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 CAER Receives More Rare Earth Element Research Funding

clock September 26, 2017 15:56 by author Thomas

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) received yet another federal grant to broaden its burgeoning rare earth element research and development portfolio.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the $1.5 million project is entitled “Rare-Earth Elements in US Coal-Based Resources: Sampling, Characterizations, and Round-Robin Inter-laboratory Study.” The grant represents a collaborative effort between the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center (EERC), UK CAER, and the Kentucky Geological Survey.

As part of the project, UK CAER will collect samples from four regions across Appalachia to determine the concentration of rare earth elements in those coalfields. The sites include: Pennsylvania anthracite; Castleman Basin, Maryland to Clearfield County, Pennsylvania; Eastern Kentucky; and Alabama.

"We are pleased to be working with the University of North Dakota EERC on this project,” said Jim Hower, a principal research scientist at UK CAER and a research professor in UK’s Earth & Environmental Sciences Department. “While the emphasis in the project is western US sampling, there is an Appalachian component to the study. More than just being a way to round out the coverage of sample location, this gives the UK CAER and Kentucky Geological Survey an opportunity to better understand the distribution of rare earth elements within coals in some of the most promising portions of the Appalachian coalfields."

Data collected from this project will supplement extensive REE data already collected from Kentucky’s Fire Clay coal.  



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.

UK CAER has become a global leader in REE research and development in recent years. In fact, UK has received 17 awards for REE research from six funding agencies since 2012. In addition to Hower, UK CAER’s Jack Groppo, a principal research engineer at CAER and faculty member in UK Mining Engineering, has received several awards for REE R&D efforts. Rick Honaker, a faculty member in UK Mining Engineering and a member of the UK CAER Advisory Board, has also received several REE grants.



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.



UK CAER, ACAA and EPRI to Host Winter Workshop

clock January 6, 2016 15:19 by author David Melanson

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER), the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) are co-sponsoring a Workshop on Current Issues in Ponded Coal Combustion Products (CCPs) February 3-4 in Tampa, Florida.

The workshop will be held immediately following the ACAA 2016 Winter Meeting, which will be held at the Hilton Downtown Tampa February 2-3.

Registration for both the winter meeting and workshop is now available online. For more information and to register for this exciting educational and networking opportunity, visit the following website: http://www.worldofcoalash.org/ash/.



Jim Hower, UK CAER Scientist, Quoted in WLEX18 Story

clock January 16, 2015 11:14 by author Alice

In an investigative reporting piece on coal fires near Berea, Dr. Jim Hower was contacted for comment:

Jim Hower, a University of Kentucky researcher who studies Kentucky's underground fires, said the smoke can produce carcinogens. However, he said it likely doesn't present a health risk as long as people stay away from the plumes.


“In the course of being outside, walking by these fires, you want some protections, but they're also probably not in the concentration, or the length of exposure and intensity of exposure that are going to cause an immediate danger to somebody,” he said. “They smell bad, and it's certainly something you don't want to be living with.”


The full story can be viewed here on LEX18's website.



UKNow Covers EEC/UKVis Documentary "Shifting Lines"

clock December 5, 2014 11:04 by author Alice

"Shifting Lines: Kentucky's Changing Energy Landscape" is a mini documentary produced by the University of Kentucky Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments with the assistance of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.

The film examines how Kentucky's electricity prices and abundant water supplies have attracted a wealth of manufacturing, and how recent trends in power generation and cost will affect this, as well as overall energy policy, moving forward.

See the full UKNow article here.