Engineers normally get their hands dirty … but green? Ask any of the five UK students working with the Center for Applied Energy Research Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis group and you might get a surprising answer. They are all part of a student team from the University of Kentucky Engineering Department and the College of Design that have been working on design issues associated with the CAER algal-based carbon capture and utilization demonstration project based at Duke’s East Bend power plant located in Northern Kentucky.

In an effort to drive down capital and operating costs the CAER “outsourced” the design problems to this group of students to see what could be developed, with the end result to be working prototypes or models that could be incorporated into the Center’s day-to-day carbon utilization research.

The students were recently on-hand during a Channel 12 News interview of Michael H. Wilson, UK CAER Senior Research Engineer. Each created a poster focusing on their specific project highlighting what aspect of the process needed work and a solution of how to resolve that problem.

Katelyn Yohe, UK Electrical Engineering Senior - UK CAER Duke Algae Demo Katelyn Yohe, UK Electrical Engineering SeniorLow Cost Control System - (Poster) - A low cost control system was developed to control the input of carbon dioxide, as flue gas, and air in a photobioreactor in order to maintain healthy algae growth conditions. The system regulates pH and dissolved oxygen based on parameters set by the user. Live, weekly, stored data, and setting parameters can all be viewed and changed on a network computer through the web or through the on-board LCD. Based on the current system used, this new prototype is roughly an eighty-seven percent reduction of cost.

Landon Caudill, UK Mechanical Engineering Junior - UK CAER Duke Algae Demo Landon Caudill, UK Mechanical Engineering JuniorAlgae Harvest and Processing – (Poster) - I focused on how to improve the efficiency of our low-cost/low energy harvesting and dewatering process. In order to recover algal byproducts a low dosage (3-5 ppm) of chemical flocculent is added as the algae is pumped into a setting column. After 20 minutes the biomass has settled to the bottom of a small diameter and conical base to allow most (>95%) of the water to be decanted and recycled to the growth system. The thickened biomass is then transferred to a gravity dewatering belt and then to a solar drier to complete the low-cost/low-energy method of algae biomass recovery. These improvements have made the processing of harvested algae more efficient and consistent.

Chase M. Cecil, UK Chemical Engineering Senior - UK CAER Duke Algae Demo Chase M. Cecil, UK Chemical Engineering Senior - Optimizing Carbon Input to Maximize Efficiency – (Poster) - My work focused on modeling the CO2 utilization efficiency of the photobioreactor system. The model determined a CO2 input regimen that optimized the CO2 usage and maximized the efficiency of the reactor system. This method also highlighted the most important factors to improve the performance and efficiency of the system moving forward.

Thomas E. Grubbs, UK Architecture Senior - UK CAER Duke Algae Demo Thomas E. Grubbs, UK Architecture SeniorDesign, Development, and Documentation – (Poster) – My role at CAER has been primarily on the documentation side of the photobioreactor design process. I was brought aboard to lend a designer’s perspective to the work being carried at out at the Center, specifically the algae project. To that end, I have worked on the design and development of the PBR tube cleaning ‘pigs’, including the use of a CO2 laser cutting system in order to optimize pig construction, as well as the East Bend PBR.

Travis Jarrells, UK Chemical Engineering Junior - UK CAER Duke Algae Demo Travis Jarrells, UK Chemical Engineering JuniorCarbon Dioxide Compression Model – (Poster) – My work focused on the introduction of carbon dioxide, as flue gas, to the photobioreactor system. Different methods such as compression and bubbling and using eductors were compared based on an energy consumption basis. I also worked on improving smaller (8 liter) airlift reactors for use in the greenhouse. Improvements made include air introduction, as well as changes in geometry to improve longevity and maintenance.

The UK CAER has a long history of offering experiential learning opportunities to undergraduate engineering and science students in areas including: biofuels, carbon materials, carbon capture, industrial byproduct beneficiation, batteries, solar, and catalysis. The students get an opportunity to work on real world problems and apply the lessons they learn in their coursework to immediately reinforce their learning, often in a hands-on-manner. Michael Wilson sums it up by saying, “Working with these students has been a great experience. Although the experience they are getting is undoubtedly valuable, I’m not sure we can repay them for the amounts of enthusiasm and creativity they bring to the table. I am continually impressed with the level of talent present at the University of Kentucky”. With opportunities like these, the contributions that undergraduate researchers can make will only continue and ultimately contribute to the vitality of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

*Follow up questions can be directed to Michael.Wilson@uky.edu or alice.marksberry@uky.edu