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.

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 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.



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 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



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 Analytical Services Staff Exhibit at the International Biomass Expo

clock June 11, 2015 17:32 by author Alice


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


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

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


2015 Science Fair High School Students Interning at UK CAER

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

 

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

 

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


UK CAER Staff Receives Training from Agilent

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


Utilitiy Economic Group Tours UK CAER

clock February 5, 2015 11:13 by author Alice

THE LG&E/KU Economic Analysis group tour UK CAER on the afternoon of February 4th.  They toured several research areas in the renewables Lab 2; minerals and carbon labs; and the algae greenhouse. 



New Research Funded at UK CAER

clock January 22, 2015 16:28 by author Alice
The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research has again made funding available to provide seed grant opportunities to CAER researchers to collaborate in exploring new energy-related ideas and to open up new avenues of research. This program, the "brainchild" of Directory Rodney Andrews, was established 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 this program since its inception is obvious with 3 papers written; 4 proposals written and all 4 proposals funded for a total of nearly $800,00.00 of external funding!     For the second year, the CAER Staff gathered to hear presentations given by 8 different young scientists that received a "seed" grant during 2014.

 

Leland Widger - Presenter - Catalytic Hydrogenation of Carbon-Loaded Amine Solutions for CO2 Capture and Utilization (co-authors Cameron Lippert): Much effort in recent research has focused on the direct activation of CO2 by hydrogenation catalysts for reduction by molecular H2 to methanol. However, the direct activation of gaseous CO2 and the subsequent reduction by 3 reducing equivalents is a difficult and energy-intensive transformation. We proposed to combine the advantages of amine-based CCS, the activation of CO2 by aqueous amines, with the utility of reduction catalysts to obtain an accessible and valuable chemical feedstock, formic acid. Hydrogenation by a single reducing equivalent would be more atom-efficient than methanol production, but the feasibility of direct reduction of carbamate in aqueous solution needed to be evaluated.

 

Bob Jewell - Presenter - Evaluation of Pure Ettringite/MWCNT Array Layered Composite for Piezoelectric Effect - (co-authors Anne Oberlink and Ashley Morris): The overarching objective of this research is to functionalize calcium sulfoaluminate (CSA) cements for energy harvesting and as a smart-sensing construction material. The discovery and characterization of ettringite, the primary strength contributor in CSA cement, as a piezoelectric crystal phase will create new knowledge on energy harvesting from CSA cement materials. The data on material properties and piezoelectric potential of ettringite-rich cementitious structural elements will not only enable the functionalization of construction materials as energy harvesting components but also will lay a solid foundation for future piezoelectric cementitious design. This project was awarded a National Science Foundation Grant for $309,737; which was directly related to the results from the CAER Seed Research Grant.

 

Nick Holubowitch - Presenter - Scavenging Waste Heat with Carbon Nanotubes in Thermelectrochemical Cells - (co-authors Cameron Lippert, James Landon): The work investigated the conversion of waste heat, a ubiquitous form of currently untapped energy, to electricity, a usable, concentrated form, using thermoelectrochemical cells. The Carbon group provided low-cost spray coated carbon nanotube (CNT) electrodes which were subjected to a variety of optimizations in our custom built device for thermal energy scavenging. We constructed a cell capable of delivering a mass activity of 290 W kg-1 CNTs by only using 0.08 mg cm-2 (<$0.01 per cell) of this normally cost-prohibitive material. The findings should be of broader interest to myriad energy storage and conversion technologies seeking to exploit the attractive properties of carbon nanotubes. The seed funding led to a full grant ($94,000) from the Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence.

 

Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez - Presenter - Carbon-supported Molybdenum Carbide Catalysts for Bio-oil Hydrodeoxygenation - (co-authors Robert Pace, Ashley Morris, John Craddock): Albeit carbide catalysts have been proposed as a replacement for the problematic and/or expensive formulations used to catalyze several reactions, bulk (unsupported) carbides display surface areas inadequately low for catalytic applications. In the work funded with this seed grant, researchers in the Biofuels & Environmental Catalysis group increased the surface area of molybdenum carbide catalysts through the use of carbon supports developed by researchers of the Carbon Materials group. The resulting carbon-supported carbide catalysts not only showed superior performance in a reaction modeling the upgrading of biomass-derived oils, but synthetic parameters were found to control the structure of these formulations, which provides a way to further improve – and understand – their performance. Notably, the results of this project have already been submitted for publication.

 

Yaying Ji - Presenter - Development of Bifunctional Catalysts for Reductive Depolymerization of Lignin into Value-Added Chemicals - (co-authors Robert Pace, Dali Qian): Lignin is a principal constituent of lignocellulosic biomass (15-30% by weight, 40% by energy), so it has potential to act as a feedstock for the renewable production of a wide variety of bulk and fine chemicals. Depolymerization of lignin to valuable chemicals is challenging due to its recalcitrance. Our goal is to develop a less expensive Ni-based catalytic approach for conversion of lignin into aromatic chemicals.

 

Robert Hodgen - Presenter - Construction and Demonstration of a Torrefaction Kiln for Bio-char Production - (co-author Darrell Taulbee): Torrefaction is process in which raw biomass is heated under relatively mild conditions in an autogenous atmosphere. Torrefied biomass formed into pellets or briquettes have numerous advantages relative to raw biomass including a higher heating value, higher energy density, and a greater resistance to water degradation as well as a significant advantage that bio-char agglomerates can be processed and co-fired in existing power plants without the need for specialized feed or pulverization equipment. This study, which focused on kiln construction followed by the production and evaluation of briquettes made with torrefied biomass, revealed that a relatively mild pyrolysis temperature of 200 oC appeared to be optimum in terms of producing the most suitable briquetter feedstock. Further, these mild conditions resulted in relatively little loss of volatile matter yet provided a substantial improvement in calorific value and improved resistance to water degradation.

 

Jesse Thompson - Presenter - CO2 Capture Solvent Purification with Adsorbant Bio-Char from Algae: Preparation, Characterization and Adsorption Studies - (coauthors Sarah Honchul, Robert Pace): The bio-char residue produced as a by-product from thermal treatments of algal biomass for biofuel production was evaluated, without any additional upgrading, for its ability to adsorb operational contaminant (amines and heavy metals) from carbon capture solvents. The bio-char from pyrolysis, hydrothermal liquefaction and torrefaction of algal biomass grown in bioreactors with carbon dioxide from a coal burning power plant showed comparable adsorption of the amine contaminants compared to a commercial activated carbon. Adsorption of heavy metals was comparably low with the bio-char evaluated. Additional upgrading with acid treatments, activation at higher temperatures, or alumina-modification may improve the metal adsorption of this bio-char.

 

Michael Wilson - Presenter - Upcycling of Brewery Byproducts Using Microalgae - (coauthors and pictured left is Thomas Grubbs and C. Cecil; Stephanie Kesner, not pictured): The CAER has a unique opportunity to collaborate on a sustainable project with two progressive Lexington organizations, West Sixth Brewing Company and FoodChain. Spent grains from the brewing process at West Sixth are currently combined with a protein source to feed tilapia grown by FoodChain. The water, containing organic nutrients excreted by the fish, is then circulated through an aquaponic system with the nutrients being used to grow traditional crops, such as lettuce, herbs, and microgreens. This seed grant proposal suggests that the CO2 from the brewing process could be used to grow protein rich algae, which would—in turn—replace the current protein supplement being incorporated into the spent grains to be fed to the tilapia, thereby effectively closing the system. Working with senior students from Chemical Engineering and Architecture/Sustainability, CAER staff evaluated the potential process and concluded that an algae system sized to utilize all of the CO2 emissions from the brewing process would take up half an acre and produce enough protenacious algae meal to scale up FoodChains operations by 100 times.


UK CAER Carbon Associate Director Quoted in Lane Report

clock January 9, 2015 14:11 by author Alice

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The LANE REPORT, a publication that covers business and economic news from across Kentucky, recently focused on the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research's efforts in dealing with issues that affect the competitiveness of Kentucky's coal. Per the report ...

"Scientists at the UK Center for Applied Energy Research are exploring ways to improve the ecological impact of fuel coal and investigating whether it is feasible to turn it into a versatile, non-fuel raw material for industry. CAER’s research focuses include employing algae to gobble up carbon dioxide from power plants’ emissions, better managing waste coal ash, and transforming coal into high-strength, lightweight carbon fiber."

"The coal research complements a plethora of other energy studies CAER’s team of geologists, chemists and engineers of various disciplines are undertaking. They also are investigating biodiesel uses, advanced battery construction, renewable energy, and more."

"Explorations into remediation of coal-fired power plants emissions is CAER researchers’ top job, a mission shared with energy scientists the world over, according to Matt Weisenberger, the center’s associate director."

"The question is whether the various strategies CAER and other energy institutes are reviewing, is financially viable and scalable enough to counter criticisms of coal as a fuel source."

The complete Lane Report Article on UK CAER.

 



Tour of UK CAER Algae Greenhouse by University of Pikeville Individuals

clock November 18, 2014 21:09 by author Alice
A tour was given by Jack Groppo of the UK CAER Algae Greenhouse and Renewable Building Lab 2 biofuels lab to several very interested individuals from the University of Pikeville and Asbury University. They were part of the Kentucky Academy of Sciences annual meeting and took some time to tour the CAER facilities to learn more about algae/biofuels research and utilization.


Algae Industry Magazine Picks up Story about UK CAER Algae Project

clock November 13, 2014 10:17 by author Alice
The Algae Industry Magazine.com website added a story about the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research's algae project at the Duke power plant. The video put together by the local news station was picked up by the magazine.

About half of the electricity produced in the United States comes from coal fire power plants like the Duke Energy East Bend Station in Boone County, Kentucky. Unlike almost all of the others, this plant is trapping its exhaust gas and using it to grow algae. The University of Kentucky and Duke have partnered on this project, which is currently at pilot level. “We’ve made jet fuel, and we’ve made renewable diesel fuel,” said Biofuels Research Engineer Michael Wilson, with the University of Kentucky.



Governor Conference Attendees Tour UK CAER

clock October 16, 2014 09:55 by author Alice
The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research recently offered a tour to attendees from the 2014 Governor's Conference on Energy and the Environment. CAER investigates energy technologies to improve the environment. Researchers contribute to technically sound policies related to fossil and renewable energy.

Tour participants learned about coal beneficiation, utilization and conversion process technologies; fuel use; coal combustion by-products; engineered fuels; derivation of high added-value materials and chemicals; and renewable energy such as biofuels and bioenergy, electrochemistry, solar energy and environmental remediation.



UK CAER Staffers Learn How to More Efficiently Use Swagelok

clock October 2, 2014 18:21 by author Alice

Swagelok Indiana representative Mike Sallee gave a hands-on seminar for the UK Center for Applied Energy Research's Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis (BEC) research group on Thursday September 25th . The presentation was entitled “Swagelok Tube Fitting Installation and Safety” and was the second annual event hosted by the BEC group. These events are as valuable to expert Swagelok users as researchers working with Swagelok for the very first time. The goal is that we use their products correctly to optimize safety as well as economics.


UK CAER Students Take a "Green" Turn with Algae

clock August 20, 2014 11:01 by author Alice
Engineers normally get their hands dirty … but green? Ask any of the five UK students working with the Center for Applied Energy Research Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis group and you might get a surprising answer. They are all part of a student team from the University of Kentucky Engineering Department and the College of Design that have been working on design issues associated with the CAER algal-based carbon capture and utilization demonstration project based at Duke’s East Bend power plant located in Northern Kentucky.

In an effort to drive down capital and operating costs the CAER “outsourced” the design problems to this group of students to see what could be developed, with the end result to be working prototypes or models that could be incorporated into the Center’s day-to-day carbon utilization research.

The students were recently on-hand during a Channel 12 News interview of Michael H. Wilson, UK CAER Senior Research Engineer. Each created a poster focusing on their specific project highlighting what aspect of the process needed work and a solution of how to resolve that problem.

Katelyn Yohe, UK Electrical Engineering Senior - UK CAER Duke Algae Demo Katelyn Yohe, UK Electrical Engineering SeniorLow Cost Control System - (Poster) - A low cost control system was developed to control the input of carbon dioxide, as flue gas, and air in a photobioreactor in order to maintain healthy algae growth conditions. The system regulates pH and dissolved oxygen based on parameters set by the user. Live, weekly, stored data, and setting parameters can all be viewed and changed on a network computer through the web or through the on-board LCD. Based on the current system used, this new prototype is roughly an eighty-seven percent reduction of cost.

Landon Caudill, UK Mechanical Engineering Junior - UK CAER Duke Algae Demo Landon Caudill, UK Mechanical Engineering JuniorAlgae Harvest and Processing – (Poster) - I focused on how to improve the efficiency of our low-cost/low energy harvesting and dewatering process. In order to recover algal byproducts a low dosage (3-5 ppm) of chemical flocculent is added as the algae is pumped into a setting column. After 20 minutes the biomass has settled to the bottom of a small diameter and conical base to allow most (>95%) of the water to be decanted and recycled to the growth system. The thickened biomass is then transferred to a gravity dewatering belt and then to a solar drier to complete the low-cost/low-energy method of algae biomass recovery. These improvements have made the processing of harvested algae more efficient and consistent.

Chase M. Cecil, UK Chemical Engineering Senior - UK CAER Duke Algae Demo Chase M. Cecil, UK Chemical Engineering Senior - Optimizing Carbon Input to Maximize Efficiency – (Poster) - My work focused on modeling the CO2 utilization efficiency of the photobioreactor system. The model determined a CO2 input regimen that optimized the CO2 usage and maximized the efficiency of the reactor system. This method also highlighted the most important factors to improve the performance and efficiency of the system moving forward.

Thomas E. Grubbs, UK Architecture Senior - UK CAER Duke Algae Demo Thomas E. Grubbs, UK Architecture SeniorDesign, Development, and Documentation – (Poster) – My role at CAER has been primarily on the documentation side of the photobioreactor design process. I was brought aboard to lend a designer’s perspective to the work being carried at out at the Center, specifically the algae project. To that end, I have worked on the design and development of the PBR tube cleaning ‘pigs’, including the use of a CO2 laser cutting system in order to optimize pig construction, as well as the East Bend PBR.

Travis Jarrells, UK Chemical Engineering Junior - UK CAER Duke Algae Demo Travis Jarrells, UK Chemical Engineering JuniorCarbon Dioxide Compression Model – (Poster) – My work focused on the introduction of carbon dioxide, as flue gas, to the photobioreactor system. Different methods such as compression and bubbling and using eductors were compared based on an energy consumption basis. I also worked on improving smaller (8 liter) airlift reactors for use in the greenhouse. Improvements made include air introduction, as well as changes in geometry to improve longevity and maintenance.

The UK CAER has a long history of offering experiential learning opportunities to undergraduate engineering and science students in areas including: biofuels, carbon materials, carbon capture, industrial byproduct beneficiation, batteries, solar, and catalysis. The students get an opportunity to work on real world problems and apply the lessons they learn in their coursework to immediately reinforce their learning, often in a hands-on-manner. Michael Wilson sums it up by saying, “Working with these students has been a great experience. Although the experience they are getting is undoubtedly valuable, I’m not sure we can repay them for the amounts of enthusiasm and creativity they bring to the table. I am continually impressed with the level of talent present at the University of Kentucky”. With opportunities like these, the contributions that undergraduate researchers can make will only continue and ultimately contribute to the vitality of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

*Follow up questions can be directed to Michael.Wilson@uky.edu or alice.marksberry@uky.edu


UK CAER Algae "Put to Work" - Channel 12 Newscast

clock August 18, 2014 10:34 by author Alice


UK CAER's very own engineer, Mike Wilson, was recently interviewed by Josh Knight of Channel 12 News about how a CAER experimental algae demonstration unit at the Duke Energy East Bend power plant can reduce carbon emissions. The University of Kentucky CAER and Duke Energy have partnered on this project to capture flue gas, which is ten percent CO2 (carbon dioxide) from the plant in order to grow algae in a tube display.

At this time, the amount of gas being processed by the algae is a small amount that is sent out the stack but this pilot project proves that the system is functional and has definite possibilities. Per Mike Wilson, "They call it research for a reason, there's "re" in research, so you're going to do it over and over again until you find a way that works".

With continued research and efficiencies improvement, the project investigators and Duke would like to scale up the project to utilize all the flue gas which would result in tube arrays covering hundreds of acres. Potentially covering square miles with algae tubes is due to the growth factor of this Kentucky algae - microscopic organisms that grow and make food using carbon dioxide, sunlight and water through photosynthesis. Algae biomass can be used to make anything from biofuel to bio-plastics, foods and pharmaceuticals.

Watch the video and read more at Local 12 News site.


Ky NSF EPSCoR Program Receives Major Track 1 Funding from National Science Foundation

clock August 12, 2014 10:51 by author Alice

The Kentucky NSF EPSCoR received a Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-1 award from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The Kentucky track 1 award is generally an energy-related theme that will provide funding to various Kentucky universities and colleges to do research in the fields of electrochemical energy storage; study of membranes; and chemical inspired biology/lignin research. Rodney Andrews, UK CAER Director, is the Ky NSF EPSCoR Director.

From UKNOW News:

Kentucky faces significant challenges as the energy economy transitions from traditional coal mining to renewable resources. Kentucky's RII award, "Powering the Kentucky Bioeconomy for a Sustainable Future," will focus on bio-inspired nanocomposite membranes, biomass feedstocks and electrochemical energy storage. The project will drive and accelerate the growth of the emerging bioeconomy within Kentucky through statewide multi-institutional interdisciplinary collaborations that incorporate elements of chemistry, biology, physics and engineering. Strong ties between academic research and industry will confront the Green Grand Challenge, help train students and create jobs for an increasingly larger and diverse science, technology, engineering and mathematics educated workforce. The project provides a STEM-based educational framework that will encourage meaningful participation of under-represented and minority student populations in the emerging knowledge-based economy. Kentucky — University of Kentucky Research Foundation, PI: Rodney Andrews. More ...