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.

UK Receives US Department of Energy Funding to Further Groundbreaking Rare Earth Element Research

clock August 24, 2017 08:30 by author Thomas

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) continues to be at the leading edge in the hunt to recover rare earth elements (REE) from coal and coal byproducts. Two of the four U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) projects recently selected to receive funding for novel REE research were born out of UK innovation and collaboration.

DOE selected four projects to move on to a second phase of research in their efforts to advance recovery of rare earth elements. DOE will invest $17.4 million to develop and test REE recovery systems originally selected and designed under phase 1 of a prior funding opportunity announcement through DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE).

UK researchers are involved in two of these projects totaling $12 million of the $17.4 million in total funding.  

The projects, expected to be completed by 2020, fall under two areas of interest: (1) bench-scale technology to economically separate, extract, and concentrate mixed REEs from coal and coal byproducts, including aqueous effluents; and (2) pilot-scale technology to economically separate, extract, and concentrate mixed REEs from coal and coal byproduct solids.

Both of the UK projects received $6 million and were selected under DOE interest 2 (pilot-scale technology development).

UK CAER will work on the project awarded to Physical Sciences, Inc. of Andover, Mass. The project will use coal fly ash physically processed near Trapp, Ky. as their feedstock. The fly ash is a byproduct of combusting Central Appalachian bituminous coal in a power plant boiler. The select portion will be shipped to a Pennsylvania location for subsequent processing to produce the final rare earth product. In addition, researchers will evaluate recovery of other useful materials from the fly ash.  Jim Hower, a principal research scientist at UK CAER and a research professor in UK’s Earth & Environmental Sciences Department, and Jack Groppo, a principal research engineer at CAER and faculty member in UK Mining Engineering, will serve as co-PIs on this grant.  

UK’s Department of Mining Engineering will oversee the second project. The research will use two sources of coal preparation (coal washing) byproducts as feedstock for recovery of REEs. The team will also recover dry, fine coal from the feedstock material. The first location for installation and testing of the pilot plant will be at a coal preparation plant in Perry County, Ky. that processes Central Appalachian bituminous coal. The second location for testing of the pilot plant will be at a coal preparation plant that processes Illinois Basin bituminous coal near Nebo, Ky.  UK CAER’s Dr. Groppo will also provide expertise in physical separation processing and plant design on that project.

“The research advances made in rare earths over the last several years has been remarkable,” said Dr. Hower, who first discovered rare earth concentrations in Kentucky coal seams in the late 1990s. “We hope this research funding will accelerate research and development in this promising area that could have a profound impact on Kentucky’s energy economy.” 


REEs are a series of 17 chemical elements found in the Earth’s crust. Due to their unique chemical properties, REEs are essential components of technologies spanning a range of applications, including electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care and national defense. The demand for REEs has grown significantly in recent years, stimulating an interest in economically feasible approaches for domestic REE recovery. 

CAER hosts Wichita State University Professor's talk on Spectrometry

clock August 16, 2017 15:59 by author Thomas

On Wednesday, August 16, UK CAER invited Professor Hussein H. Hamdeh, from the Wichita State University Department of Physics to present "Materials characterization by Mössbauer Spectrometry".



Mossbauer Spectrometry is often used to characterize the structural, electrical and magnetic properties of materials.  This technique is particularly effective in the study of non-equilibrium disordered and nanoscale structures where it provides information unobtainable by diffraction and other techniques.  The presentation covered the fundamentals of the Mossbauer Effect, the spectrometer, the measured hyperfine parameters and few applications in applied physics/materials and chemistry.

UK CAER’s Biofuels Group Receives $2M to Support Novel Emissions Research

clock August 15, 2017 08:53 by author Thomas

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research’s (CAER) Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis Group has received a $2 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant to develop new emissions technology for low-temperature gasoline.

The project is entitled “Research and Development of Novel Adsorber Technology to Address Hydrocarbon and Nitrogen Oxide Emissions for Low Temperature Gasoline Applications.” As part of the grant, UK CAER will be partnering with the University of California, Berkeley, Purdue University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Ford Motor Company.

This research project seeks to solve a problem with vehicle emissions. As internal combustion engines become more efficient, their exhaust gas becomes cooler. However, catalytic converters need to be warm to start efficiently removing pollutants (specifically nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons).

With national emission standards for vehicles becoming more stringent, it is increasingly important to remove these pollutants from exhaust gas when a vehicle is first started, in other words, when the exhaust gas is still cold.  

“To accomplish this goal, we are conducting research on a class of materials (zeolites) that can effectively trap pollutants until the vehicle’s catalytic converter is warm enough to convert them to harmless products,” said Mark Crocker, Associate Director of UK CAER’s Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis Group and Professor of Chemistry. “If successful, this technology will play a critical role in creating cleaner and more efficient vehicles.”

The grant was funded by DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office, and reasserts DOE’s commitment to advanced, energy efficient transportation technologies. Work of this type will improve our nation’s energy security, help consumers and businesses save money on transportation energy costs, and strengthen U.S. economic competitiveness. All told, DOE invested $19.4 million in 22 new cost-shared projects across the nation.

UK CAER Student Researcher Places Third in UK Poster Contest

clock August 11, 2017 14:14 by author Thomas

Braxton McFarland, a student researcher in UK CAER’s Power Generation Group, placed third in the UK Department of Chemistry’s annual poster completion. McFarland, a native of Lexington, Kentucky, graduated with a degree in chemistry from UK in spring 2017.



The title of the poster was “Electroless Copper Plating Method for 3D Printed Circuit Boards.”