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 Mining Engineering, CAER Receive DOE Funding for Rare Earth Element Research

clock June 27, 2017 15:13 by author Thomas

The University of Kentucky has received two of three U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grants for its promising work in the emerging field of rare earth element (REE) research.

DOE's Office of Fossil Energy recently announced that the three projects have been selected to receive approximately $3 million for research aimed at producing salable rare earth elements from domestic coal and coal by-products. UK's Department of Mining Engineering is a partner on one of those projects while UK's Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) is a partner on another project.

 

 

 

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.

Rick Honaker, chair of UK's Department of Mining Engineering, will oversee a project which will involve conducting laboratory testing and preparing their technical design for a pilot plant to produce salable REEs. They will use by-products from an existing West Virginia coal preparation (coal washing) plant as their raw material for extracting REEs. Their phase 1 design includes recovery and sale of dry, fine, high-quality coal from this raw material as an additional source of revenue.

"Coal and coal by-products have the potential to be the source of a critical national need in the supply of rare earth elements including those that have been identified as strategically important by the U.S. Department of Defence. Researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) were the first to recognize this fact and, with strong congressional support led by Congressman Hal Rogers, have developed a research and development program to expedite the commercialization of this opportunity," Honaker said. "We are grateful that NETL has selected our team to be one of three to initiate the development of a small, commercial production facility to produce rare earth element concentrates from coal and coal products. If successful, rare earth production facilities in the coalfields could significantly reduce the reliance on imports where nearly 100 percent of the critical materials are obtained, while also positively impacting job creation and the financial stability of mining companies."

Jim Hower, a principal research scientist at UK CAER and a research professor in UK's Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, will oversee the second project, which will utilize by-products from an eastern Kentucky coal preparation plant as their source of REEs. Their phase 1 design will consider recovery and sale of coal from these preparation plant by-products as an additional source of revenue.

"Our rare earth element recovery research is a natural extension of the center's efforts in creating high-value products from coal and coal combustion by-products," Hower said. "We look forward to bringing this knowledge to bear, and the potential for creating new jobs and economic opportunities in Kentucky and across the United States. We are most grateful to DOE for this support, and thankful to Congressman Hal Rogers for his continued leadership in support of UK CAER's coal by-product utilization research and development."

These REE projects speak to the unique and long-standing collaboration between UK Mining Engineering and UK CAER. Jack Groppo, a principal research engineer at CAER and faculty member in UK Mining Engineering, will also provide expertise in physical separation processing and plant design on Honaker's project.

 

 

"The University of Kentucky is engaged in answering Kentucky questions that, often, have global implications," said UK President Eli Capilouto. "These grants underscore the leading role UK's Center for Applied Energy Research and Department of Mining Engineering play in our national energy dialogue. UK faculty and staff researchers are recognized pioneers, and their research and discovery plays an integral role in how we improve, utilize, and enhance the capacity of our energy economy. I want to thank Congressman Hal Rogers for his continued support of the University of Kentucky, and his belief in our people's capacity to address those questions most vexing to the state we serve, together."

"I applaud the University of Kentucky for the continued tireless efforts to secure the future of coal and coal by-products across the country," said Congressman Hal Rogers, who supported federal funding for DOE grant opportunities. "Rare earth elements are utilized in ways you may not know about, from computers, to telescopes, to aircraft engines, to specialized glass, and medical equipment. The ongoing innovative research and development at UK CAER and the Department of Mining Engineering will expand upon potential revenue options in the future, providing more opportunities for Kentucky's coal country."

More information about the projects can be found at:
https://energy.gov/articles/doe-announces-69-million-research-rare-earth-elements-coal-and-coal-byproducts

 



UK CAER scientist Mike Wilson awarded third UK Sustainability Challenge Grant

clock April 24, 2017 09:35 by author Thomas

Michael Wilson has many passions.

There’s his affinity for whitewater kayaking. It doesn’t take too much arm twisting to convince Wilson to head to the mountains for a weekend of camping and riding the currents.

There’s his love for science and discovery. Getting into the laboratory to discover or build something new – that will always be appealing.

 

But it is another of Wilson’s passions that will be keeping him busy in 2017. Wilson received his third consecutive University of Kentucky Sustainability Challenge Grant earlier this year, and the project has him energized.

“This grant is what a major research university should be all about,” said Wilson. “It will allow us to bring in five undergraduate students from a broad range of disciplines to create a novel interdisciplinary research program. It will allow students from various academic interests to pool their skills and know-how to attack a real issue around sustainability. I can’t wait to get started.”

Wilson is in the midst of recruiting students (http://ukjobs.uky.edu/postings/142465) to take part in this unique program. Students will be recruited from a variety of campus programs, including engineering, chemistry, sustainability and design – just to name a few. In addition to being directly involved in the day-to-day execution of research both on campus and at the UK Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER), this cadre of students will be exposed to regular scientific seminars, in-depth lab tours, design thinking/iteration, and professional development opportunities that will include résumé formatting and interview etiquette. 

This project will leverage educational assessment tools that can help evaluate the academic progress of the students as well as evaluating their knowledge of the importance of research, design processes and sustainability. In addition, the research data generated from the project will be utilized to prepare a National Science Foundation (NSF) proposal that will seek to develop a more formal undergraduate research experience at UK CAER.  

The Sustainability Challenge Grant program was created to engage multidisciplinary teams from the University community in the creation and implementation of ideas that will promote sustainability by simultaneously advancing economic vitality, ecological integrity and social equity. In the first three years of the program, 20 projects have been awarded a total of $500,000 to pursue transformational, sustainability-driven projects on our campus and beyond.

Wilson has received funding for sustainability projects each of the first three years. The first two projects involved a collaborative UK team that was designing a sustainable bus shelter with Martin Summers (School of Architecture) that incorporated advanced design concepts, solar-power generation, water collection systems, and energy/sustainability education. 

Wilson also wanted to extend thanks to those who helped and contributed to this effort. 

“A huge debt of gratitude is owed to numerous collaborators, students, and co-workers for contributing to any progress made; and especially Dr. Mark Crocker for his support in this endeavor.”

The new project builds upon Wilson’s past experience in research and undergraduate research mentoring, with the hope of expanding and enhancing a sustainable undergraduate research program at UK.  

“I look forward to learning as much from the students as they will learn from this program,” said Wilson. “To me, that’s the exciting part. Getting a chance to teach and learn alongside these students is why I enjoy doing what I do.”