry and environmental catalysis to the lab. This added to expertise in the areas of Carbon, Clean Fuels and Biofuels research.

2004 - The CAER began to look toward renewable energy investigations in addition to its traditional research on fossil fuels.

Post detonation canisters used in Homeland Security blast tests

2005 - With a vision of improving national security, CAER began to carry out research funded by the Department of Homeland Security. The research ranged from using carbon materials for blast mitigation in wall treatment to reducing the explosion potential of ammonium nitrate coated with coal combustion by-products.

Power Generation Program

2006 - With funding from E-ON US, the CAER began an extensive program on clean combustion technology and emissions control research. Additional work in renewables continued.

2007 - The state began, once again, to consider coal-to-liquids technologies. The CAER maintained its expertise in this area, while continuing to include emerging technologies.

Electrochemical Power Sources Program

2008 - CAER was awarded $1.2M over three years by utility giant E.ON to design new materials for highly-efficient electrochemical capacitors. To make widespread use of renewable energy more feasible, they are funding research that tackles renewables' inability to meet base-load demand at the power plant level by funding innovative storage technologies.

Early electrochemical capacitors were used in niche applications, such as after-market automotive sound systems. Recently, they have matured into a variety of applications and are viewed as a tool in the renewable energy portfolio. Their advantage is that they can quickly absorb and deliver energy, which makes them suitable for many applications, including the emerging micro-hybrid automotive market. And since the energy is not stored chemically, electrochemical capacitors have a superior cycle life.

Algae Tubes

2009 - The Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis group began the algae program at the University of Kentucky, in collaboration with the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. BAE works on media and strain development on a laboratory scale. The CAER maintains a full-size green house where various algae types are grown and tested with the aim of eventually using waste CO2 and heat from a coal-fired power plant to cultivate algae, which could then be processed into value added products.

2009 - The CAER's Power Generation Group formed an industrial-governmental-academic consortium called the Carbon Management Research Group (CMRG), which is carrying out a $24M ten-year research and development program. Initial participants included: Duke Energy, E.ON, East Kentucky Power Cooperative, Kentucky Power Cooperative, along with EPRI. The Kentucky Dept. for Energy Development and Independence is also supporting this project with a yearly $1M match in funding.

Kentucky-Argonne logo

2009 - The Commonwealth of Kentucky, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville partnered with Argonne National Laboratory to establish a Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center to create and deploy a domestic supply of advanced battery that will aid in securing U.S. energy independence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help strengthen the economy. The administrative offices are housed at CAER with strong collaborations between the entity and CAER's electrochemistry experts.

KRCEE activities

2009 - The Kentucky Research Consortium for Energy and the Environment (KRCEE) has been supporting the US DOE's efforts to complete the environmental restoration of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, the Western Kentucky Wildlife Management Area, and surrounding areas since 1993. It has operated under the management of the CAER since 2009

Center for Applied Energy Research - 2010 Decade

CAER Building Lab #2

2010 - Groundbreaking began in the fall for on what will become the university's first LEED-certified laboratory. The $19.8 million renewable energy laboratory will allow the Center to expand research devoted to Kentucky's growing renewable energy industries, including biomass and biofuels, electrochemical power sources (like capacitors and batteries), and distributed solar energy technologies. The project should be completed by the end of 2010.

Kentucky Energy Club logo

2010 - The Kentucky Energy Club's purpose is to serve as a conduit for all members of the community to engage, educate and excite one another concerning energy and the future of Kentuckians as active participants on the global energy stage. It is particularly focused on undergraduate students throughout the state. It includes: mentorship programs, energy site tours; community outreach, discussion/lecture series, etc. The club coordinator is based at the CAER.


2011 - Kentucky NSF EPSCoR - The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) was established by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the late 1970's to promote scientific progress nationwide. It was designed to benefit states that have traditionally received less NSF Research and Development (R&D) funding. Twenty-seven states and U.S. territories participate in the program. Through EPSCoR, NSF has established continuing partnerships with government, higher education and industry that have brought about lasting improvements in Kentucky's R&D infrastructure and ultimately, its national competitiveness. CAER began managing this group in 2011.


2011 - DCE - The Development and Community Engagement group was formed in 2011 by pulling together several support groups into one entity to better serve the CAER. While previously separated, the following areas now all report to an associate director for the group. The areas included are: communications, educational outreach, conference planning, web and social media, Kentucky Energy Club, library, regional office outreach, and policy development.

Center for Applied Energy Research - Today

Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis Group is focused on reducing the environmental impacts of fuel use and developing renewable fuel sources. An open access laboratory is available to all Kentucky biofuels researchers. It is located at the University of Kentucky's Center for Applied Energy Research and the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.

Carbon Materials Group researches engineering and scale-up of a continuous production nanotube process and the incorporation/dispersion of the materials in liquids and composite materials. In addition there is a greater interest in carbon products from pitch and the coking of pitch and coal.

Catalysis Group performs industrial catalyst testing for many of America's major petrochemical companies. This ensures that CAER's work is highly relevant to industrial needs. Besides the established expertise in Fischer-Tropsch catalysis, work is growing in syngas generation, environmental catalysis, and applying catalysis skills for increased hydrogen production at milder conditions via the water gas shift reaction and catalysis related to NOx and SOx formation.

Electrochemical Power Sources Group researches implementing innovative energy-storage devices into a practical future use. Its emphasis is on renewable energy and the promise it holds. This group's work on capacitors will complement the work of the new Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center.

Environmental and Coal Technology Group explores all aspects of ash by generating information to transfer new ideas to benefit utilization, handling, storage and disposal of coal combustion byproducts (CCBs). Also, an emphasis is placed on coal petrology and on tracking mercury and its fate in solid wastes as well as investigating mercury capture on coal-derived materials.

Power Generation and Utility Fuels Group is developing viable technologies for producing clean electricity and energy from Kentucky's fossil resources and biomass. The group's scope includes biomass briquetting, combustion/gasification, carbon management, pollution control as well as power plant performance improvement. In 2011 the group received CAER's largest federal grant ($14.5M) to enhance its pilot-scale technologies on a demonstration scale at a nearby utility.