UK CAER Current News

The Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) is one of the University of Kentucky's multidisciplinary research centers. Its energy research provides a focal point for environmental, renewable and fossil fuels research in Kentucky.

UK CAER, IU Bloomington Launch Sustainable Collaboration

clock October 4, 2018 14:17 by author Thomas


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Cultivating algae at Indiana University

Picture of testing site at UK CAER

Burt Davis, Legendary UK CAER Researcher, Dies

clock October 1, 2018 14:09 by author Thomas

Burtron H. “Burt” Davis, a University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research investigator and one of the most revered Fischer-Tropsch synthesis researchers in the world, passed away Friday, September 28 in Lexington, Kentucky. Service details can be found here:

Born in Points, West Virginia, Dr. Davis graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from West Virginia University in 1959 before earning a master’s degree from St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia. Davis received a PhD from the University of Florida in 1965, followed by a postdoctoral position under Paul Emmett at Johns Hopkins from 1965-66. He then accepted a position for Mobil R&D Corporation, where he conducted research on naphtha reforming and aromatics hydrogenation. In 1970, he received his first academic appointment as Associate Professor of Chemistry at Potomac State College in West Virginia.

Dr. Davis was recruited to UK CAER in 1982, helping to establish the Center as one of the foremost energy research and development institutes in the nation. He has led the Center’s Clean Fuels and Chemical (CFC) group since its inception, and established the University as global experts in catalysis, FT, and direct coal liquefaction. He also served as Interim Director for UK CAER and was an adjunct faculty member in UK’s Department of Chemistry.

Dr. Davis created a unique program at UK CAER that involved both academic and industry-supported work. He developed a laboratory with extensive capability in the use of tracer isotopes in reaction mechanism studies and materials characterization, and developed research programs in: Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis, surface science studies, heterogeneous catalysis, materials science, organic analysis, 1/4 ton per day direct coal liquefaction pilot plant operation, liquefaction mechanistic studies, clean gasoline reforming with superacid catalysts, and upgrading naphthas.

“The Center would not be the place it is today without the contributions of Burt Davis,” said Rodney Andrews, UK CAER Director. “Developing a research program that maintained academic independence while simultaneously working on solutions to industry problems was new to higher education. Burt was not simply able to work in both these worlds, he was well-respected by all those he collaborated with for his expertise, professionalism and trademark sense of humor. He left an indelible mark on all of us at the Center, and he will be sorely missed.”

He held numerous offices and memberships in several professional societies, including the American Chemical Society (ACS), the Catalysis Society, and Materials Research Society. He has authored/coauthored over 850 publications and has received four Elsevier most-cited author awards. He served as a member of the Sasol Heterogeneous Catalysis Advisory Board for ten years.  

Dr. Davis was awarded the prestigious Henry H. Storch Award in Fuel Science in 2002 by ACS for his significant contributions in catalysis, Fischer−Tropsch synthesis, and coal conversion research.  In 2011, Dr. Davis became an ACS Fellow. In 2014, was presented the “Distinguished West Virginian Award” by then-Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. In July of this year, Dr. Davis received a citation of appreciation from the Kentucky House of Representatives, nothing his “invaluable knowledge and expertise in the interest of the greater good” of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.


UK CAER rare earth element recovery highlighted in recent article

clock July 10, 2018 14:45 by author Thomas

University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research's rare earth element research - led by Jack Groppo and Jim Hower - is mentioned in this article. And UK CAER Advisory Board member Rick Honaker from UK Mining Engineering is quoted extensively. CAER's work with DOE and collaborators on rare earth element recovery is an exciting new avenue of research at the center.

Full article can be read here.

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 Grant Seeks to Reduce Carbon Capture Costs

clock May 22, 2018 14:25 by author Thomas


The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) received a $3.7 million United States Department of Energy (DOE) grant to develop an intensified process to significantly reduce the capital and operational costs associated with CO2 capture.

This project, funded through DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory, is entitled, "A Process with Decoupling Absorber Kinetics and Solvent Regeneration through Membrane Dewatering and In-Column Heat Transfer." James Landon, a Principal Research Engineer at UK CAER, and Kunlei Liu, Associate Director for Research, are co-principal investigators on this grant.


The project will investigate the intensification of amine-based CO2 capture from coal-fired power plants to reduce the capital and operational cost associated with CO2 capture through the use of innovative packing materials to enhance CO2 absorption into the solvent, dewatering of rich solution prior to stripper to reduce solvent regeneration energy, and heat integration to lower the steam requirements of the process. This technology will be demonstrated at the bench-scale at UK CAER through modification to the Center's coal-fired 0.1 MWth post-combustion carbon capture unit.

"The successful development of the proposed technology will allow for the utilization of abundant, low-cost coal to produce reliable electricity, while affordably meeting and managing environmental concerns," said Dr. Liu..

Enabling low-energy and low-cost carbon dioxide capture units is critical in the development of advanced coal-based power generation facilities. The research investigated through this project as well as the collaborations and integration of process components will help improve carbon capture technology available to utility companies. This process could be applied to most advanced solvents (aqueous or non-aqueous) and flue gas derived from either coal or natural gas combustion.

"If successful, this project could significantly change how we capture carbon," said Dr. Landon. "Creating an integrated process that captures CO2 while utilizing less energy in that process is critical to ensuring commercial scale carbon capture technology becomes a reality. This research is the next step in that technological continuum."

Project collaborators include the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Media and Process Technology, Smith Management Group, and Trimeric. 


UK CAER Technology Licensed by International Chemical Company

clock May 9, 2018 13:35 by author Thomas

LUXFER MEL Technologies, a global producer and supplier of inorganic materials, has licensed technology from the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy (UK CAER) that shows great promise in reducing vehicle emissions.

The licensing agreement concerns patented materials which can function as passive nitrogen oxide (NOx) adsorbers, a catalyst-based system that helps reduce NOx at low temperatures. The technology was created out of a collaboration between UK CAER’s Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis research group, led by Mark Crocker, and LUXFER MEL Technologies Research Division. Funding for the work was provided by the National Science foundation and the Department of Energy under the auspices of the NSF/DOE Partnership on Advanced Combustion Engines.

The technology shows potential for reducing the NOx emitted by vehicles during so-called cold starts. One of the problems with traditional NOx mitigation systems is that they do not reduce emissions at low temperatures. This new technology seeks to solve this problem.

LUXFER MEL Technologies is based in Manchester, United Kingdom and supplies zirconium-based chemicals across the world. The company conducts research and development and manufacturing on three continents.LUXFER MEL Technologies products are utilized in a variety of applications including automotive catalysis, electronics, structural and functional ceramics, paper production, chemical catalysis, solid oxide fuel cells, water purification and many more.

Federal Funding to Expand UK CAER Carbon Capture Research

clock May 2, 2018 11:39 by author Thomas

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research was one of nine organizations selected to receive Phase I funding of a three-phase project as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fossil Fuel Large-Scale Pilot program.

UK CAER will receive over $940,000 from DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) to advance its world-renowned carbon dioxide capture research and development.

According to principal investigator Kunlei Liu, this Phase I funding will allow UK CAER to advance its four-pronged CO2 capture system to a 10 megawatt scale. UK CAER’s Power Generation Research Group is a global leader in building, developing and demonstrating post-combustion carbon capture systems. In fact, UK CAER’s current 0.7 megawatt small pilot CO2 capture facility operates at Kentucky Utilities’ E.W. Brown Generating Station in Burgin, Kentucky has led to scientific and engineering breakthroughs in the field.

This new federal funding will allow UK CAER to advance that research by nearly ten times, leaving the technology only one step away from commercialization. 

“This project will allow us to leverage the unique carbon dioxide capture expertise we have developed at UK CAER over the past decade to tackle a new and exciting next step in its implementation,” said Heather Nikolic, a Principal Research Engineer at UK CAER.

The Center’s post-combustion system features modular equipment and free-standing columns with built-in advanced controls to continually minimize the CO2 capture energy penalty while responding to a dynamic external demand. The new system will combine several facets to simultaneously address capital cost, energy consumption, load change, and environmental impact.

“I often remind our team that this project would not be possible without the many partners who have assisted us and collaborated with our researchers over the years,” said Dr. Liu, Associate Director for Research at UK CAER and Associate Professor in UK’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “This project is another great example of that. In addition to our colleagues at DOE, we will be partnering with several institutions and industry partners to ensure success.”

Project collaborators include LG&E and Kentucky Utilities, Carbon Clean Solutions, University of Texas-Austin, Membrane Technology Research, Electric Power Research Institute, Huaneng Clean Energy Research Institute, Koch Modular Process Systems, Worley Parsons, and Smith Management Group.

“UK CAER has made many contributions to the scientific and engineering community, including through efforts to advance clean coal and carbon capture technologies, which are very important to Kentucky,' said Senator McConnell. 'The University of Kentucky, under the leadership of President Eli Capilouto, continues to do impressive work on this issue, and I've been told its current carbon capture project is already producing results. I look forward to seeing what UK CAER is able to accomplish with these new federal resources.”

Georgetown College Lab Class Tours UK CAER

clock May 2, 2018 10:18 by author Thomas



An environmental chemistry lab class under the direction of Dr. David Fraley of Georgetown College toured the UK CAER on Wednesday, April 25th.  The focus of the visit was to introduce them to the working principles of the Dual Detection SimDist-MS through the use of visual training modules.  The instrument was purchased by the BEC group through NSF award no. 1531637.  The students then took a guided tour of other CAER facilities including the biofuels lab, dry room, gasification building, spinline building and the greenhouse.

UK CAER's Dr. Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez awarded Faculty Mentor of the Week

clock May 2, 2018 10:00 by author Thomas

UK CAER's Dr. Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez of the Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis Group has been named Faculty Mentor of the Week. His mentoring work has impacted students from UK and abroad, from high school to graduate students, and in his work as the director of an NSF-funded mentoring program for under-represented groups.

The full write-up can be found on the Office of Undergraduate Research's Faculty Mentor of the Week webpage.

Chad Risko Helps Colleagues, Students Across Campus Create New Materials Using Computational Chemistry

clock April 11, 2018 09:41 by author Thomas

Chad Risko, associate professor of chemistry and affiliated researcher at UK CAER, explains in a UKnow feature the importance of mentors in his early academic career, and how important mentoring upcoming researchers is to him.

The full feature can be found here.

CAER Researchers Among Over 100 Inventors Honored at UK’s Patent Palooza

clock April 5, 2018 15:24 by author Thomas

The University of Kentucky Office of Technology Commercialization held its second annual Patent Palooza last week, an event that celebrates the university's inventors and commercialization deals of the previous fiscal year. Many CAER researchers were included in the event, including Kunlei Liu, who received a milestone award for 10 patents.

The full story can be found on UKNow.

UK CAER Commercialization Efforts Recognized at Patent Palooza

clock April 3, 2018 08:18 by author Thomas

The University of Kentucky Office of Technology Commercialization held its second annual Patent Palooza on March 27 at the Hilary J. Boone Center, and UK CAER innovation was well-represented at the event.


Ten of the 40 patents issued to UK researchers during fiscal year 2017 were for UK CAER discoveries. In addition, Kunlei Liu, Associate Director for Research at UK CAER, was recognized for receiving his tenth career patent.

Safety Takes Center Stage at UK CAER Event

clock March 16, 2018 11:58 by author Thomas


The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) hosted its first-ever Lab Safety Carnival Wednesday, March 14.

The program shared tips, advice, and best practices on maintaining a healthy and safe work environment. All UK CAER employees were invited as were several other UK departments and units at nearby facilities.

“No matter your role or responsibilities at UK, we know that maintaining a safe workplace is critical to our mission,” said Ruthann Chaplin, UK CAER’s Lab Safety Coordinator, who spearheaded the safety carnival. “We wanted this program to reflect that. The carnival offered a little bit for everyone. Whether you wanted to learn how to create a more ergonomic work environment, learn more about first aid and our AED machines, or talk to UK and external vendors about lab safety products, you could do that at the Lab Safety Carnival.”

Several companies served as event sponsors including: AWG, Forberg Scientific Inc., KPrime Technologies, Red Wing Shoes, Swagelok, and VWR.

Appalachian Radio Station Covers UK CAER Rare Earths Efforts in the Region

clock February 22, 2018 11:32 by author Thomas

Allegheny Front, a Pennsylvania-based public radio station, recently reported on the efforts to explore rare earth element extraction and research in the Appalachian region. It focused on, among others, the work of Dr. James Hower from the University of Kentucky's Center for Applied Energy Research. From the article:

Hower says that in order for a rare earths industry to be successful in the region the industry will need to be headquartered in the region that produces the material.

“You don’t want to transport this material too terribly far,” Hower explained, “because you have a lot of material that is not rare earths that you have to then put back somewhere. Ideally we want to be working at source landfills, do initial processing there, and then send more finished products somewhere else for further polishing.”

The full article can be found here.

New UK CAER Grant Seeks to Improve Industrial Water Treatment Technology

clock February 19, 2018 12:11 by author Thomas

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) received a $740,000 grant from the United States Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (DOE NETL) that seeks to lower the cost for and improve the efficiency of industrial water treatment.


The grant – entitled “Intensified Flue Gas Desulfurization Water Treatment for Reuse, Solidification, and Discharge” – will help advance UK CAER’s impressive portfolio of water treatment research, a critically important project for Kentucky companies.


“This grant will strengthen our wastewater research program,” said Kunlei Liu, Associate Director for Research at UK CAER. “Our team is developing and demonstrating cost-effective and practical technologies for reducing and managing wastewater, benefitting Kentucky companies and strengthening Kentucky’s industrial sector.”


Flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) technology is used to remove sulfur dioxide from exhaust flue gas at fossil fuel power plants. FGD technology is an important environmental mitigation process, as it also captures portion of heavy metals created during power generation, including selenium, arsenic and mercury.


UK CAER’s project seeks to intensify the traditional water treatment process, thereby lowering the cost for industry, said Xin Gao, Senior Research Engineer at the Center, and the principle investigator for the funded project.


“This next-stage technology currently being developed at UK CAER has a potential to intensify and/or integrate the conventional wastewater treatment process,” said Gao. “If successful, this technology would significantly lower the cost for water treatment.”


This UK CAER project seeks to utilize electrocoagulation, flotation and nanofiltration – via membranes – to remove as many heavy metals and soluble salts from the water as possible, and then recycle that water into the system. This process will reduce the amount of fresh water needed and make landfilling those particulates easier.


As part of the project, the UK CAER research team will be evaluating the effectiveness of electrocoagulation and long-term operation of membrane filtration as well as the ability to consistently create “landfillable solids” while meeting government regulations.

Chad Risko Named 2018 Cottrell Scholar

clock February 15, 2018 15:29 by author Thomas

Chad Risko, an assistant professor of chemistry and researcher at the Center for Applied Energy Research, has been named a 2018 Cottrell Scholar by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. Started in 1994, Risko is the first recipient of the award at UK, a designation that recognizes top early-career scholars in chemistry, physics and astronomy. The Correll Scholar program focuses on individuals who fulfill the dual role of researcher and teacher.


Full story can be found on UKNow.

UK CAER Outreach Featured in The Ledger Independent

clock February 12, 2018 14:57 by author Thomas

UK Center for Applied Energy Research's Outreach Program Coordinator, Greg Copley, was featured in an article about his energy efficiency outreach to local governments around Kentucky. Specifically, the article focuses on the successes at the Mason County governmental offices, especially the detention center.

Full article can be accessed here.

UK CAER Research Covered in Newsweek

clock January 30, 2018 15:39 by author Thomas

How can we harvest more energy from the sun? UK CAER researcher and Chemistry Professor John Anthony and international colleagues used an innovative approach to improving solar energy production. 

UK CAER Hosts College of Design Students

clock January 30, 2018 15:31 by author Thomas

UK CAER hosted students from UK College of Design faculty member Anne Filson’s graduate studio on Monday, January 29. The focus of the studio is the design of a bioplastics factory within a 100 acre algae photobioreactor array that’s adjacent to one of Kentucky’s coal-fired power plants. Working with the Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis group, the students have a chance to learn more about the Center’s biofuels and sustainability research program as well as the CAER Lab #2, the first LEED-designed research laboratory in Kentucky.

UK CAER, ACAA to Host Ponded Ash Workshop in Richmond, Virginia

clock January 25, 2018 08:24 by author Thomas

The two organizations that created the World of Coal Ash – the largest and most successful meeting in the coal ash industry – are teaming up again. The American Coal Ash Association (ACAA) and the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) are hosting the 2018 Workshop on Current Issues in Ponded Coal Combustion Products (CCPs) on March 20-21 in Richmond, Virginia.

Attendees will hear from and interact with some of the world’s leading experts in the following technical areas:

  • Seismic Issues
  • Regulatory Design Issues – Closure in Place
  • Response of Ash to Dewatering
  • Sampling and Instrumentation
  • Legal View of Current Environmental Issues
  • Ground Water Quality Changes after Closure in Place
  • Utility Specific Monitoring Strategies and Requirements
  • Groundwater Remediation Options

“If you work, consult, or contract in this marketplace, this is the meeting for you,” said Tom Adams, Executive Director of ACAA. “The depth and breadth of topics covered over these two days is truly impressive and will provide attendees with new information and tactics to help companies continue to compete in this ever-changing industry.”

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is a co-organizer and sponsor of the Current Issues in Ponded CCPs workshop. Other sponsors and exhibitors include Watershed Geo, Charah, Waste Connections, and the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Registration is now open at, and you can find a detailed agenda on that same website. The workshop will be held at the Omni Richmond Hotel. Hotel accommodations are available at and attendees must make their reservation by February 12 to ensure the group rate.

Professional development hours (PDH) will be available.