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 Researchers Spinning a Path Forward for Kentucky Manufacturers

clock June 6, 2018 10:25 by author Thomas

For years, Kentucky has been known as a national manufacturing hotbed for a variety of reasons. Home to inexpensive, reliable energy and a global leader in aluminum production has kept Kentucky communities churning out products — and keeping Kentuckians gainfully employed — for generations.

 

But it is a different material that shows great promise in the Commonwealth.

 

Carbon fiber is the material of the future — a next-generation version of aluminum. Its properties are often considered the holy grail in manufacturing. Carbon fiber is a low-weight, high-strength, corrosion resistant material that can conduct electricity.

 

 

Industry leaders agree that if you intend to be at the leading edge of advanced manufacturing, you better understand carbon fiber’s importance, and you better be actively adapting to a rapidly changing marketplace.

 

The good news for Kentucky manufacturers is that one of the leading carbon fiber research and development facilities in the world is located in their backyard.

 

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) is home to the largest carbon fiber spin line at any institution in North America. Over the past decade, CAER researchers have built a solution spinning line that draws visitors, collaborators, and research partners from across the Commonwealth, the nation and the world. And they are here for one thing: to lean on CAER’s carbon fiber research team as they seek answers to some of the toughest questions facing the industry.

 

There are already numerous products in the retail and commercial marketplace that are made from carbon fiber composites. Sports equipment, aircraft and aerospace applications, satellites, automobiles, pressure vessels, specialized tools and wind turbine components, just to name a few.

 

According to Matt Weisenberger, associate director for CAER’s Materials Technologies Research Group, there is one thing keeping carbon fiber from truly taking off in the materials marketplace: cost. It is extremely expensive to produce carbon fiber. Much of that cost is tied to the production of precursor fiber — the first material created as part of the spinning process.

 

That’s what makes CAER’s expertise in this field so vital. CAER has spent a decade specifically developing technology related to the production of precursor fiber.

 

 

 

“Our team has developed the unique know-how to manufacture at a small scale — but a meaningful scale — experimental polymers and precursor carbon fibers,” Weisenberger said.

 

With Kentucky’s focus on becoming a national leader in advanced manufacturing, Weisenberger notes that UK CAER is primed to help partner with Kentucky companies to ensure the Commonwealth remains at the leading technological edge.

 

“As Kentucky’s land-grant university, we understand the important role we play in collaborating with Kentucky companies,” Weisenberger said. “We take great pride in working with industry and we look forward to more opportunities to do that with manufacturers in the Commonwealth, across the nation and throughout the world.”



UK CAER Receives $1M Grant for Carbon Fiber Research

clock June 23, 2017 11:55 by author Thomas

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) received a $1 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to continue their leading-edge research in developing low-cost, high-strength carbon fiber.

 

The Center’s Materials Technologies Group received the award for a project entitled “Precursor Processing Development for Low Cost, High Strength Carbon Fiber for Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessel Applications.” The funding was part of DOE’s strategy to invest in discovery and development of novel, low-cost materials necessary for hydrogen storage and for fuel cells onboard light-duty vehicles.


 

The team will investigate solutions to critical issues in precursor fiber development that significantly contribute to the cost of carbon fiber, namely high polymer cost, inefficient water use and solvent recovery, low fiber throughput, energy intensive conversion, and high coefficient of variation (CV) utilizing their unique expertise and fiber development facility available at UK CAER. The Center is home to the largest carbon fiber spinline at any University in North America.

 

If successful, the project will lower the cost of high quality carbon fibers by over 50 percent, opening opportunities for widespread application of carbon fibers in previously cost-prohibited areas, specifically in composite overwrapped pressure vessels for hydrogen storage.



 

“We appreciate DOE’s confidence in our carbon fiber research and development efforts here at UK CAER,” said Matt Weisenberger, Associate Director of the Materials Technologies Group. “It is our hope that this project will show great promise for the future of carbon fiber for pressure vessels and many other commercial applications. A strong, vibrant and growing carbon fiber industry shows potential for creating new jobs and economic opportunities in Kentucky.”

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office awarded a total of 30 grants during its annual funding opportunity announcement (FOA) in 2017. The 2017 FOA solicited early-stage materials research to advance the Department’s goals of enabling economic and efficient transportation via fuel cell electric vehicles that use hydrogen fuel produced from diverse domestic resources.

More than 2,000 fuel cell vehicles have been sold or leased in the U.S. since 2015. These consume 95 percent less petroleum per mile than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles, have no tailpipe emissions, and offer quiet operation.



Edrington Takes Second Place in Poster Competition

clock September 15, 2016 08:46 by author Thomas

UK CAER’s Sarah Edrington, a mechanical engineering graduate student at UK, placed second in the graduate category at the Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Composites Conference and Exhibition's student poster competition. Sarah was recognized for her poster entitled: “PAN Precursor Draw During Spinning: Effects on Mechanical Properties and Morphology of Resultant Carbon Fiber.” Sarah, who does research as part of CAER’s Carbon Materials Group, will continue her work with PAN carbon fiber precursor spinning as part of her thesis.




UK CAER Staff Member Spends Summer Spinning Webs

clock August 17, 2016 09:05 by author Thomas

Ashley Morris, a senior research engineer in the UK Center for Applied Energy Research’s Materials Technologies Group, has spent the summer in the Bay Area serving as Interim Director of Fiber Spinning for synthetic spider silk startup, Bolt Threads.

Morris honed her skills over the past 8 years while developing UK CAER’s world class solution spinning line and has become an expert in the field of solution spinning (often used for the production of acrylic fibers, which can then be converted into carbon fiber). That experience provided her an opportunity to spend the summer at Bolt Threads, a venture backed startup producing synthetic spider silk, which is known to be five times stronger than steel and tougher than Kevlar.

Bolt’s scientists use recombinant technology to modify the genetic code of spider genes that make silk proteins and insert them into a strain of yeast. Fed with sugar and water and left to ferment, the yeast expresses the spider silk protein, which is then spun into fibers and converted into yarns for textiles. The company can tune the properties of the silk, making it, for example, “stretchier” or stronger, based on the genes inserted into the yeast.

Founded in 2009 and based in Emeryville, California, Bolt recently announced a partnership with Patagonia to develop goods from their proprietary spider silk-inspired fibers and textiles.

“Bolt Threads has offered me a terrific opportunity to work alongside some of the world’s top scientists and engineers in the field of biotechnology,” said Morris. “I am thankful for the opportunity to showcase leadership and technical skills gained at UK in a fast-paced startup environment, and the overall experience has made me a better researcher.”