UK CAER Current News

The Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) is one of the University of Kentucky's multidisciplinary research centers. Its energy research provides a focal point for environmental, renewable and fossil fuels research in Kentucky.

Center Collaborates with UK Mining Engineering on Rare Earth Elements Research

clock March 15, 2016 08:56 by author David Melanson

University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research scientists Jack Groppo and Jim Hower are collaborating with Rick Honaker, professor and chair of the UK Department of Mining Engineering, to develop a mobile pilot-plant facility for the recovery of rare earth elements from coal.

The research team received $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory. The team includes collaborators at Virginia Tech and West Virginia University and will develop and test a mobile processing facility that can efficiently recover the rare earth elements present in coal and coal byproducts in an environmentally friendly manner.

"Previous research conducted by UK scientists and others have found that the critical materials needed for renewable energy technologies, such as cell phones and other electronics, are found in coal and coal byproducts at concentrations that may be economical to recover," Dr. Honaker said.

Rare earth elements, or REEs, are a series of chemical elements found in the Earth’s crust. Due to their unique chemical properties, REEs have become essential components of many technologies spanning a range of applications including electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care and national defense. The demand, cost and availability of REEs has grown significantly over recent years stimulating an emphasis on economically feasible approaches for REE recovery.

The U.S. has 10.9 million tons of rare earth resources in coal deposits located in just five western and four eastern states, including Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Coal Quality Database.

"If advanced separation technologies become available, the resource base will increase substantially," Dr. Honaker said.

With those technologies, the coal industry could potentially produce approximately 40,000 tons of REEs annually, which is more than twice the amount consumed in the U.S.

As Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (KY-05) supported funding for REE recovery projects in the federal budget for fiscal year 2016.

“Our coal-producing states are working diligently to recover from the devastating loss of coal mining jobs in today’s economy. In fact, Kentucky alone has suffered the loss of nearly 11,000 coal mining jobs since 2009. Experimental projects, like UK’s mobile REE recovery plant, could save and create new coal-related jobs and opportunities in eastern Kentucky,” said Congressman Rogers. “I applaud Professor Honaker and the vision of UK’s leaders to find new applications for coal and coal byproducts for the development of everyday technologies, such as smart phones, computers and rechargeable batteries. This effort to find more uses for our country’s most plentiful resource could put many people back to work in the coalfields.”

This project is one of only 10 projects awarded and is the only one that is focused on physical concentration methods as a means for recovering REE directly from the coal sources rather than from a coal combustion byproduct. UK CAER received funding on three of 10 NETL projects.

Catalyst Group Publishes Book

clock March 11, 2016 12:59 by author David Melanson

World-renowned UK Center for Applied Energy Research Fischer-Tropsch catalysis research – led by CAER’s Burt Davis – has been published in a new book entitled “Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis, Catalysts, and Catalysis: Advances and Applications.” The book is now available for sale by CRC Press.

The book is a collection of proceedings and some invited papers from the International Symposium on Fischer-Tropsch Chemistry and Catalysis, which was held as part of the 248th American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting & Exposition. That meeting was held in August 2014 in San Francisco.

Dr. Davis, an international leader in Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, and direct coal liquefaction at CAER, served as one of the book’s editors, along with colleague Mario L. Occelli.

In addition to Dr. Davis’ contributions to this book, many other staff members and former staff of the Center’s Catalysts Laboratory were published including: Muthu Kumaran Gnanamani, Uschi M. Graham, Shelley D. Hopps, Gary Jacobs, Wenping Ma, Patricia M. Patterson, Venkat Ramana Rao Pendyala, Wilson D. Shafer, Dennis E. Sparks, and Gerald A. Thomas.  Moreover, the book highlights the work of many UK CAER students and former students, including Adam C. Crawford, Victor Gloriot, Nicolas A. Hughes, Michela Martinelli, Maria A. Morales, Chase P. Moran, Jean-Samuel Poirier, Damarcus D. Smiley, and Sarah S. Suggs.

Collaborations with UK CAER included Gabriela Alvez (Chevron-Phillips Chemical Co. LP), Dragomir B. Bukur (Texas A&M University at Qatar), Hussein H. Hamdeh (Wichita State University Department of Physics), Xianghong Hao (Chevron-Phillips Chemical Co. LP), Yongfeng Hu (Canadian Light Source, Inc.), Syed Khalid (National Synchrotron Light Source, Brookhaven National Laboratory), Luca Lietti (Polytechnic University of Milan), Aimee Maclennan (Canadian Light Source, Inc.), Jack Selegue (University of Kentucky Department of Chemistry), Ryan Snell (Chevron-Phillips Chemical Co. LP), Branislav Todic (Texas A&M University at Qatar), and Carlo G. Visconti (Polytechnic University of Milan).

The book can be purchased at the following website:

Graffin Lecturer Discusses "This Ubiqutuos Carbon" at a UK CAER Seminar

clock March 4, 2016 09:58 by author Alice
This ubiqutuos carbon... was an interesting topic presented by Dr. Cristian Contescu, Senior Research Staff, Materials Science and Technology Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, at a recent University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research Seminar held on March 2, 2016.

After Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age, and after the Silicon Age of the informational revolution, the technologies of 21st century are marked by the ubiqutuous presence of various forms of carbon allotropes. For long time, diamond and graphite were the only known carbon allotropes, but that has changed with the serendipous discovery of fullerences, carbon nanotubes, and graphene. Every ten or fifteen years scientists unveil new forms of carbons with new and perplexing properties, while computations suggest that the carbon’s family still has members unknown to us today. At a dramatically accelerated pace, new carbon allotrope forms find their place at the leading edge of scientific and technological innovations. At the same time traditional forms of carbon are being used in new and exciting applications that make our life safer, healthier, and more enjoyable. The 21st century may soon be recognized as the Age of Carbon forms.

This educational talk emphasized the role that carbon, the fourth most abundant element in the Galaxy and the basis of life on Earth, was the engine of most important technological developments throughout the history of civilization. The talk will emphasize carbon’s strong ability, as an element, to generate a variety of allotropic forms and to enter in a multitude of combinations with itself and with many other chemical elements. These properties have placed carbon at the core of numerous inventions that define out civilization, while emerging new technologies open a rich path for value-added products in today’s market. The potential of new (and traditional) carbon allotropes for development of new applications in nanotechnologies and nanocomposites, energy storage and conversion, gas separation, storage and sequestration, health management and drug delivery, defense and national security, aeronautics and astronautics, basic sciences and life sciences is still not fully explored and demands more basic and applied research. Today’s carbon science and technology offers a broad range of opportunities for the young generation of students, engineers and scientists.

UK College of Design Students Tour CAER's Energy Efficient Lab Building

clock March 3, 2016 13:28 by author Alice
UK College of Design Students in the Interior Design area toured the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research's laboratory 2 - Renewable Energy Lab on March 2, 2016. The students toured the solar and battery areas and heard details about the building's energy efficiency features from Courtney Fisk, UK CAER Assistant Director for Facilities and Operations. Courtney was the engineer that oversaw the construction of lab 2. Eduardo Santillan-Jimenz, UK CAER Biofuels Scientist, presented information/toured the Biofuels labs housed within the building. The CoD students are working on a Sustainability grant jointly received by UK CAER, Colleges of Design and Education to develop a biofuels video game from the board game version created by Dr. Santillian-Jimenz.

UK CAER Ingenuity Featured at E-Day

clock March 1, 2016 09:18 by author David Melanson

UK CAER’s education and outreach missions were on full display on Saturday, February 27 as part of UK’s Engineers Day, or as it is commonly-referred, E-Day. E-Day, a celebration of everything engineering has to offer, is held each year on UK’s engineering complex.

E-Day is an opportunity for school-aged children – from elementary all the way through high school – to learn more about the exciting things engineers and computer scientists do. It also serves as a way to introduce students to experiential activities, including high school and undergraduate research opportunities.

Representing the Center at E-Day this year were Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez and Tristana Duvallet, who were busying answering questions from interested students and parents about what a career in science would look like.