University of Kentucky CAER Home

Specialized Research Facilities

Algae Greenhouse

Algae Greenhouse construction began in the summer of 2009. The 2500 square foot commercial-grade greenhouse serves as a proving ground for photobioreactors and provides a temperature-stabilized facility where different algae growing conditions can be tested.

Construction of algae tubes to be shipped to Duke Energy's East Bend Station

The greenhouse was originally built for a project concerned with the utilization waste CO2 and heat from a coal-fired power plant to cultivate algae, which could then be processed into fuel and other products. While lowering CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants is the project's main focus, to determine the most economically-favorable strategy, the production of biofuels or bioproducts from algae is also being investigated.

After two years of working out the kinks, the project is being scaled-up significantly at a Kentucky coal-fired power station (Duke Energy's East Bend Power Plant), where the photobioreactor will be expanded from a cultivation capacity of 4,000 gallons of algae (as in the greenhouse), to potentially over 40,000 gallons at the power plant. To this end, the current 49 tubes in the greenhouse will be expanded approximately ten-fold to 500 tubes on site.

After the demonstration-scale facility is in place, the green house will continue to be used as a culturing facility and for process-development studies.

At this time the facility is closed to those not involved with the CAER. However, we would be interested in algae culturing for external entities.

Contact Mike Wilson.

Duke Energy's East Bend Station Project model - The construction of a new pilot scale photo bioreactor at a power plant (artist drawing).

Artist's rendition of CAER photobioreactor installed at a power plant.


Applied Petrology Lab

In the Applied Petrology (Microscopy) Lab research is conducted on the petrographic (mineral and textural relationships) and geochemical characterization of Kentucky coals; the interaction of coal petrology with grinding and beneficiation properties; the petrology of carbons; the characteristics of natural and anthropogenic coal fires; and the petrology of coal-combustion by-products (CCBs), particularly fly ash.

UK CAER Petrology Lab

Based on a series of power plant surveys conducted every five years (since 1992), we determine major trends in the quality and production of CCBs. 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 flue-gas desulfurization materials.

Research interactions and analytical services outside of the CAER are maintained with coal producers and coal-burning utilities; faculty at several universities; and state and national geological surveys. The laboratory contains five microscopes capable of white- and blue-light microscopy, vitrinite reflectance, and heating-stage studies. Three of the microscopes are equipped with digital cameras.

Contact Jim Hower.


Carbon Spinline Lab

UK CAER Spinline Carbon Lab

The Carbon Spinline Building contains the largest carbon fiber spinline found in an academic setting anywhere in the world. The 100 foot long spinning line is housed in a 5,000 square foot building. The line was built to this scale to balance the production of meaningful research quantities of precursor tow (up to 1 lb/working day) while minimizing the time and effort needed for line change-over.

In this way, the line efficiently tests the 'spinnability' of experimental precursor 'dopes,' prepared in-house, as well as producing enough fiber for subsequent thermal processing. It is capable of producing enough fiber for prototyping near-finished carbon products like composites and foams. These spinning technologies are readily transferable to industry and are available to commercial and government clients.

Contact Matt Weisenberger.


Catalysts Lab

Catalyst research and testing is performed at CAER within the world's largest open-access catalyst testing lab. Researchers work to define scientific principles involved in catalysis as well as applying these scientific principles to the many applications of catalysts in industry. The lab is particularly well-equipped with 23 CSTR reactor systems and routinely operates reactors from the small bench scale to the pilot-plant scale (6' x 2" reactor). It is well equipped with analytical instrumentation for catalyst characterization and product evaluation.

UK CAER Catalyst Lab

The group is well equipped and contains experts in catalyst preparation. Quantities of 1 kg of catalysts are routinely prepared and up to 1 ton of wet catalysts can be prepared when necessary. The pilot plant is a flexible facility, operating in the fixed bed, fluid bed and slurry bubble column modes.

Analytical Services are available for external clients.

Contact Leslie Hughes.


Chemical Thermodynamics and Mass Transfer Lab

Chemical thermodynamics and mass transfer measurements are conducted in this laboratory. Using state of the art equipment researchers are able to determine critical thermodynamic parameters and mass transfer parameters. Thermodynamics are measured experimentally using a pressurized vapor liquid equilibrium (VLE) apparatus. VLE curves have been widely used for designing and operating guidelines for chemical separation units. From the measurements taken using the pressure cell combined with mathematical modeling various critical thermodynamic parameters can be obtained. These include the partial pressure of various gasses as a function of temperature, enthalpy of absorption, enthalpy of dissolution, and activity coefficients, and Henry's constant.

UK CAER Chemical Thermodynamics Lab


(Photo to right: A vapor-liquid equilibrium reactor cell for measuring properties of carbon capture solvents.)


The central parts of the equipment are a thermostated high-pressure PARR autoclave (1800 psi, 225 °C) with a sapphire window in the front face, a mechanical stirrer, gas and liquid ports, and high accuracy pressure transducers. An Agilent 7890A gas chromatograph is utilized to sample the gas phase and quantitate components.


Mass transfer data can be collected on one of 2 wetted wall columns available. From the data obtained related to the rate of absorption of a gas at various inlet partial pressures the fundamental mass transfer coefficients can be obtained. The units have been configured primarily for the absorption of CO2 into amine solutions with gas inlet flow rates variable (mass flow controllers) to accommodate solvents with different reaction rates at ambient pressure. The lab is also equipped with other equipment critical to the determination of mass transfer including thermostated Cannon-Fenske viscometers and a capillary surface tension measurement device.

Contact Kunlei Liu.


Corrosion Test Lab

UK CAER Corrosion Lab

Photo to left: A corrosion test cell.


Various capabilities and resources are available in the corrosion test lab including an electrochemical test cell and a traditional long term test cell. The electrochemical apparatus allows the capability of varieties of electrochemical testing useful for studying corrosion rate and mechanism including potentiodynamic polarization, linear polarization resistance (LPR), electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) and cyclic polarization. The electrochemical corrosion apparatuses include a Gamry Reference 600 Potentiostat/Galvanostat, Electrode Rotator, and a Princeton Applied Research corrosion cell kit (K0047). The lab also has a custom traditional immersion corrosion cell with maximum design pressure and temperature of 250 psi and 200 °C respectively. Microstructure and morphology of sample surfaces can be observed/analyzed by SEM/EDX and XRD. The lab is also engaged in the development of coatings to enhance corrosion resistance and contains electrochemical cells and furnaces to produce coatings with unique properties.

Contact Kunlei Liu.


Engineered Fuels Lab

The Engineered Fuels lab produces transportable, high-value fuel briquettes and pellets from low-value or waste fine coal and biomass. Engineered Fuels lab staff has collaborated with state, federal, and industrial partners on numerous briquetting and pelletization projects culminating in two licensing agreements. Working with Briquettes in a lab

Specialized equipment within the Engineered Fuels lab includes a 200-lb/hour roll briquetter with delivery of a 1,000-lb/hr briquetter scheduled in 2012, two pan pelletizers, a 200-lb/hour knife mill dedicated to biomass preparation, controlled-temperature/ humidity chambers, a 30 kw microwave dryer, industrial grade mixers, and miscellaneous briquette-durability test equipment. Coupled with support from other sectors within the CAER, the Engineered Fuels lab contains the capabilities and expertise to conduct projects ranging from small-scale laboratory research to larger-scale production runs including the critical aspects of feedstock preparation, pellet/briquette production, and product evaluation.

Contact Darrell Taulbee.


Mineral Processing Lab

The Mineral Processing Building is a sustained laboratory supporting the development of products and industries that manufacture construction materials from coal combustion by-products (CCB's) e.g., cements, grouts, wallboard, masonry block, fillers, roofing materials, etc. The research takes place in a new 6,400 ft2 building. In addition to chemical and physical analytical capabilities, the laboratory houses equipment to prepare, cure, and test mortar, concrete and masonry specimens, and contains an extensive aggregate preparation and characterization area. The facility also has advanced concrete testing instrumentation, apparatuses for curing under a variety of conditions, materials handling equipment, and ergonomic work stations to prepare concrete/mortar/masonry specimens.

UK CAER Minerals Lab

The facility contains an HED International, rotary kiln which has a 6 inch diameter tube with a 60 inch heated length, and is capable of operating at 1350°C. This pilot-scale rotary kiln enables the production of large quantities of cement fabricated from CCB's, allowing research to expand into concrete-scale testing. Coupled with laser particle-size analysis, isothermal and adiabatic calorimetry, microscopic analysis, the CAER is uniquely equipped in low-energy cement research. The addition of an Instron 600DX hydraulic universal testing machine with a load capacity of 135,000 lbs-force, allows numerous combinations of physical testing to mortar, concrete, and masonry specimens. The tests are entirely computer controlled, and the data are processed using Instron software. Typical tests include tensile, compression, shear, bend, pull-off, and flexure.

Bob Jewell in the UK CAER Minerals Lab

The lab is also equipped to conduct a variety of wet and dry mineral and coal separations using a variety of techniques at batch and continuous pilot scales. Batch-scale capabilities consist of equipment for material handling and sampling, comminution, screening, classification, flotation, vacuum and pressure filtration, density separation, and magnetic separation. Pilot-scale capabilities consist of equipment that can be arranged in a variety of configurations to continuously process raw materials. Capabilities include materials handling, comminution, screening, density separation, magnetic separation, froth flotation (column and mechanical), classification (coarse, fine and ultra-fine) and vacuum filtration. Extensive ancillary equipment is also available including a variety of mechanical mixers, pumps, tanks, and drying capabilities. Additionally, field sampling capabilities include soft sediment sampling, hand and mechanical augering, vibracoring and a self-propelled amphibious drill rig capable of both rotary and percussive drilling.

Contact Bob Jewell.


Fuels-Processing Development Facility

We anticipate that the major components of the process development unit will be operational by 2013.

Fuels-Processing Development Facility will be an integrated coal/biomass-to-liquids standalone facility. The gasification unit will be capable of producing one barrel of fuel per day; and can be used as a test-bed for new concepts at an affordable level. Researchers will evaluate the commercial and technical viability of advanced technologies to produce fuels by the Fischer-Tropsch method, a long-established way of converting petroleum substitutes into transportation fuels, via gasification.

CTL Processes and Products

By installing a coal/biomass gasifier that can be tuned to supply the Center's existing reactors, it makes use of 30 years of expertise gleaned by CAER's fuel processing researchers. This 5,800 square foot facility will be open-access, and findings will be in the public domain to aid the wider scientific and industrial community. Environmental considerations, particularly how to manage and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from these plants, will be a primary objective of the research.

Individual process units will be procured and installed, according to the front end engineering and design study that has been completed for the major process units. As further funding is made available, additional process units will be procured and installed.

Contact Andy Placido.


Renewable Fuels Lab

The Renewable Fuels Lab is dedicated to developing improved processes for biomass use, and thereby supporting the burgeoning biofuels industry in Kentucky. The Commonwealth is well-positioned to become a leader in biofuels production. The state's abundance of natural resources, including forestry wastes and agricultural residues, in addition to crops such as corn and soybeans, offers a huge resource of biomass.

UK CAER Renewable Fuels Lab

The laboratories are housed at the CAER and the Biosystems and Agriculture Engineering Department in the College of Agriculture. The laboratory is open to researchers from other UK departments, and Kentucky institutions working in biofuels.

Services include, but are not limited to, autoclave reactors, GC, GC/MS, and GC/Simulated Distillation. If interested please contact Mark Crocker, Tonya Morgan or Czarena Crofcheck for more information.