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 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.



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



Podcast of UK CAER Seminar Speaker - Professor Bittnar

clock December 3, 2015 16:04 by author Alice
Podcast of CAER Seminar Speaker - Professor Bittnar

The University of Kentucky's Center for Applied Energy Research has published another podcast for individuals interested in energy issues.

It explored the topic of Validation of Multiscale Model for Heat Generation in Hardening Concreteby Professor Bittnar, Civil Engineering, Fellow of the Engineering Academy - Czech Technical University.

- Podcast and PPT File

Temperature rise in hydrating concrete presents a formidable problem that may lead to significant acceleration of hydration kinetics, early-age cracking, and decreased durability. Multiscale formulation was developed, coupling a cement hydration model on the microscale with the finite element method (FEM) solving heat conduction problem on the macroscale. Although discrete hydration model predicts heat evolution controlled by macroscale temperature, the FEM satisfies heat balance equation during thermal conduction. 2D validations show reasonable temperature agreement with an access to the local quantities, such as a degree of hydration. Here, this multiscale and coupled model is validated against two in situ bridge constructions.



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.



UK CAER Scientist Has Best Paper at IBA Conference

clock November 24, 2015 15:19 by author Alice

Dr. Darrell Taulbee - Research Program Manager and Industrial Support Coordinator, Environmental Remediation and Restoration at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research was awarded the Neil Rice Best Paper Award at the recent IBA conference.

Additionally as the out-going IBA President, Dr. Taulbee received a plaque in recognition of his efforts during his tenure as president of the organization.

The Institute for Briquetting and Agglomeration (IBA) held its 34th Biennial Technical Conference in Scottsdale, AZ, November 8th to 11th, 2015. For over 50 years, the IBA has sponsored the premier conference on state-of-the-art agglomeration technology. The papers presented included details of actual operations, as well as theoretical approaches to agglomeration.



Gobble Grease Toss - Cooking Oil into Biofuel

clock November 20, 2015 09:57 by author Alice
From UKNOW: LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 20, 2015) — Fayette County residents who plan to fry a turkey this year for Thanksgiving can recycle used cooking oil in a safe, environmentally friendly manner at the Gobble Grease Toss, sponsored by the city of Lexington, Sayre School, the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) and Bluegrass Greensource. ... The Story Continues ...


Bluegrass GreenSource Teachers Tour the UK CAER

clock November 12, 2015 15:56 by author Alice
Scientists from the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research spent the morning talking with fourth grade and junior high teachers from various locations across Kentucky. UK CAER engineers and chemists talked about the various energy projects that are currently being pursued at the Center.



The teachers were part of a professional development program sponsored by Bluegrass GreenSource and DEDI Coal and Energy Education section (DEDI is the Department for Energy Development and Independence part of Kentucky's Energy and Environment Cabinet) of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.


UK CAER Has a New Doctor in the House!

clock November 11, 2015 13:17 by author Alice


Wilson D. Shafer - now Dr. Will - recently earned his Ph.D degree in Chemistry from the University of Kentucky. His dissertation's title is ... "Investigation in the Competitive Partitioning of Dissociated H2 and D2 on Activated Fischer-Tropsch Catalysts." Dr. Burtron Davis, Associate Director of the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research's Clean Fuels and Chemical research group, served as adviser.


UK CAER Researchers Explain -- What It Is Like to be Scientist!

clock October 23, 2015 15:43 by author Alice
University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Researchers - David Eaton, Anne Oberlink and Shiela Medina talked to five 4th grade classes at Lexington's Tates Creek Elementary Career Day about what it is like to be a scientist and specifically doing research in the energy industry. They talked about all the forms of energy and how electricity is made from coal. The focus was on what comes out of a power plant; electricity, ash and flue gas.

Anne Oberlink talked about the work of a chemist that develops various types of concrete from flyash. David Eaton talked about making higher value products from coal such as dyes and carbon fiber. (pictured above)


Hower's Honorable Mention Best Poster at Pittsburgh Coal Conference

clock October 14, 2015 09:27 by author Alice
Dr. Jim Hower, UK CAER Scientist/Geologist, was one of the authors of a - Honorable Mention Best Poster - at the Pittsburgh Coal Conference held in Pittsburgh, PA from October 5-8, 2015. The poster was ... A new map of metallurgical coal of the United States with geochemical, rheological, and petrological data. Authors: Trippi, M.H., Ruppert, L.F., Eble, C.F., Hower, J.C.


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

The Land Report



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.