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, IU Bloomington Launch Sustainable Collaboration

clock October 4, 2018 14:17 by author Thomas


Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Kentucky may be rivals on the hardwood but when it comes to sustainability, these two schools are clearly on the same page.  

A $50,000 grant from Duke Energy will help make IU Bloomington one of the first universities in the U.S. to convert emissions from its heating plant into fertilizer to feed campus vegetation.

The technology utilized to make this happen was invented and patented at UK’s Center for Applied Energy Research.

Working with UK CAER engineers, IU Bloomington has installed a ‘cyclic flow’ photobioreactor system on the roof of its Central Heating Plant. The system will convert carbon emissions from the natural gas boiler into fertilizer via photosynthesis, enhancing sustainability efforts already underway across the campus.

UK CAER originally designed its photobioreactor system to capture and beneficially re-use carbon dioxide emissions at coal-fired power plants. The photobioreactor creates an optimum growth environment for microalgae, which naturally scrubs the CO2 as it grows. Periodically the algae are harvested and can then be used as biomass to create a variety of products, including food, fertilizers, chemicals, and/or plastics.

The Center’s first algal photobioreactor was installed at Duke Energy’s East Bend Station in northern Kentucky. 

At IU, emissions generated from the heating plant's natural gas boilers will be pumped into the bioreactor tubes, which house the algae culture. The transparent tubes allow sunlight to drive photosynthesis, converting the CO2 emissions into algae biomass. After harvesting, the algae can be processed to create a sustainable, nutrient-rich, slow release fertilizer. This fertilizer will be utilized in flower beds and landscaping across campus.

Mark Menefee, Assistant Director for Utilities at IU, credits the diversity and dedication of the IU team that has worked on the project. He noted that the project brought together professors, students, facility engineers and electricians, administrative staff, and collaboration with UK CAER and Duke Energy to complete this project.

“Success depended on all these collaborators being able to effectively communicate with each other. Many bridges between disciplines needed to be crossed. It was clear, even early on that our shared passion to see this project succeed united us,” Menefee said.

This is the not the first system that UK CAER has partnered to build. In recent years the Center’s biofuels team has partnered with Lianhenghui Investment Company to construct a 5-acre algae production facility in Zhengzhou, China.

Although the system is similar to those UK CAER has built in the past, the Center’s Michael Wilson is excited about IU’s efforts in utilizing algae to create a sustainable fertilizer.

“I look forward to learning from the results in Indiana,” said Wilson, a Senior Research Engineer at UK CAER. “Many colleges, universities, and companies have power plants at their facilities. They also utilize fertilizers as part of[WM1]  their landscaping and beautification programs. If successful, this may provide a new avenue to create those products from a sustainable source, while reducing their carbon footprint.”

Wilson credits the vision of IU’s Stephen ‘Chip’ Glaholt for utilizing the project as a way to stimulate applied, multidisciplinary, undergraduate research across campus – essentially as a living laboratory.

“It is a very exciting concept,” said Wilson. “It creates a win-win-win, highlighting sustainability efforts, engaging students, and advancing applied carbon utilization research.”



Cultivating algae at Indiana University

Picture of testing site at UK CAER

UK CAER Undergraduate Researcher Presents Research at Kentucky State Capitol

clock February 25, 2016 14:48 by author David Melanson

Courtney McKelphin, an undergraduate researcher at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research, was one of 29 UK undergraduate researchers selected to showcase their research to the Kentucky state legislature on Thursday, February 25. Read the full story.

UK CAER Algal Research Hitting the Ground in China

clock February 15, 2016 12:05 by author David Melanson

Algae research at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) is going global.

The Algae and Biofuels Laboratory at UK CAER is partnering with Lianhenghui Investment Company to construct a 5-acre algae production facility in Zhengzhou, China. The facility will feature the Center’s novel photobioreactor technology for growing algae. The algae will be used for the production of nutraceuticals, bioplastics and fuels. The company is also constructing a second, smaller facility in Zhengzhou (2.5 acres), which will employ the same technology to grow algae for the production of nutraceuticals.

Microalgae have attracted considerable interest in recent years as a high-yield renewable feedstock for the production of fuels and chemicals. In addition, algae have been proposed as a means to capture and utilize power plant emissions, since photosynthetic algae can use the CO2 in flue gas as a carbon source.

UK CAER’s Algae and Biofuels group, led by Dr. Mark Crocker, is a worldwide leader in this research. The group has extensive expertise in this area, specializing in photobioreactor design, construction and operation; photobioreactor integration with power plants; and algae cultivation, harvesting and dewatering.

“This is an exciting development for our lab and the next phase of our research,” said Dr. Crocker. “Getting to see our innovations go from the lab to practice at Duke Energy’s East Bend Station in Boone County, Kentucky and now on to an international market is gratifying. We look forward to learning more from our partners at Lianhenghui Investment Company.”

The initial funding for the photobioreactor development was provided by the Kentucky Department of Energy Development and Independence, as part of a project to investigate the potential of algae for the capturing and recycling of power plant CO2 emissions.  After years of research, the lab partnered with Duke Energy’s East Bend Station to install a photobioreactor at that site in late 2012.

“This is an exciting achievement for Mark Crocker and the entire Biofuels group here at CAER,” said Rodney Andrews, Director of UK CAER. “They have been persistent in their efforts to improve the technology, constantly refining their process and improving our understanding of how the biology and engineering systems interact. We look forward to seeing the results of this partnership with Lianhenghui."

In June 2014, the UK CAER licensed its photobioreactor technology to Lianhenghui. Together, UK and Lianhenghui have patented the first and second generation photobioreactor technology in China, and they are in the process of patenting the second generation reactor technology in the United States.

Biofuels – fuels derived from biomass – are promising alternatives to fossil fuels since they are renewable and carbon neutral (the CO2 generated during biofuel use is consumed by plants through photosynthesis, closing the carbon cycle). CAER has considerable experience on the catalytic conversion of different forms of biomass to fuels and chemicals.

For the full story and photos...