UK CAER Current News

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

UK CAER's Regional Outreach Rep Arranges for Centre Students to Tour Surface Mine

clock February 5, 2015 11:23 by author Alice

On January 13, 2015, CAER’s Outreach and Technical Assistance Coordinator, Greg Copley arranged for a group of Centre College freshmen to tour Licking River Resources’ surface mine in Magoffin County.  Dr. Marie Nydam’s Economic, Environmental and Social Effects of Coal Mining in Eastern Kentucky class of 13 students spent roughly 5 hours at the site observing the coal extraction and washing processes.

Licking River’s Vice President Chris Lacy and Keith Fletcher, Land Manager provided the tour and discussed coal’s role in eastern Kentucky as an economic and energy driver. This was the first opportunity for many students to be in eastern KY and go on an active mine site. Many comments were made regarding the complexity of mining, the size of the equipment and the abilities of the miners. The class also witnessed the blasting of a new mine section.

Finally a tour and explanation of the company’s award worthy reclamation efforts occurred. The participants learned how reclaimed land are habitat for a variety of wildlife including elk, turkey, and free range horses.

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.

Engineer and Post Doc Positions Available at UK CAER

clock January 20, 2015 10:13 by author Alice
The following positions are accepting applications from the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research:

- Homogeneous Catalysis Postdoctoral Researcher - primary responsibility will be in catalyst development and evaluation
- CO2 Capture Chemical Engineer - primary responsibility will be in chemical looping combustion and gasification technology development and evaluation
- Chemical Looping Combustion Postdoctoral Researcher - primary responsibility will be in chemical looping combustion and gasification technology development and evaluation
- CO2 Capture Solvent Degradation and Analysis PostDoctoral Researcher - s primary responsibility will be in solvent degradation, gas phase emissions monitoring and analytical method development (with a specific focus on nitrosamines and heavy metal)

UK CAER Hosts Local Elementary Students for Annual Energy Fair

clock January 16, 2015 11:35 by author Alice


Last month, the UK Center for Applied Energy Research once again hosted its annual Energy Fair. The event brings in classes of 4th and 5th graders from local elementary schools. The students get to meet and interact with scientists and engineers, learn about different forms of energy and how they're used, and participate in hands-on experiments and demonstrations.

Over 250 students attended the fair, which had over a dozen demonstrations from CAER, BCTC, KGS, Bluegrass Energy and other local energy groups.

The full article can be read at UKNow.

Jim Hower, UK CAER Scientist, Quoted in WLEX18 Story

clock January 16, 2015 11:14 by author Alice

In an investigative reporting piece on coal fires near Berea, Dr. Jim Hower was contacted for comment:

Jim Hower, a University of Kentucky researcher who studies Kentucky's underground fires, said the smoke can produce carcinogens. However, he said it likely doesn't present a health risk as long as people stay away from the plumes.

“In the course of being outside, walking by these fires, you want some protections, but they're also probably not in the concentration, or the length of exposure and intensity of exposure that are going to cause an immediate danger to somebody,” he said. “They smell bad, and it's certainly something you don't want to be living with.”

The full story can be viewed here on LEX18's website.

Carbon Materials Research at UK CAER Selected as Part of (IACMI) Manufacturing Innovation

clock January 9, 2015 14:52 by author Alice

From UKNOW publication .. "As part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, President Obama today announced the launch of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), and the Commonwealth and University of Kentucky as core partners of the institute."

To further advances in polymer composite materials, job creation and give a boost to US manufacturing, the US DOE selected the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) to become a national institute to provide better composite materials to the gas storage and automotive industries to mention a few. The IACMI is the fifth named institute of President Obama's National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.

UK CAER Director Rodney Andrews commented, "Congratulations to Matt Weisenberger and the Carbon Materials group! President Obama announced the ORNL led consortium, of which CAER is a part, has been selected to receive an $259 million Advanced Manufacturing Institute award. CAER's expertise in carbon fiber manufacturing has placed Matt and his team as the place to go for carbon fiber manufacturing research."

UKNOW quotes UK CAER's Carbon Materials Associate Director, Matt Weisenberger: "Through the Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER), UK offers unique capabilities for research-scale fiber manufacturing of novel precursors for carbon fiber, providing an important contribution to the Institute, Along with our partners, we look forward to aiding the progress of the American composite manufacturing industry, and training future leaders in the area of fiber manufacturing and composites."

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.


UK CAER Hosts Italian PhD Student

clock December 15, 2014 11:32 by author Alice

As part of a collaboration with Prof. Carlo Visconti and Prof. Luca Lietti from the University of Milan, Italy, UK-CAER’s CFC group, led by Dr. Burtron H. Davis, had the opportunity to host Ms. Michela Martinelli, a PhD graduate student, for several months.  During that time, Ms. Martinelli worked with UK-CAER research staff to investigate methods to improve low temperature water-gas shift catalysts for fuel cell applications.  She worked very hard, and one manuscript has already been accepted for publication in an excellent journal, while a second completed manuscript has been submitted as a book chapter.

During her stay at UK-CAER, Ms. Martinelli collaborated not only with our staff, but also with researchers at both Brookhaven National Laboratory, where she had the opportunity to visit and conduct experiments, and Argonne National Laboratory.  We are happy to report that Dr. Michela Martinelli successfully defended her PhD thesis in December of 2014.

UKNow Covers EEC/UKVis Documentary "Shifting Lines"

clock December 5, 2014 11:04 by author Alice

"Shifting Lines: Kentucky's Changing Energy Landscape" is a mini documentary produced by the University of Kentucky Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments with the assistance of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.

The film examines how Kentucky's electricity prices and abundant water supplies have attracted a wealth of manufacturing, and how recent trends in power generation and cost will affect this, as well as overall energy policy, moving forward.

See the full UKNow article here.

UK CAER Presents Workshop at 10th Annual GEMS Event

clock December 4, 2014 10:31 by author Alice

UK CAER Staff were workshop presenters at the 10th anniversary of the Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science (GEMS) event at the University of Kentucky, an event organized by the Girl Scouts of America. This event, their biggest to date with over 340 scouts in attendance, offers a number of hands-on and instructional workshops in the STEM fields.

Since 2005, the Girl Scouts Kentucky Wilderness Road Council and the UK College of Engineering has hosted the event, a series of workshops designed to teach girls about careers in science, the scientific method, how science is used in daily life, and how much math and science are connected.

Courtney Fisk, Stephanie Kesner, Sarah Peak, and Anne Oberlink ran a workshop on power generation. Students were shown how power is generated, and the basics of turbine power generation, and given the chance to use simple turbines and hand crank generators to light LEDs and power fans respectively. They were shown how electricity is measured, using a multimeter. Also, the basics of electricity transport were shown using simple circutis, batteries, buzzers, and fans.

UK CAER and KGS hold first EUOGS Conference

clock December 4, 2014 09:45 by author Alice

The Kentucky Geological Survey and Center for Applied Energy Research at the University of Kentucky teamed up to co-sponsor the first Eastern Unconventional Oil & Gas Symposium,  held at the Hilton in downtown Lexington, November 5-7.

Unconventional energy resource production refers to the use of non-traditional methods of oil and gas extraction or production from rocks not previously thought to have hydrocarbon potential. These include shales and low permeability sandstone. The boom in unconventional production has been driven in recent years by new technologies that can enhance oil and gas production from previously unrecoverable resources.

The conference was targeted for, but not limited to oil and gas producing areas in the Appalachian and Michigan basins, and addressed a number of upstream and downstream issues related to energy production, including:

  • Upstream Side: horizontal drilling, fracture stimulation, regulations, water issues, pipelines, induced seismicity, geology, and related topics.
  • Downstream Side: impacted by issues with regulated utilities, natural gas vehicles, sustainability, environmental impacts, and other focus areas.

There were well over 100 attendees from a half-dozen countries there to hear over 30 presentations on regulations, water treatment, geologic formations, and a variety of of new technologies and techniques. Keynote speakers included:

  • Dr. Len Peters, Secretary of the KY Energy Cabinet on Kentucky’s energy plan in a changing energy environment,
  • Duane Schrader of Louisville Gas and Electric, on Natural Gas generation from utilities’ persepctive,
  • Joe Morris, VP of Geology at EQT, on regional development,
  • Rich Haut of HARC, on gas flaring,
  • Mark Jergens of Midwest Energy Logistics, on gas and liquid markets.

Overall, the symposium was well-received, and interest in continuing the conference was high.

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.

Distinguished “West Virginian Award” presented to Dr. Burtron H. Davis

clock November 17, 2014 15:05 by author Alice

Following Governor Tomblin’s 2014 Energy Summit, which took place at the Stonewall Resort on October 23-24, West Virginia’s Governor Earl Ray Tomblin presented Dr. Burtron H. Davis with the “Distinguished West Virginian Award.” The Governor applauded Dr. Davis while declaring that the award represents the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a person from West Virginia for outstanding achievement and meritorious service. Senator Joe Manchin was also present during the celebration as well as Jeff Herholdt, Director of the West Virginia Division of Energy.

Depicted from left to right:  

Governor Tomblin, Dr. Burt Davis, Senator Joe Manchin and Director Jeff Herholdt. 

The Potomac State College at West Virginia University newsletter called the "Catamount Spirit" recently ran an article ... "Alumnus Burtron Davis Named Distinghished West Virginian".

Shifting Lines: Kentucky's Changing Energy Landscape

clock November 17, 2014 15:01 by author Alice

Please check out “Shifting Lines: Kentucky’s Changing Energy Landscape,” our new mini-documentary that explores the changes in our state's energy production and the implications of those changes on Kentucky’s economy. Stay tuned for a feature-length version coming in early 2015.​​​​

Tekcrete Fast Demonstration

clock November 13, 2014 10:27 by author Alice

Tekcrete applied to two portland cement beams and one water pipe.On Wednesday, November 5, 2014, the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research, along with their commercialization partner Orica USA, headed down to College Station, Texas to demonstrate the commercial product, Tekcrete Fast, and its delivery system. This research was supported by funding provided by the U. S. Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate, through a technology development and deployment program managed by The National Institute for Hometown Security. 

Tekcrete Fast is a rapidly setting, high strength gunite mix that can be used by rescue personnel to help protect them as they work at a disaster site. It also affords protection to victims trapped in damaged buildings, guarding them against potential collapse and additional harm.

The system is composed of a delivery vehicle capable of concreting or grouting prepackaged fiber reinforced cements, mortars and micro- aggregated concretes that are strong and rapidly setting. A range of compositions of cements have been tested that demonstrate high compressive and bonding strengths after only five hours of curing and structural strength in as little as 15 minutes.    

The demonstration consisted of three damaged Portland concrete beams set in the ground in a vertical manner, to replicate damaged structural beams, as well as a damaged water pipe. Tekcrete Fast was sprayed to repair those damaged items, and then tested three hours later. The beams were placed in a compressive strength machine, and compressed until a failure point was reached. It was concluded that the Portland concrete beams broke outside of the damaged areas where the Tekcrete Fast was sprayed, meaning the Tekcrete Fast was stronger than the actual Portland concrete beams themselves.

The UK CAER Environmental and Coal Technologies research group scientists involved in the demo were Tom Robl, Anne Oberlink, and Bob Jewell.

Algae Industry Magazine Picks up Story about UK CAER Algae Project

clock November 13, 2014 10:17 by author Alice
The Algae Industry 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.

New Positions Available from UK CAER PowerGen Research Group

clock November 12, 2014 19:06 by author Alice
Two new positions have been posted from the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research's Power Generation Research group. A CO2 Capture Chemical Engineer is being sought as well as a Post Doc in Chemical Looping Combustion and Gasification.

For more information, check the PowerGen web section under the JOBS tab:

PostDoc Researcher CO2 Capture Solvent Position is Open at UK CAER

clock October 24, 2014 15:40 by author Alice
The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (@UKCAER) is looking for an individual to fill a position/job for CO2 capture solvent and degradation and analysis. The successful candidate will develop test methods to identify and quantify solvent degradation products including nitrosamines as related CO2 capture processes. Other responsibilities will include developing gas phase sampling and analytical methodologies.

The position requires a Ph.D. in chemistry, chemical engineering or environmental science from an accredited college or university. Other degrees will be considered assuming relevant experience. Prior experience in solvent degradation, gas phase sampling and analytical method development using a variety of instrumentation is highly desirable.

More Information

November 2014 Eastern Unconventional Oil & Gas Symposium in Lexington, Kentucky

clock October 16, 2014 10:36 by author Alice
The University of Kentucky's Center for Applied Energy Research and the UK Kentucky Geological Survey are collaborating for an inaugural symposium focusing on unconventional oil and gas in the Eastern US.

The Eastern Unconventional Oil and Gas Symposium ("EUOGS," is being held in Lexington, Kentucky, November 5-7, 2014. The symposium seeks to address a broad range of upstream and downstream issues related to energy production from emerging resources in the northeast United States.

To register for the EUOGS event.

The agenda/schedule can be found on the website: