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.

Center Collaborates with UK Mining Engineering on Rare Earth Elements Research

clock March 15, 2016 08:56 by author David Melanson

University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research scientists Jack Groppo and Jim Hower are collaborating with Rick Honaker, professor and chair of the UK Department of Mining Engineering, to develop a mobile pilot-plant facility for the recovery of rare earth elements from coal.

The research team received $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory. The team includes collaborators at Virginia Tech and West Virginia University and will develop and test a mobile processing facility that can efficiently recover the rare earth elements present in coal and coal byproducts in an environmentally friendly manner.

"Previous research conducted by UK scientists and others have found that the critical materials needed for renewable energy technologies, such as cell phones and other electronics, are found in coal and coal byproducts at concentrations that may be economical to recover," Dr. Honaker said.

Rare earth elements, or REEs, are a series of chemical elements found in the Earth’s crust. Due to their unique chemical properties, REEs have become essential components of many technologies spanning a range of applications including electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care and national defense. The demand, cost and availability of REEs has grown significantly over recent years stimulating an emphasis on economically feasible approaches for REE recovery.

The U.S. has 10.9 million tons of rare earth resources in coal deposits located in just five western and four eastern states, including Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Coal Quality Database.

"If advanced separation technologies become available, the resource base will increase substantially," Dr. Honaker said.

With those technologies, the coal industry could potentially produce approximately 40,000 tons of REEs annually, which is more than twice the amount consumed in the U.S.

As Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (KY-05) supported funding for REE recovery projects in the federal budget for fiscal year 2016.

“Our coal-producing states are working diligently to recover from the devastating loss of coal mining jobs in today’s economy. In fact, Kentucky alone has suffered the loss of nearly 11,000 coal mining jobs since 2009. Experimental projects, like UK’s mobile REE recovery plant, could save and create new coal-related jobs and opportunities in eastern Kentucky,” said Congressman Rogers. “I applaud Professor Honaker and the vision of UK’s leaders to find new applications for coal and coal byproducts for the development of everyday technologies, such as smart phones, computers and rechargeable batteries. This effort to find more uses for our country’s most plentiful resource could put many people back to work in the coalfields.”

This project is one of only 10 projects awarded and is the only one that is focused on physical concentration methods as a means for recovering REE directly from the coal sources rather than from a coal combustion byproduct. UK CAER received funding on three of 10 NETL projects.



Catalyst Group Publishes Book

clock March 11, 2016 12:59 by author David Melanson

World-renowned UK Center for Applied Energy Research Fischer-Tropsch catalysis research – led by CAER’s Burt Davis – has been published in a new book entitled “Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis, Catalysts, and Catalysis: Advances and Applications.” The book is now available for sale by CRC Press.

The book is a collection of proceedings and some invited papers from the International Symposium on Fischer-Tropsch Chemistry and Catalysis, which was held as part of the 248th American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting & Exposition. That meeting was held in August 2014 in San Francisco.

Dr. Davis, an international leader in Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, and direct coal liquefaction at CAER, served as one of the book’s editors, along with colleague Mario L. Occelli.

In addition to Dr. Davis’ contributions to this book, many other staff members and former staff of the Center’s Catalysts Laboratory were published including: Muthu Kumaran Gnanamani, Uschi M. Graham, Shelley D. Hopps, Gary Jacobs, Wenping Ma, Patricia M. Patterson, Venkat Ramana Rao Pendyala, Wilson D. Shafer, Dennis E. Sparks, and Gerald A. Thomas.  Moreover, the book highlights the work of many UK CAER students and former students, including Adam C. Crawford, Victor Gloriot, Nicolas A. Hughes, Michela Martinelli, Maria A. Morales, Chase P. Moran, Jean-Samuel Poirier, Damarcus D. Smiley, and Sarah S. Suggs.

Collaborations with UK CAER included Gabriela Alvez (Chevron-Phillips Chemical Co. LP), Dragomir B. Bukur (Texas A&M University at Qatar), Hussein H. Hamdeh (Wichita State University Department of Physics), Xianghong Hao (Chevron-Phillips Chemical Co. LP), Yongfeng Hu (Canadian Light Source, Inc.), Syed Khalid (National Synchrotron Light Source, Brookhaven National Laboratory), Luca Lietti (Polytechnic University of Milan), Aimee Maclennan (Canadian Light Source, Inc.), Jack Selegue (University of Kentucky Department of Chemistry), Ryan Snell (Chevron-Phillips Chemical Co. LP), Branislav Todic (Texas A&M University at Qatar), and Carlo G. Visconti (Polytechnic University of Milan).

The book can be purchased at the following website: https://www.crcpress.com/Fischer-Tropsch-Synthesis-Catalysts-and-Catalysis-Advances-and-Applications/Davis-Occelli/9781466555297.



UK CAER Ingenuity Featured at E-Day

clock March 1, 2016 09:18 by author David Melanson

UK CAER’s education and outreach missions were on full display on Saturday, February 27 as part of UK’s Engineers Day, or as it is commonly-referred, E-Day. E-Day, a celebration of everything engineering has to offer, is held each year on UK’s engineering complex.


E-Day is an opportunity for school-aged children – from elementary all the way through high school – to learn more about the exciting things engineers and computer scientists do. It also serves as a way to introduce students to experiential activities, including high school and undergraduate research opportunities.


Representing the Center at E-Day this year were Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez and Tristana Duvallet, who were busying answering questions from interested students and parents about what a career in science would look like.

 



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...



Center Featured on UK at the Half

clock January 25, 2016 08:22 by author David Melanson

UK CAER’s story was shared with members of the Big Blue Nation on Saturday. Center Director Rodney Andrews was interviewed for the radio feature, which aired on Saturday, January 23 during the UK men’s basketball game versus Vanderbilt. Listen to the radio interview here: http://uknow.uky.edu/sites/default/files/ukath-2015-16-34_mixdown.mp3.



Seed Projects Starting to Blossom

clock January 13, 2016 11:49 by author David Melanson

The success of the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research’s seed grant program was on full display Wednesday, as UK CAER investigators presented early-stage research projects to fellow CAER colleagues.

CAER’s seed grant program was created to bridge the divide between internal creative ideas and large government grants and/or industrial funding, with the objective being to develop a process of converting new research concepts into competitive proposals.

The success of the program can best be illustrated by the results. Since January 2013, CAER has invested $430,000 into seed projects. Those same projects have generated more than $940,000 in external funding and seven published papers. In fact, of the five external proposals submitted on behalf of seed projects, all five have received funding.

“The results are pretty obvious,” said Andrews. “We knew that CAER investigators had some novel concepts that simply needed some start-up funding to get off the ground, and this program allowed us to fund those innovative, early-stage ideas. It is exciting to see these concepts grow and receive support from external agencies, as they move into the next phase of discovery.”

On Wednesday, the following projects were spotlighted during the seed grant poster presentations event at CAER. These projects were all funded in 2015.

 

  • Michael Wilson, Stephanie Kesner, and Daniel Mohler - Integrating Algal Based CO2 Utilization and Waste Water Treatment

Photosynthetically grown microalgae have the potential to recycle many waste streams, including CO2 emissions and municipal, agricultural, or industrial waste water.  Samples were obtained from the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government Division of Water Quality to evaluate the suitability of waste water as a nutrient source and habitat to culture microalgae.  Ion chromatography was used to evaluate various waste water streams from the Town Branch wastewater treatment plant and to track nutrient uptake of algae cultures. Although the waste streams sampled did not contain high values of usable nutrients, it’s suitability as an industrial scale habitat was verified.

 

  • Tristana Duvallet and Anne Oberlink - Sulfate-Activated Class C Fly Ash Based Cements

Recent research in the Environmental and Coal Technologies (ECT) group has determined that Wyodak coal source Class C fly ash can be activated through a sulfation mechanism with anhydrite to produce the fly ash equivalent of a “super-sulfated cement.” This constitutes a discovery that is of significance. Concretes and mortars produced with high levels of coal combustion products (CCPs) or supplemental cementitious materials (SCMs), such as fly ash or slag, in place of Portland cement can develop strength by the activation of the alumina and silica phases of the materials using strong alkalis (i.e. alkali activation, aka “geopolymer”). The alkali that is used as the activator is typically sodium or potassium silicate in combination with sodium or potassium hydroxide, and various alkalis, e.g. borates, citrates, sulfonates, etc. Drawbacks to this approach include: erratic setting, either lack of, or very slow setting or flash setting; slow strength development that may require curing at elevated temperatures; rheological problems with the concrete or mortars themselves, i.e. they become “sticky”; worker safety issues since high levels of sodium hydroxide exposure are dangerous; and long-term issues with surface efflorescence. Sulfation activation was thought to be a phenomenon restricted to ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBFS) cement. The observation that a supersulfated cement can be based entirely on Class C fly ash instead of GGBFS, overcoming the drawbacks of alkali activation, has the potential to lead to a new generation of low energy, low CO2 concretes and mortars.

  • Robert C. Pace - Biomass Fractionation via a Semi-continuous Method: Lignin Extraction with Ionic Liquids

Ionic Liquids (ILs) are highly adaptable organic salts which are liquid at room temperature. As a consequence of these properties, ILs are enormously effective in the dissolution of lignocellulosic biomass.  Given the tremendous interest in the production of renewable fuels and chemicals from lignocellulose, these solvents present a novel pathway toward the fractionation of lignocellulose into its three primary components; cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Fractionation of these compounds is necessary for the use of the whole of the biomass, a requirement for cost-effective production from these feedstocks. To date, nearly all biomass fractionation using ILs has been conducted in batch processes. Since continuous extraction systems are often more energy efficient and economical, this project will set out to construct a semi-continuous extraction system which is capable of overcoming the high viscosities of ILs. In order to discern the effects of various functionalities as well as the impact of cation/anion effects, five ILs will be examined as extraction solvents. The products of these fractionation experiments will also be analyzed by various means, including thermogravimetric analysis, pyrolysis-GCMS and gel permeation chromatography.  This work will lead not only to valuable data which can be utilized in publications and future grant proposals, but will also generate an apparatus which is capable of producing unique IL extracted biomaterials which could be sold as commodity products and utilized by students in their own research projects within the BEC group.

  • Chad Risko, Adam Rigby and Karl Thorley, - A Computational, Shape-Based Approach to Crystal Engineering

Organic semiconductors (OSC) are experiencing rapid application growth in consumer electronics, with OSC poised to serve a key role in next generation flexible, conformable, and wearable electronics. However, the reliance on largely Edisonian discovery processes results in significant development and production costs – in terms of personnel, materials, characterization equipment, and time – for new, molecular-based OSCs. High-performance computing, when combined with the tool set and know-how of the synthetic chemist, offers a means to overcome many of these costs. Through a joint collaboration between the Anthony and Risko groups, we are developing an innovative computational approach to determine how the interplay between of molecular shape and explicit chemical functionality drive molecular packing in the solid state, a key determinant of OSC performance. The development of the computational platform will allow for rapid approximations of molecular packing structures, with relevant solutions arriving within days and weeks rather than the months required for synthesis and characterization, along with the ability to screen varied and unusual molecular designs that may otherwise go untried. Through the course of the work, the research team has improved understanding as to how solid-state molecular conformations impact the intermolecular electronic coupling, a key parameter directing charge-carrier transport in these materials. The project introduced a new concept, the disordermer, into the crystal engineering lexicon, and shown how changes in chemical composition can be manifest on crystalline order and the resulting charge-carrier transport properties. The lab has also made considerable headway in terms of developing a model that reveals how adjustments in the overall molecular shape and volume direct solid-state packing. The work has resulted in three peer-reviewed publications (two published and one submitted) and one proposal submitted to the National Science Foundation.

  • Rafael Franca and John Craddock - A New Approach to Novel Zeolite Hollow Fiber Membranes for Dewatering and Enrichment Separations in CO2 Capture Process

Zeolite membrane-based technology for dewatering of aqueous amine-based CO2 sorbents, has the capability to significantly decrease the energy required for CO2 capture from coal-fired power plants. Membrane enabled dewatering of CO2 saturated amine solvent, reduces the thermal energy required by the stripper during solvent regeneration by commensurately reducing the volume of water to be heated. The hollow fiber membrane (HFM) geometry provides high surface area to volume and high permselectivity. These membranes have the potential to increase selectivity and flux in membrane-based dewatering processes when compared to conventional tubular membranes. In this work, we introduced the preparation of a novel, polymer-assisted processing of a Y Zeolite HFM support. The preparation method proposed is based on air-gap solution spinning of a polymer (polyethersulfone (PES)) solution containing highly dispersed mullite particles, followed by thermal treatment to pyrolize the polymer and sinter the mullite particles into an HFM form. It is expected that this new design (HFM) would greatly increase flux and selectivity of Y zeolite membranes for the dewatering of carbon-loaded amine solvents. Preliminary results indicated that mullite based hollow fiber supports did not present enough mechanical resistance after the sintering process. Zeolite Y crystals have been successfully grown on the outside surface of PES hollow fiber supports, however some level of degradation was observed when the support was exposed to the carbon loaded amine solvent. It is not clear if the degradation process affects the porosity of the PES hollow fiber support. Further tests will be conducted with PES hollow fibers to analyze the viability of using PES as a support for Y-zeolite hollow fibers.

  • Christopher Swartz, "Hybrid Redox Flow Battery for Stationary Energy Storage Applications

The capability to store electricity is on track to become an integral component of the future electrical grid. Emerging technologies found in the grid storage portfolio include pumped hydro energy storage, compressed air energy storage, thermal and flywheel energy storage, and various electrochemical energy storage options, including redox flow batteries. Redox flow batteries share many similarities with fuel cells, and are rechargeable, modular battery systems where energy storage and power performance can be decoupled from one another due to the battery architecture. The all-vanadium redox flow battery represents the current state-of-the-art in flow battery technology, and numerous demonstration units have been installed worldwide, ranging from kW, kWh to MW, MWh capabilities. The relatively high cost of these systems has prevented widespread adoption of flow battery technology, and new flow battery systems featuring lower cost chemistries and ion exchange membranes (when compared to vanadium and Nafion®, respectively) remain highly attractive candidates to move flow batteries along on a forward trajectory to the commercial marketplace. The Electrochemical Power Sources Group proposes to develop a low-cost hybrid redox flow battery as an alternative to the all-vanadium system, based on aqueous iron and zinc electrochemistry. The cathode will feature plating and stripping of Zn metal during cell charge and discharge. The anode will feature the Fe2+/Fe3+ redox couple, with the addition of various ligands or chelating agents which will bind to iron, and lead to higher operating cell voltage and energy density.

For the full story and photos...



UK CAER, ACAA and EPRI to Host Winter Workshop

clock January 6, 2016 15:19 by author David Melanson

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER), the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) are co-sponsoring a Workshop on Current Issues in Ponded Coal Combustion Products (CCPs) February 3-4 in Tampa, Florida.

The workshop will be held immediately following the ACAA 2016 Winter Meeting, which will be held at the Hilton Downtown Tampa February 2-3.

Registration for both the winter meeting and workshop is now available online. For more information and to register for this exciting educational and networking opportunity, visit the following website: http://www.worldofcoalash.org/ash/.



UK CAER Scientists Published in Shotcrete

clock January 4, 2016 08:29 by author David Melanson

A pair of research scientists from the UK Center for Applied Energy Research’s (UK CAER) environmental coal technologies group had an article published in the Fall 2015 edition of Shotcrete magazine. Anne Oberlink and Robert Jewell penned the piece entitled “Rapidly Deployable Shotcrete System for the Structural Stabilization of Shock-Damaged Structures.” You can read the entire article here.



UK CAER Receives Federal Rare Earth Element Research Funding

clock December 15, 2015 13:54 by author David Melanson

Several UK CAER colleagues received funding on three of 10 U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) projects. NETL funded this series of projects as part of their Recovery of Rare Earth Elements from Coal and Coal Byproducts program. The selected research projects will further program goals by focusing on the development of cost-effective and environmentally benign approaches for the recovery of rare earth elements (REEs) from domestic coal and coal byproducts. Read the story.



UK CAER Team Publishes in the ACS Journal Chemistry of Materials

clock December 4, 2015 15:58 by author David Melanson

John Anthony and Chad Risko have joined forces in a recent publication in the ACS Journal Chemistry of Materials titled "Dynamics, Miscibility, and Morphology in Polymer:Molecule Blends: The Impact of Chemical Functionality.” Drs. Anthony and Risko are based in Lab 2 at UK CAER and also hold faculty appointments in the UK College of Arts & Sciences Department of Chemistry.

Based on a series of acceptors constructed from trialkylsilylethynyl-substituted pentacenes designed and synthesized in the Anthony laboratory, the study presents a computational chemistry investigation of polymer:molecule blends with the polymer donor poly(3-hexylthiophene) (P3HT). Essential connections are made between the chemical structure of the acene acceptor and the nanoscale properties of the polymer:molecule blend, which include polymer and molecular diffusivity, donor–acceptor packing and interfacial (contact) area, and miscibility. The results point to the very significant role that seemingly modest changes in chemical structure play during the formation of polymer:molecule blend morphologies, and how molecule design can be used to control critical aspects of thin-film morphology.

Citation: Chem. Mater. 2015, 27, 7643-7651. DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater5b02983



UK CAER Makes Splash at UK Sustainability Forum

clock December 3, 2015 11:30 by author David Melanson

 

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) made quite the splash at the 2015 University of Kentucky Sustainability Forum and Research Showcase Tuesday. Two members of the CAER presented posters during the showcase, and two of the seven UK Sustainability Challenge Grants were awarded to UK CAER projects.

Courtney McKelphin, a undergraduate student researcher at the Center, received Best Poster Award for her project entitled on “Improving the Economics of Algae Biofuels through Optimized Extractions from Wet Algae.”

UK CAER staff member Michael Wilson presented a poster highlighting the engineering achievements in support of the 2014 Challenge Grant Project “Development of Sustainable Bus Stops” along with team members from the College of Design. The project also received 2015 grant funding.

In addition to the poster presentation portion of the event, the President’s Sustainability Advisory Committee awarded nearly $200,000 to campus sustainability projects that focused on the creation and implementation of ideas that promote sustainability by advancing economic vitality, ecological integrity and social equity, now and into the future.

This program is a collaborative effort of the President’s Sustainability Advisory Committee, The Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment and the Office of Sustainability. Funding for the program was provided by the Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration, the Provost, the Vice President for Research and the Student Sustainability Council.

CAER projects receiving funding included:

Point of Departure - Awarded $49,991

CAER and the College of Design are partnering to construct critically-placed transit shelters—plugging into campus transportation to physically manifest UK’s sustainability and transportation agendas. The designs integrate sustainable site strategies, context specificity, high-performance architectural skins, sustainable materials, photovoltaic systems, storm water management, high-efficiency lighting and infographic displays to reimagine what a shelter can be. This grant will catalyze the integration of sustainability and educational aspects within the design as it transitions toward real world implementation, leveraging the impact of campus research to engage students in a dialogue about sustainability, alternate transportation, the value of design, and the possibilities of collaborative research at UK.

Team Members: Martin Summers, College of Design-School of Architecture; Michael Wilson, CAER; Regina Hannemann, College of Engineering-Electrical Engineering; Owen Duross, College of Design-School of Architecture; Thompson Burry, College of Design-School of Architecture.

From SEE(E)D to (S)STEM - Awarded $25,184

In this project, UK science, engineering, entrepreneurship, education and design – SEE(E)D – students, faculty and staff will work together to develop a system for the production of didactic tools to be used in outreach efforts designed to promote sustainability, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – (S)STEM – to underserved K-12 students. This will be done utilizing as a case study a game that has been conceived and used to teach K-12 students about complex and often misunderstood energy and sustainability issues. While the science behind this game and the relationship between the latter and the K-12 curriculum are solid, the presentation can be improved to make the game more effective. The game will be improved by having educators and designers strengthen the graphical and pedagogical aspects of the game to ultimately facilitate and deepen the understanding of K-12 students of the important sustainability issues presented. In addition, this effort will be made sustainable from an economic standpoint through a business plan – to be developed by UK student entrepreneurs – in which any profits from the game constituting the case study can be reinvested in the development of additional didactic tools, thus translating this work into a sustainable model through which other tools can be developed. Notably, this work will also serve to advance social equity not only because the K-12 institutions involved have high percentages of minority and/or free and reduced lunch students, but also because minority engineering students will be involved in taking the didactic tool to be developed to these K-12 institutions.

Team Members: Eduardo Santillian-Jimenez, CAER; Rebekah Radtke, College of Design-Department of Interiors; Margaret Mohr-Schoeder, College of Education-Department of STEM Education.

“It was a wonderful forum for showcasing the sustainability efforts at UK, and how our Center is playing a leading role in transforming sustainability education, research and outreach here in Kentucky,” said Courtney Fisk, President’s Sustainability Advisory Committee Co-Chair, and Assistant Director for Facilities and Operations.