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 FT Catalyst Scientists Conduct Experiments at Canadian Light Source

clock September 21, 2015 15:10 by author Alice
Dr. Gary Jacobs and Dr. Ramana Pendyala from the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research's Clean Fuels and Chemicals research group was recently interviewed by Victoria Martinez, the Communications Coordinator at the Canadian Light Source, Inc., in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada while the two scientists were working at the Soft X-ray Microcharacterization Beamline laboratory.
The researchers, in collaboration with Dr. Yongfeng Hu of CLSI, analyzed Fischer-Tropsch synthesis catalysts that had been exposed to common contaminants found in biomass-derived synthesis gas. The soft X-rays allow for an analysis of low energy edges such as sulfur and chlorine, which are common catalyst poisons, as well as potassium, a promoter in iron FT catalysts. Moreover, the beamline is also capable of handling harder X-rays such that iron and cobalt, which are primary FT catalyst metals, can also be characterized.

The XANES technique is used to evaluate electronic properties, while the EXAFS method examines local atomic structure. The project, led by Dr. Burtron H. Davis, UK CAER, and involving his entire team, is focused on utilizing second generation biomass - which does not compete with food production - for the sustainable production of transportation fuels such as diesel and aviation fuels.

More Photos from Canadian Light Source Flicker Account.

UK CAER Carbon Researchers are Active Participants in UK-UL Micro/Nanotechnology National Center

clock September 21, 2015 14:16 by author Alice
The Carbon Materials research group at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research is directly involved in a new joint UK-UL $3.76 million dollar grant to create a national center of excellence in micro/nanotechnology. CAER's carbon research will focus on its existing, unique carbon nanotechnologies, which is available to outside users and companies - including its pilot scale continuous synthesis of multiwall carbon nanotubes.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 21, 2015) — The University of Kentucky and University of Louisville today announced a $3.76 million grant to create a national center of excellence in micro/nanotechnology. The highly competitive grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is one of just 16 awarded to universities across the country.

The Full UKNOW Story ...

UK CAER Biofuels Research Group Receives DOE Funding for a Transformational Carbon Capture Technology

clock September 21, 2015 14:01 by author Alice

The Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis (BEC) research group’s microalgae-based CO2 capture project was recently selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as one of only 16 projects to receive funding through NETL’s Carbon Capture Program which funds development and testing of transformational carbon dioxide (CO2) capture systems for new and existing coal-based power plants.  The BEC research group is located at the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research. 

Biological CO2 Use/Conversion

A Microalgae–Based Platform for the Beneficial Reuse of CO2 Emissions from Power Plants

The research team at University of Kentucky Research Foundation (Lexington, KY) – with University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (Newark, DE) and ALGIX, LLC (Meridian, MS) – will study microalgae-based CO2 capture with conversion of the resulting algal biomass to fuels and bioplastics. Scenedesmus acutus algae will be cultured in an innovative cyclic-flow photobioreactor; the algae will be harvested and dewatered using a University of Kentucky technology based on flocculation (a process where fine particles clump together)/sedimentation/filtration. The project will yield a conceptual design for an algae-based CO2 capture system suitable for integration with a coal-fired power plant. The project will last 24 months.  

Cost: DOE: $990,480; Non DOE: $266,935; Total Funding: $1,257,415

Energy.Gov Website

UK CAER Staffers Recognized as 2015 Lab Inspection Rock Stars!

clock September 10, 2015 10:47 by author Alice

Recently several University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research scientists, technicians and students were recognized for exceptional laboratory safety measures and appreciation for the job well done during recent lab safety inspections.  Parameters included multiple labs with no safety violations. 

Ruthann Chaplin, CAER Safety Officer was happy to celebrate these successes during a recent CAER staff event by wishing congratulations to the following:  (pictured left to right):  Anne Oberlink, Nicholas Linck, Tristana Duvallet, Sarah Edrington, Ashley Morris, Matt, Weisenberger,, Tom Robl; (back row):  John Craddock, John Wiseman, Kevin Henke, Jim Hower; (not pictured):  Dalia Qian, Jordan Burgess, Nik Hochstrasser, Kyle Schutte, Bob Jewell, Ruben Sarabia.


UK CAER's Jim Hower Interviewed for Rare Earths Project in PowerSource Magazine

clock August 26, 2015 09:29 by author Alice

The rarest of them all --Could coal ash save your smartphone? Researchers try to find out ...


That is the title of the article published in PowerSource which interviewed Dr. James Hower, Petrologist and Scientist at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research.  The following is excerpts taken from the article:

The crux of the matter is that iPhones draw their properties from rare earth elements, a 15-chunk block of lanthanides at the base of the periodic table, plus the metals scandium and yttrium. By 2010, China had cornered nearly 95 percent of the world’s production of rare earths and had begun to choke exports, which caused prices to skyrocket.

Back in his lab at the University of Kentucky, Jim Hower, a geologist, started to see a wave of interest in his research like never before. Mr. Hower has been sampling slabs of Appalachian coal and its waste products and cataloging their rare earth element concentrations for years. Dr. Hower and researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey have done a lot of the cataloging of coal characteristics across the country. Now there seems to be an increased interest in rare earths from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Read the full PowerSource story.

PowerSource is a companion online resource to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is created in addition to a weekly print section highlighting the region’s diverse energy industry — and putting that news into context.

Congressman Visits UK CAER Algae Demo at Kentucky Power Plant

clock July 24, 2015 10:18 by author Alice
The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) recently demonstrated a pilot scale photobioreactor that converts CO2 in flue gas to algal biomass via photosynthesis to U.S. Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky’s 4th Congressional District. (See Congressman Massie’s Facebook post on the visit.) The algae demo is a joint project between UK CAER and Duke Energy’s East Bend Power Station in Boone County, Kentucky.

Members of UK CAER Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis research group were on hand to explain the process and equipment to the Congressman. UK CAER Associate Director Mark Crocker outlined the project’s origins and goals, and summarized the various steps involved in cultivating and harvesting algae, as well as processing algae biomass into useful products.

Ms. Stephanie Kesner, UK CAER, is a biological scientist who takes care of the algae organisms. The project specifically works with microalgae, which are single celled organisms around 5 microns in size. Though they do photosynthesize, though they are not plants. Even though they have moving parts, they are not animals nor bacteria. Algae are in their own taxonomic classification, and are actually one of the fastest growing organism on the planet with the ability to double their mass in a day. The particular species of alga we have in our reactor is called Scenedesmus Acutus, a local freshwater species of microalgae which can withstand pretty harsh environmental conditions while utilizing CO2 from flue gas to photosynthesize and grow.

According to Michael Wilson, UK CAER Engineer and project manager, the cyclic flow photobioreactor was developed at the Center for Applied Energy Research to create an optimum, controlled growth environment for microalgae while minimizing energy consumption required. The reactor is composed of off-the-shelf parts including 8’ long, 3.5 inch diameter clear PETG (coke bottle material) tubes integrated with PVC pipe fittings and arranged to maximize photon collection needed to drive photosynthesis. Flue gas is introduced to the bottom of the tubes and sparged for 20 seconds every minute in order to ensure good mixing for mass transfer and increase CO2 conversion efficiency. Periodically, 6 times per day, the tube banks are drained back to a main feed tank, mixed, and sent back out to the phototube array to continue normal operation. This ‘cyclic’ operation ensures limited exposure to dead zones in the reactor (dark zones, places with suboptimal gas introduction, etc) while also preventing biofilm formation. So far this iteration of photobioreactor has outperformed all before it in terms of operational stability, performance, and biomass productivity. The faster the algae grows, the more CO2 is consumed.

UK CAER group member and engineer Daniel Mohler talked about the field analytical equipment used in mass balance experiments in order to determine CO2and NOx reduction. These molecular species are measured in the gas going into the reactor then measured again in the gas coming out of the reactor, allowing for calculations of CO2 and NOx reduction.

The algae need to be harvested regularly as the culture grows and becomes more dense, thus limiting light penetration according to UK CAER Engineer Jack Groppo. To harvest the algae, roughly 80% of the culture volume is diverted into a thickener where the algae cells are flocculated and settled. Clarified water containing soluble nutrients are decanted from the thickener, sterilized with UV light and recycled back into the system to dilute the remaining 20% of the culture volume for another growth cycle. Settled algae is then filtered for utilization as feedstock for bioplastic manufacture and biofuel production. Other products from algae could include livestock feed (as it can be up to 30% protein); dietary supplements and neutraceuticals since it contains Omega 3 fatty acids and carbohydrates.

The UK CAER team is excited about the future possibilities this project presents in developing algae's unique ability to beneficially re-use greenhouse gas emissions. This technology has the potential to drive economic growth, enable food and energy security, while reducing the impact of industrial emissions.

The UK CAER Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis Algae Research Team (L to R): Daniel Mohler, Jack Groppo, Stephanie Kesner, Mike Wilson and Mark Crocker.

UK CAER attends Statewide Wood Energy Team Events

clock July 23, 2015 17:51 by author Alice
Dr. Darrell Taulbee, Industrial Support Coordinator, and Outreach and Technical Assistance Coordinator Greg Copley participated in Kentucky’s Statewide Wood Energy Team (SWET) field trip July 21, 2015. An active timber logging site and a reclaimed surface mine reforestation project were visited. Both sites are in Pike Co. KY. The tours were in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Council of Forest Engineering hosted by the UK Forestry Department. Other participants include bio energy interests, forest managers and state and federal forestry representatives.

Dr. Taulbee, right, with fellow SWET member Bobby Clark of Midwest Clean Energy. Taulbee and Copley have participated in previous events including a tour of RECAST Energy’s biomass boiler in Louisville and the 2014 Bioenergy Day at Murray State University. SWET is an initiative sponsored by the KY Energy and Environment Cabinet.

UK CAER Catalysis Paper is Journal of Catalysis Featured Article

clock July 23, 2015 17:42 by author Alice
A paper authored by scientists from the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research group - Clean Fuels and Chemicals - is a Journal of Catalysis Editor-in-Chief's Feature Article.


Starting this year, the Journal of Catalysis has decided to select one article each week as Featured Article. These articles will be prominently displayed on the Journal’s homepage ( and will be made freely available to the public for 3 months following publication of the respective issue.


The paper entitled, "Fischer–Tropsch synthesis: Effect of ammonia in syngas on the Fischer–Tropsch synthesis performance of a precipitated iron catalyst" has been selected as one of the four Featured Articles from the June 2015 issue.


The authors of the paper include: Wenping Ma, Gary Jacobs, Dennis E. Sparks, Venkat Ramana Rao Pendyala, Shelley G. Hopps, Gerald A. Thomas, Hussein H. Hamdeh, Aimee MacLennan, Yongfeng Hu, Burtron H. Davis. (Citation: Journal of Catlysis, Volume 326, June 2015, Pages 149-160).


UK CAER Staff Co-authors for Paper Featured in COP Highlights

clock July 23, 2015 17:33 by author Alice
UK CAER Scientist Dr. James C. Hower and Mr. Greg Copley, UK CAER Eastern Kentucky Coordinator are co-authors on a paper that the College of Pharmacy Research Advisory Council selected for the May COP Monthly Publications Highlights.

The paper, "Terfestatins B and C, New p-Terphenyl Glycosides Produced by Streptomyces sp. RM-5-8" was recently published in Organic Letters, 2015, 17 (11), pp.2796-2799, (DOI: 10.1021/asc.orglett.5b01203). Organic Letters is an ACS Publications journal.

"A natural product discovery from a Kentucky coal mine fire site that shows promise in battling alcohol dependence is the UK College of Pharmacy Research Publication Highlight for June 2015." Read the rest of the story ...

UK CAER Projected Mentioned in Power Engineering International Magazine

clock June 12, 2015 08:55 by author Alice
In a March 18, 2015 article from the Power Engineering International Magazine that was entitled "Managing Coal Ash", the University of Kentucky's Rare Earth Elements project was mentioned as a research group that is working to develop the growing area of coal ash use in the extraction of desirable rare earth metals.

Jim Hower and Jack Groppo from the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research and Dr. Rick Honaker of the UK Mining Engineering department and Cortland Eble at the Kentucky Geological Survey are the scientists working on this project.

UK CAER Publication from Canadian Light Source: From plant matter to jet fuel

clock June 11, 2015 17:40 by author Alice

An article about UK CAER's experts (the handsome fellows in the above picture are (left to right): Dr. Venkat Ramana Rao Pendyala, Senior Research Scientist; Dr. Gary Jacobs, Principal Research Engineer; and Dr. Burtron H. Davis, Assistant Director, all from the Clean Fuels and Chemicals Group located at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research) focus and ability in harnessing synchrotron research to refine the processes used to convert plants to gas to usable liquid was recently featured on the Canadian Light Source website.

The article From plant matter to jet fuel - Streamlining the production of ultraclean fuel discusses how the CAER team uses synchrotron analysis to study the effects of specific impurities on the conversion process to try to identify at what threshold each chemical blocks efficient conversion to usable fuel. Right now, roughly one-third to one-half of the cost to produce syngas for fuel production comes from cleaning out impurities. In the long term, this work could help large companies produce inexpensive, clean, and renewable sources by significantly cutting that cost.

The full article can be read from the Canadian Light Source website. also picked up the article.

UK CAER Analytical Services Staff Exhibit at the International Biomass Expo

clock June 11, 2015 17:32 by author Alice

Darrell Taullbee, scientist from the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research gave a presentation while various UK CAER staff attended and exhibited at the 2015 International Biomass Conference and Expo in Minneapolis, MN. (Pictured: Darrell Taulbee and Courtney Fisk. Not pictured: Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez).

UK CAER Algae CO2 Remediation Services Published in ABO, Algae Industry Project Book

clock June 11, 2015 16:01 by author Alice
The East Bend Demonstration project at the Duke Energy Power Plant in Union, Kentucky is the site of a demonstration scale photobioreactor that converts the CO2 in flue gas to algal biomass via photosynthesis. The Algae Industry Project Book highlighted this joint project between Duke Energy and the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research project conducted by the Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis research group. The report is published by the Algae Biomass Organziation ( showcases some of the member companies that are developing algae's unique ability to drive economic growth, enable food and energy security and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Made in Kentucky Documentary Created by University of Kentucky

clock June 11, 2015 15:55 by author Alice
"Made in Kentucky," a one hour documentary, discusses the issues Kentucky faces — growing concerns about climate change and the demand for coal replaced by the demand for natural gas — and explores some of the solutions that might lead to a stronger Kentucky economy while still protecting the environment. To read more, review the UKNOW News story.

2015 Science Fair High School Students Interning at UK CAER

clock June 11, 2015 15:31 by author Alice
The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research hosts several local Lexington high school senior interns each year. The students create a specific project and then are advised, mentored and also work along side the scientists on that project in the CAER laboratories. These projects will result in the high school seniors presenting their results at local, district and state science fairs.


High school senior Kristen Moore competed in the District Science Fair and was awarded the Mayor's Urban Environmental Award. She then completed in the regional science fair. Axel Kiefer from Tates Creek High School also competed in the district science fair, in the environmental science category. Both Kristen and Axel worked with the UK CAER Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis Research group under the leadership of Dr. Mark Crocker.


Madison Hood, Kentucky High School Senior from Dunbar High School won first place in her topical category at the District Science Fair. She interned with Dr. James Hower, UK Petrology Lab.

UK CAER Collaboration with University of Milan in Italy

clock June 11, 2015 15:22 by author Alice
As part of a collaboration with Professor Carlo Visconti and Professor Luca Lietti from the University of Milan, Italy, UK-CAER’s Clean Fuels and Chemicals Research group, led by Dr. Burtron H. Davis, had the opportunity to host Ms. Michela Martinelli, a PhD graduate student, for several months.


During that time, Ms. Martinelli worked with UK-CAER research staff to investigate methods to improve low temperature water-gas shift catalysts for fuel cell applications. She worked very hard, and one manuscript was accepted for publication in an excellent journal, while a second completed manuscript was submitted as a book chapter.


During her stay at UK-CAER, Ms. Martinelli collaborated not only with our staff, but also with researchers at both Brookhaven National Laboratory, where she had the opportunity to visit and conduct experiments, and Argonne National Laboratory. We are happy to report that Dr. Michela Martinelli successfully defended her PhD thesis in December of 2014.

UK CAER's History with Petrographers

clock June 11, 2015 15:12 by author Alice
Jim Hower, UK CAER (far left), with his PhD students (Trent – 2015 anticipated; Jen – 2008, Joan – 1990).


The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research hosted a rather informal meeting of petrographers that have previously worked at the CAER. The large group was a happy coincidence of Maria, Agnieszka, and Ali coming down from Bloomington, Indiana, and Joan Esterle just happening to be in the area while visiting family in Louisville, Kentucky (see photo above).


From left to right: Trent Garrison (Kentucky PhD student), Jim Hower (University of Kentucky CAER), Ali Karayigit (Hacettepe Univ., Turkey), Joan Esterle (Univ. Queensland), Jen O’Keefe (Morehead State Univ.), and Maria Mastalerz and Agnieszka Drobniak (Indiana Geological Survey).

UK CAER Staff Receives Training from Agilent

clock June 11, 2015 15:02 by author Alice
Back in 2009, Agilent Technologies brought a GC Tips and Tricks Seminar to CAER presented by Daron Decker. The seminar was highly informative and equally entertaining. For the past 6 years, Agilent has reserved Daron’s energetic presentations for the Western US and Canada. Daron recently returned to CAER to give another GC Tips and Tricks Seminar and he most certainly did not disappoint! About 30 people were in attendance including several from local industry, UK Campus, CAER and Agilent Technologies. The seminar included three 1-hour discussions: Injector Maintenance, Troubleshooting GC Systems, and Faster GC Analysis. A big thanks goes out to Mike Purcell, our Agilent Technologies Sales Representative, for coordinating the event.

UK CAER Staffer is Behind-the-Scenes Faciliator to West Liberty Community

clock June 11, 2015 11:20 by author Alice

Greg Copley, University of Kentucky CAER Regional Field Representative located in West Liberty, Kentucky has been involved in the effort to create studies for a town redesign to help eradicate the devastation caused by the 2012 tornado that ripped through the West Liberty community.   Greg introduced Greg Luhan, UK College of Design, to local business people that were interested in having a redesign of the town created in order to lure new businesses into the area.  

Greg has been a "behind the scenes" coordinator between the UK College of Design team and local business people in West Liberty during this project.  For more on the project and what it means to West Liberty, read the UKNOW's Story.

UK CAER Seeks Programmer Systems Analyst Senior Position

clock April 27, 2015 09:39 by author Alice

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research is seeking a Programmer Systems Analyst Senior for our Operations Department. This position is responsible for design and implement schema changes of a large operational database to meet departmental needs. This position regularly evaluates possible changes needed to improve the system for existing business requirements as well as make modifications that are required for a wide variety of new business requirements. This individual will also modify and create new forms as needed to facilitate existing and new departmental workflows; work with end users to make changes that are required; and meet with end users and supervisors to determine business requirements. This position also includes programming in the Microsoft Net Framework, for new software to implement existing or new business requirements, this software includes web based as well as desktop software; developments mobile occasionally connected applications using Microsoft tools; and in conjunction with departmental supervisors determines software requirements as needed. This individual supports end users with any issues arising from the database, or any of the database related software; includes installation or provisioning the departments desktop, laptops or tablets with the front-end software needed to access the database, along with ODBC DSN entries, etc. This position may also be assigned to the Center’s support office in Frankfort for support of programming and databases.

More Information: