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.

Summer Partnership with Kentucky State University

clock July 21, 2016 09:49 by author Thomas


Kazi Javed, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Kentucky State University (KSU), has always been committed to bringing science to life for his students. This summer, he is doing just that thanks to a unique partnership with the UK Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER).


Dr. Javed, who teaches an analytical instrumentation class at KSU, is volunteering in the Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis Group here at UK CAER this summer. With a focus in the classroom on instrument design and method development, Dr. Javed is bringing KSU students to UK CAER’s lab this summer to introduce them and train them on instrumentation not available at KSU.

 

Joining Dr. Javed from KSU are four students: Ma’Kaylah Garrett, a biology student from Indianapolis, Indiana; Steven Hall, a mechanical engineering student from Frankfort, Kentucky; Andrew Lentini, a mechanical engineering student from Shelbyville, Kentucky; and Siraj Ramsey, a mechanical engineering student from Hopkinsville, Kentucky. The mechanical engineering students are taking part in KSU and UK’s joint program, where the students attend KSU for three years and UK for two years. Participants receive a bachelor’s in mathematics from KSU and a UK engineering bachelor’s degree.

 

This collaborative work was made possible thanks to National Science Foundation grants entitled “MRI: Acquisition of a Gas Chromatograph with Dual Detection Capabilities to be Used in Sustainable Energy Research” (award number 1531637) and “SusChEM: Promotion of Nickel Catalysts for the Conversion of Biomass-derived Oils to Fuel-like Hydrocarbons” (award number 1437604). 



UKCAER Researchers Receive Swagelok Training

clock July 15, 2016 10:45 by author Alice
The Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis research group - at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research - hosted Mike Sallee from Swagelok for the 4th annual CAER Swagelok seminar. It focused on how to use tubing and tube fittings appropriately with an emphasis on safety. This seminar is very informational for staff and students alike. Many BEC staff go each time the class is offered because it is a good refresher and something new is learned. Thirteen people were in attendance this year (July 14).



Spring 2016 Tours at the UKCAER

clock May 24, 2016 14:06 by author Alice

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research has hosted two recent tours - a group from the Kentucky Geological Survey and a group from the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers organization. Both groups had to dodge a few raindrops but came away from the tour with more insight into the scientific energy research conducted at CAER.

Some of the stops included:

  • Algae Greenhouse (CO2 capture with algae) and Biofuels (fuels, chemicals and other products created from harvested algae)
  • Minerals Processing (utilization of coal ash by-products used to produce UKCAER/Minova's Tekecrete products, use in concrete and other building materials)
  • Carbon Materials processing (creation of carbon fibers used in the automotive and airline industries)
  • Electrochemical Power Sources (creation and/or testing of batteries used in autos, retail products, etc.)
  • Coal/Biomass-to-Liquids Pilot Facility (gasification of CBTL to synthetic fuels)
  • Solar/Organic Materials (creation of new, advanced thin-film technologies from organic compounds).


UK CAER Receives $2.4M Grant for US-China Clean Energy Research Center

clock May 5, 2016 09:39 by author Dave Melanson

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected UK's Center for Applied Energy Research for a five-year renewal of its United States-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC) grant. CERC was created in 2009 by DOE, the China Ministry of Science and Technology and the China National Energy Administration to facilitate joint research and development on clean energy by teams of scientists and engineers from the US and China. Read more here.



Mark Crocker Quoted in ACS

clock April 27, 2016 14:13 by author Dave Melanson

UK CAER's Mark Crocker was quoted in a recent American Chemical Society (ACS) Central Science article entitled, "As the Volkswagen scandal showed, building fuel-efficient, low-emitting vehicles is no easy task." You can read the entire article here.



UK CAER Student Presents at NSBE Annual Convention

clock April 18, 2016 16:29 by author Alice
Courtney McKelphin, and undergraduate chemical engineering major at the University of Kentucky, working at the Center for Applied Energy Research in the Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis lab, presented her research at the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Annual Convention in Boston, MA on March 25, 2016.

Courtney currently serves as UK's Chapter Vice President of NSBE and has been a member for two years. Her presentation focused on establishing key kinetic parameters of the catalytic decarboxylation/decarbonylation of triglycerides to fuels.



UK CAER, Sayre Co-Host Energy Fair

clock April 13, 2016 15:50 by author Alice
Exploding balloons. A solar car. A virtual reality sandbox. Sounds like a day at the museum, doesn’t it?

The reality: It was the annual University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) Energy Fair on Monday, April 11. Sayre School hosted the event at its C.V. Whitney Gymnasium, which featured more than 330 students from Cassidy, Russell Cave, Sayre and Yates Elementary Schools participating.

Held each year, the UK CAER Energy Fair provides elementary school students in Fayette County a hands-on, interactive introduction to science, engineering and research. Students learn about various energy-related topics including electricity, mining, biofuels, motors, solar panels, and electromagnets. In addition, students had the opportunity to learn about creating a sustainable energy future for the Commonwealth.

In addition to CAER, presenters included the UK Chapter of the Society of Mining Engineers, Bluegrass GreenSource, UK’s Solar Decathlon team, Sayre Middle School Green Team, and the Kentucky Division of Air Quality, among others.



Environmental Class Tour of UK CAER

clock April 8, 2016 08:51 by author Alice

An environmental lab class under the direction of Dr. David Fraley of Georgetown College toured the University of Kentucky Lab 2, Carbon Spinline and Algae Greenhouse.



UK CAER Reaches Out to Math "Athletes"

clock April 1, 2016 10:52 by author Alice

 

Biofuels is the name of the game! Three University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research staffers - Scientist, Dr. Jack Groppo; Engineer, Ms. Shiela Medina; and Ms. Alice Marksberry - participated in the UK hosted 2016 MathCounts competition. On a Friday night in March, nearly 200 Mathcounts winners from middle schools in counties throughout the Commonwealth participated in fun science experiments with UK faculty, staff and students.

 

The UK CAER hosted an educational stop that featured the Biofuels Game - a board game created by CAER scientist Dr. Eduardo Santillian-Jimenez. The game reflects decisions made by the students that must compare and contrast the pathway of creating a gasoline/diesel product from either crude petroleum or biomass. Students must consider how to create the end product via economical and environmentally sound decision-making processes.

 

Mathcounts is a national enrichment, coaching and competition program that promotes middle school math achievement through grassroots involvement.


UK College of Design Students Tour CAER's Energy Efficient Lab Building

clock March 3, 2016 13:28 by author Alice
UK College of Design Students in the Interior Design area toured the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research's laboratory 2 - Renewable Energy Lab on March 2, 2016. The students toured the solar and battery areas and heard details about the building's energy efficiency features from Courtney Fisk, UK CAER Assistant Director for Facilities and Operations. Courtney was the engineer that oversaw the construction of lab 2. Eduardo Santillan-Jimenz, UK CAER Biofuels Scientist, presented information/toured the Biofuels labs housed within the building. The CoD students are working on a Sustainability grant jointly received by UK CAER, Colleges of Design and Education to develop a biofuels video game from the board game version created by Dr. Santillian-Jimenz.


UK CAER Undergraduate Researcher Presents Research at Kentucky State Capitol

clock February 25, 2016 14:48 by author David Melanson

Courtney McKelphin, an undergraduate researcher at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research, was one of 29 UK undergraduate researchers selected to showcase their research to the Kentucky state legislature on Thursday, February 25. Read the full story.



UK CAER Algal Research Hitting the Ground in China

clock February 15, 2016 12:05 by author David Melanson

Algae research at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) is going global.

The Algae and Biofuels Laboratory at UK CAER is partnering with Lianhenghui Investment Company to construct a 5-acre algae production facility in Zhengzhou, China. The facility will feature the Center’s novel photobioreactor technology for growing algae. The algae will be used for the production of nutraceuticals, bioplastics and fuels. The company is also constructing a second, smaller facility in Zhengzhou (2.5 acres), which will employ the same technology to grow algae for the production of nutraceuticals.

Microalgae have attracted considerable interest in recent years as a high-yield renewable feedstock for the production of fuels and chemicals. In addition, algae have been proposed as a means to capture and utilize power plant emissions, since photosynthetic algae can use the CO2 in flue gas as a carbon source.

UK CAER’s Algae and Biofuels group, led by Dr. Mark Crocker, is a worldwide leader in this research. The group has extensive expertise in this area, specializing in photobioreactor design, construction and operation; photobioreactor integration with power plants; and algae cultivation, harvesting and dewatering.

“This is an exciting development for our lab and the next phase of our research,” said Dr. Crocker. “Getting to see our innovations go from the lab to practice at Duke Energy’s East Bend Station in Boone County, Kentucky and now on to an international market is gratifying. We look forward to learning more from our partners at Lianhenghui Investment Company.”

The initial funding for the photobioreactor development was provided by the Kentucky Department of Energy Development and Independence, as part of a project to investigate the potential of algae for the capturing and recycling of power plant CO2 emissions.  After years of research, the lab partnered with Duke Energy’s East Bend Station to install a photobioreactor at that site in late 2012.

“This is an exciting achievement for Mark Crocker and the entire Biofuels group here at CAER,” said Rodney Andrews, Director of UK CAER. “They have been persistent in their efforts to improve the technology, constantly refining their process and improving our understanding of how the biology and engineering systems interact. We look forward to seeing the results of this partnership with Lianhenghui."

In June 2014, the UK CAER licensed its photobioreactor technology to Lianhenghui. Together, UK and Lianhenghui have patented the first and second generation photobioreactor technology in China, and they are in the process of patenting the second generation reactor technology in the United States.

Biofuels – fuels derived from biomass – are promising alternatives to fossil fuels since they are renewable and carbon neutral (the CO2 generated during biofuel use is consumed by plants through photosynthesis, closing the carbon cycle). CAER has considerable experience on the catalytic conversion of different forms of biomass to fuels and chemicals.

For the full story and photos...



Seed Projects Starting to Blossom

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the full story and photos...



UK CAER 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.