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.

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).

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...

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 Carbon Associate Director Quoted in Lane Report

clock January 9, 2015 14:11 by author Alice


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.


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.

Electrochemical Energy Storage PostDoc Position Now Available

clock September 5, 2014 14:17 by author Alice

The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (#UKCAER) is looking for an individual to fill a new POSTDOCTORAL SCHOLAR position (#job) to is related to various aspects of research in the synthesis and characterization of materials for electrochemical energy storage and conversion technologies.  Individuals with a Ph.D in Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Materials Science or related filed are encouraged to apply.  


More information can be found on the UK CAER Electrochemical Power Sources research web section.

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 ...

25 Elementary School Science Teachers Learn from CAER Science Lab Tour

clock November 17, 2013 20:16 by author Marybeth McAlister

For several years CAER havs been part of KYNEED's bigger area tour for science teachers. The two day travels include power plants, mines, Locust Trace Elementary, etc.  The group gets a close up view and explanation of carbon dioxide capture, biofuel energy, and how coal ash can be recycled into useable products instead of land filled at CAER. 

CAER Researcher Seeks Safer Batteries for Underground Mine Use

clock September 9, 2013 11:30 by author Marybeth McAlister


Dr. Steve Lipka, CAER Associate Director for Electrochemical Power Sources, has been awarded a 2 year, $389,000 grant from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  The title of the project is “Evaluating the Inherent Safety of Lithium-ion Batteries in Portable Electronics Used in Underground Mine Environments.”

 This project will help to understand the safety of Li-ion battery chemistries used in portable electronic devices such as hand-held gas detectors, cap lamps, hand tools, communications devices, and tracking devices and their potential risk as an ignition source in an underground mine where there is a mixture of methane and air.  In a catastrophic event, the battery can sustain mechanical damage, resulting in reactions between active battery materials and the highly volatile and flammable organic electrolyte.  These reactions can result in rising cell temperatures which accelerate further chemical reactions in the battery causing heat and gas generation. The project will evaluate the ignition potential of various Li-ion battery chemistries in both cylindrical and prismatic cell formats in a simulated underground mine environment under mechanical damage. 

Lipka’s group will recommend safer lithium-ion battery chemistries and use in portable devices. The researchers will also develop strategies to stop or reduce potential ignition for lithium-ion batteries used in underground mines.

Professor Thomas Novak of UK’s Department of Mining Engineering will serve as a project consultant.

Girls Learn from Female Mentors

clock June 12, 2013 11:06 by author Marybeth McAlister


CAER researchers Anne Oberlink and Liz Harman-Ware reached out to high school girls at the EKU Girls’ STEM Day recently. The scientists were accompanied by two high girls who recently toured CAER. STEM practitioners and educators led girls through activities that mirror real-world STEM tasks and highlight creative and innovative problem solving.  Anne and Liz exhibited and served as mentors.

Anne (left) and Liz

Grimminger Supervises BCTC Regional Science Olympiad

clock April 19, 2013 14:14 by author Marybeth McAlister

On March second Marsha Grimminger, of the Electrochemistry Group, designed questions related to a science challenge geared toward high school chemistry students for Bluegrass Community and Technical College's Regional Science Olympiad. They were not told of the specific topic before the event. The 18 students collected data through experimentation and compared results.

CAER Renewable Energy Building Contractor Receives Award

clock April 8, 2013 11:36 by author Marybeth McAlister

 Turner Construction Company, a general contractor firm based in Lexington, was recognized for its construction manager involvement with the UK Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) Renwable Energy Research Lab. The construction of the new 43,000 square foot, high-performance laboratory will lower operation costs of CAER, while increasing education about the numerous energy technologies implemented in the building.

High School Students' CAER-mentored Projects Win at Recent Science Fairs

clock April 8, 2013 11:11 by author Marybeth McAlister


Four local high school students who were mentored by University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research scientists have proved experience gain by working in laboratories with mentors is invaluable.

Valerie Sarge, a junior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, placed first in the Energy and Transportation category at the Central Kentucky Regional Science and Engineering Fair, going on to win first place in the same category at the state competition. This qualifies her to go on to Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) to be held in Phoenix. Valerie was mentored by Chemistry Professor/CAER Faculty Associate, John Anthony. In her work with the solar energy group she is using organic compounds called furan-based materials. These can be derived from agricultural waste products to create new semiconductors for use in low-cost solar cells. She is has been working on synthesis, but may soon move toward creating solar cells.

Will Kimmerer, a ninth grader at Sayre School, won top awards at the regional and state fairs in the Environmental Science category, including second in the Physical Sciences category. Kimmerer is interested in water purification and obtained carbon material samples for use in his project from CAER working closely with Director Rodney Andrews during the project. He was selected for the I-SWEEP 2013 conference (International Sustainable World Energy Engineering Environment Project) in Houston, where he will present his work. Additionally, he was selected for the Stockholm Junior Water Award.

Additionally, two Dunbar CAER interns placed well at the regional level and went on to compete at the state competition. Rohin Lohe placed first in the "Engineering: Materials and Bioengineering" category, and went on to place third at the state competition. Lohe will compete at the Kentucky Junior Academy of Sciences on April 27th. John Luan also won in the “Energy and Transportation” category at regionals.

Matt Weisenberger, Associate Director for Carbon Materials, is mentoring Lohe with a project titled "Finite Element Analysis of Heat Conduction through Interfaces: Modeling and Experimental Verification with Stainless Steel, Copper, and Multiwall Carbon Nanotube Arrays as Thermal Interface Materials." Lohe has been conducting his research at the UK CAER laboratory facilities and working directly with the Carbon Materials Research staff in completing the tests.

Finally, Lohe’s project included part of the expertise gained while working with CAER’s Electrochemical Power Sources group under the direction of Associate Director Steve Lipka.  John is working on a project entitled “Carbon-based Capacitive Thin Films for AC Line Filtering” in which the goal is to demonstrate whether carbon-based supercapacitors can be used as a lower-cost, more-dependable replacement for traditional electrolytic capacitors in electronic devices.  

Dunbar School UK CAER Intern Wins Local Science Fair

clock February 19, 2013 14:02 by author Alice

John Luan, a Dunbar High School student, who is interning with the Electrochemical and Power Systems UK CAER Research group, recently won at a local science fair in the Energy and Transportation category.  He will advance to the next level of competition.  John's project included part of his expertise earned while working in the Electochemistry research group. 

Battery Center Toured by International Journalists

clock October 23, 2012 11:27 by author Marybeth McAlister


The Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center was toured recently by journalists. The Kentucky FAMiliarization Tour is sponsored by the Cabinet of Economic Development.  It is made up of professional writers from around the world who are interested in the automotive industry and related manufacturing.  They visited Kentucky as guests of Governor Beshear and toured the highlights of the state such as Ford, Toyota, UPS, and the Battery Center. The goal is to give them story information for future publications.