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Coal/Ash Applied Petrology Laboratory

The Applied Petrology Laboratory is part of the Environmental and Coal Technologies Group. Research is conducted on the petrographic and geochemical characterization of Kentucky coals; the interaction of coal petrology with grinding and beneficiation properties; the petrology of carbons; the petrology of coal-combustion by-products, particularly fly ash; rare earth element resources in coal and fly ash; and the characteristics of natural and anthropogenic coal fires.

  • UK REVEAL VIDEO - UK Looks for Natural Products in Kentucky's Unique Environments
  • November 11, 2013 - Could coal fires or subterranean rocks yield tomorrow's cancer drugs? Maybe, says University of Kentucky researchers ... natural products, molecules that have evolved for function over time, in Kentucky's unique environments. - (Coal Mine Fires - YouTube Version)

Research interactions outside of the CAER are maintained with coal producers and coal-burning utilities; faculty at several universities, state and national surveys including:


The petrology laboratory at the CAER was established by Gilbert Smith, one of the original associate directors, in 1977. Smith was trained in coal petrology by Aureal Cross, his advisor at West Virginia University, and by Gilbert Cady in the years Smith worked for the Ohio Geological Survey.

Jim Hower, a student of Alan Davis at Penn State, arrived in 1978 and joined Garry Wild in starting the coal petrographic research program at the center. Through the 1980's research focused on the characterization of Kentucky coals, with emphasis on the major economic coals; on the petrographic interactions with coal beneficiation; and on the characterization of coal liquefaction residues. Starting in the early 1990's, the emphasis shifted towards the characterization of coal combustion by-products (CCBs) from Kentucky power plants.

Based on the power plant survey, we determined major trends in the quality and production of CCB's. Further research has been conducted on the impact of low-NOx combustion on the petrography of fly ash and on the factors influencing the distribution of trace elements, with a current emphasis on mercury in fly ash and flue-gas desulfurization materials.

In addition to research, the petrology laboratory also provides analytical services. Typical services include:

  1. vitrinite reflectance and maceral analyses of coal;
  2. petrographic analysis of mixed coal, coke, tar, and sediments;
  3. petrographic analyses of CCBs;
  4. as well as more unusual analyses, such as the examination of material collected on air filters.

Collections housed at the CAER Petrology Laboratory include:

Jim Hower in UK CAER Petrology Lab
Contact: Jim Hower
Manager, Applied Petrology Laboratory
Center for Applied Energy Research
University of Kentucky
  • Dr. James C. Hower - Applied Petrology - Research focuses on coal and fly ash petrology; characterization of by-products from coal combustion; and assessment of coal-combustion by-product production in Kentucky. General expertise is in coal geology and coal petrology.

Dr. Hower's Professional Activities include:

Publications of Interest:

Photo Gallery
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Keywords: coal geology, coal, petrology, maceral, vitrinite reflectance, organic petrology, coal petrology, fly ash, coal rank, microscopy, forensic petrology