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executive summary for FY 1996-1997

Frank Derbyshire
The publication of this annual report denotes a special year in the history of the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER), as 1997 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Center's foundation. The Center came into being as a result of vision and commitment by farsighted leaders in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In 1974, Senator Wendell Ford, then Governor of Kentucky, introduced legislation to create an Energy Development and Demonstration Trust Fund with a commitment of $50 million, and with further appropriations of $3.7 million for coal research, and $4 million for the construction of a state-of-the-art coal research laboratory. This initiative was further strengthened in 1975, when Governor Julian Carroll established the Kentucky Center for Energy Research (now the CAER) and the Kentucky Department of Energy. The Center building was officially dedicated in July, 1977. These decisive actions presented an aggressive response to the immense opportunities offered by an unprecedented national commitment to develop technologies to produce liquid fuels from coal and to strive toward energy independence and security.

As well as giving cause for celebration, this anniversary also provided a convenient juncture at which to assess the Center's present position and future prospects. Before 1988, when the responsibility for the Center was transferred to UK, the guidelines for the Center's direction were provided in Chapter 152 of the Kentucky revised statutes (KRS):

"It is the policy of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to encourage and promote the development and demonstration of efficient, environmentally acceptable and commercially feasible technologies, techniques, and processes for production, transportation, conversion, and utilization of coal, oil shale and tar sands in liquid, gaseous, or solid forms." (KRS 152.750).

In something of a watershed in the Center's history, effective from 1st July, 1988, the administrative and management responsibility was turned over to the University of Kentucky. Since becoming a part of UK, the basic mission of the Center, as it is now defined, has remained essentially unaltered:

However, from that time, the manner of the Center's operation was substantially modified in order to fulfill its functions and obligations as an integral and contributing component of the university, and to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the new situation to make the most effective use of the state's investment. I have a personal connection with the latter phase of the CAER history. I was appointed Director in 1989, and since that time the Center's fortunes and my own have followed the same course. In this summary, I would like to review some of the principal changes that have occurred since 1988, to highlight some of the more significant developments and achievements, and to show that the Center's progress towards meeting its goals has been strengthened by its transfer to the university.

A fundamental change was to actively try to utilize the Center's budget (reduced by one half after 1988) as a base for attracting additional research funds from federal agencies, industry and other sources. In this respect, we have been very successful, with a considerable and sustained growth in external funds that has met and exceeded our target of attaining a minimum ratio of state research dollars to external dollars of 1.0. In specific terms, over the past eight years we have attracted over $32.1M in research funds that have helped to enhance research and graduate study at UK.


The nature of the Center's activities has also undergone certain transformations. Probably the greatest changes in research program direction have been impelled by shifts in technological emphasis and needs. In order to continue to realize our objectives, we have striven to maintain flexibility and respond to new priorities. Prevailing themes in the evolution of the Center's programs are the environmental impacts of energy technologies, and expansion into the national and international arenas while continuing to respond to local and regional needs. Most of the barriers to energy use are shared by other states and other nations, and regional development is strongly dependent upon export markets. We can most effectively find solutions to complex problems through establishing interactions and appropriate collaborations with other researchers and organizations. The first International Conference on Coal Ash Utilization that was organized by the CAER in October, 1995 provides an excellent example of the common interests that exist among the industrialized nations. In this case, these interests concern the use and disposal of coal combustion by-products. There were over 300 attendees at this first meeting representing 13 countries aand 70 papers were presented. The second conference was held in Lexington in October, 1997 and was met with still greater enthusiasm: 313 attendees from 21 countries, and with 101 presentations.

Activities in direct and indirect coal liquefaction have continued at a high level through the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) and the research and capabilities in the Catalysis program achievement in Fischer-Tropsch synthesis have attracted considerable industrial attention to the Centerís expertise in catalyst development and testing. While the commercialization of stand-alone liquefaction technologies is still distant, we can anticipate the earlier emergence of plants in which coal conversion is integrated with other processes. For example, chemicals, fuels, and materials could be co-produced with electric power in advanced systems that are efficient and environmentally friendly. We are working with the Kentucky Coal Export and Marketing Council and the DoE to examine this very possibility. Our vision of such a plant is shown in the schematic below.

In comparison, fluid bed combustion, once a major area of interest, has become a mature technology and is at a stage where we can no longer usefully participate. Similarly, there is no further work on process development for the production of oil from Eastern oil shale. In their place, research has evolved and diversified and new programs have arisen. In many cases, program initiatives have helped to forge lasting interactions with faculty in the Colleges of Engineering and Arts & Science.

For example, the Waste Management program came into being to address issues relating to the utilization and disposal of coal combustion by-products. Investigations of froth flotation for the removal of carbon from fly ash resulted in the issue of a patent in October, 1995. The reduction in carbon content allows specifications to be met for the use of fly ash in concrete. In an example of technology transfer, the intellectual property has now been licensed to Advanced Pozzolan Technologies (APT) which is providing funding for pilot-scale research leading to commercialization. Another project in conjunction with the Civil Engineering Department examines the application of flue gas desulfurization materials as a structural fill for abandoned high-wall mines. A successful outcome could lead to methods for extracting additional coal that has been "stranded" by the mining methods that were used in the past.

In the Combustion and Emissions program, a dry technology has been developed for the separation of solid particles through differential electrostatic charging. The research has raised interest in licensing and commercializing an alternative process to reduce the carbon content of fly ash. Other quite diverse industrial applications are envisaged in the field of fine particle separation and classification.

The scope of the Coal Cleaning program has also broadened. The continuation of longstanding and successful work in fine coal cleaning has provided a scientific basis to examine other issues. Research on the dewatering of fine-coal slurries and the recovery of clean coal from waste ponds is directed to immediate or near-term problems faced by the coal, utility, and related industries, while spin-off technologies have led to other significant initiatives in industrial wastewater treatment. There are tremendous coal reserves in the form of waste material from coal production and processing which represent another form of "stranded coal." Their recovery could be of significant economic value and would also reduce land pollution.

The Materials program represents another relatively new venture, and has brought close associations with faculty in the University's Departments of Physics & Astronomy, Chemical & Materials Engineering, and Chemistry. The principal focus is on carbon-based materials. Research projects range from fundamental studies of advanced materials, to the generation of porous carbons from resources such as coal and wood, and applications in environmental protection and remediation. Although the production of carbon materials exerts an almost negligible influence on the demand for coal or other raw materials, the availability of carbon products can have a profound effect on the consumption of coal for power generation by helping to facilitate the clean, efficient, and acceptable production of electricity, and by creating a demand for electrical power. By way of illustration, the table below shows the amount of electrical power that is consumed by the aluminum and steel industries due to their use of carbon and graphite electrodes.

Synergism between carbon materials and fuel use of coal
Industry Carbon Power Consumption (million kwh) Coal Equivalent (million tons)
Aluminum Anodes 67,300 24.3
Steel Coke, electrodes 38,200 13.8

Measures of the Center's research success and the quality of our work are reflected by the output of scholarly publications, presentations and representation at meetings, and the development of intellectual property.

Since FY 1989-90:
Refereed Publications:346
Presentations and
Nonrefereed publications:
New Patent Applications:25
Patents Accepted:5


A natural outgrowth of the Centerís research and development programs is that the research staff becomes intrinsically involved in the guidance of undergraduate and graduate students. These activities have provided a cornerstone for our efforts to reinforce, expand, and diversify our endeavors in instruction. An important step has been to encourage faculty to work with Center staff and to conduct some of their work in our laboratories. In a few cases, we have made specific arrangements to develop close collaborations through the appointment of Faculty Associates: Peter Eklund (Physics and Astronomy), Eric Grulke (Chemical & Materials Engineering), Pinar Menguc (Mechanical Engineering), David Robertson (Chemistry), and recently Robert Haddon (Chemistry).

In other instances, connections are less formally defined but are no less important, and we are continually looking to increase the extent of these associations. Access to the CAER facilities and instrumentation are made freely available, and particular attempts have been made to assist in the recruitment and start-up of new faculty. A long-standing objective to establish joint faculty appointments is closer to realization thanks to an arrangement with Eric Grulke, Chair, Department of Chemical & Materials Engineering, in which we will share the cost of a new position that is intended to strengthen campus-wide activities in environmental science and engineering. In addition, CAER staff continue to hold adjunct faculty positions (BK Parekh, Mining Engineering); (Jim Hower, Geology); (Burt Davis, Chemistry), to direct student research, and to contribute to teaching courses. Of particular note is the successful course in Fuel Science that is taught mostly by CAER researchers, and whose attendance has grown steadily since its inception in 1990. In total, since 1989, the Center has provided $3.9M in direct support of students, post-doctoral researchers and faculty.

The Center's instructional outreach has also been extended to the high schools of the Commonwealth. In 1993, a summer high school internship program was started through the initiative of Marybeth McAlister. In the program, approximately eight selected students spend a two-week internship at the Center. Under the guidance of a mentor, each student is directly involved in a specific project of their own and in addition learns about research in other project areas. The educational experience is augmented by field trips, and at the end of the internship students give presentations on their work. From 1997 to 1999, the program will be sponsored by the (U.S. Department of Energy) EPSCoR program. Because of the time and effort required, the scope of the program is not expected to increase significantly in the future. However, it is apparent that the sustained experience that the students gain makes a lasting impression upon them and that it can influence their future career choice.

Another instructional role that we will look to address in the future is to aid in public education about the value of science and technology, its role in economic development, and the positive contributions that are made by the academic community. There is a general perception that coal is dirty and polluting, which historically derives from the time of the Industrial Revolution until the latter part of this century when coal was burned without adequate controls, adversely affecting the environment. This is no longer the case. We now have available advanced processes that can allow coal to be used cleanly and efficiently to produce even lower cost electricity, and these technologies are being improved all the time. Virtually every projected energy scenario shows that the use of coal, our largest indigenous energy resource, will continue to grow as we enter the 21st century. The Center is well-positioned to help to disseminate factual information that can help to correct some of the erroneous popular myths about energy use.


The Center has responsibilities that extend beyond the university boundaries and that are met in different ways. We respond to requests for information from the general public, schools, and other bodies, and provide analytical and consulting assistance to industry and government. The greater portion of our service function is in the form of numerous, relatively small tasks that are of limited duration. Certain more significant efforts are mentioned for convenience under the labels of research and instruction, although they nevertheless constitute a service. Examples that are given above include our association and support of the Kentucky Coal Export and Marketing Council, technology transfer through a licensing agreement with Advanced Pozzolan Technologies, and the successful high-school internship program.

With industry, the division between research and service is often diffuse. Recently, we have launched new initiatives to strengthen and diversify the Centerís contributions to industry. In one case, we are trying to extend our analytical support services into problem-solving and collaborative research and development projects. In a second, we are exploring the prospect of forming a consortium of industries with common concerns in the treatment of effluent wastewaters, in order to investigate potential solutions.

I believe that the quality of research and the achievements of the Centerís staff have been our most formidable assets throughout the past twenty years. I also believe that it is true to say that since 1988 the CAER has become recognized nationally and internationally as a reputable and significant entity in energy research and development. There are several contributory reasons. First, the Centerís location in the university environment has brought stability, enhanced morale, and has introduced new opportunities. Second, we have made positive attempts to disseminate information about our activities via media such as our newsletter Energeia and our more recently developed internet page. Third, we are actively involved in the scientific community through hosting workshops and conferences, and through supporting other meetings and events. Last, we have opened our doors and have developed firm interactions and collaborations with other researchers and organizations. The constant stream of visitors received by the Center and the exchanges made in turn by the Centerís staff present the most effective channels of communication - through word of mouth.

I have set down these thoughts and observations to indicate the good use that has been made of the 20 year investment in the Center by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the University of Kentucky. For the future, our challenge is to continue to excel, a responsibility that poses a hard task as it is always more difficult to sustain momentum than to initiate it. The key to success is to recognize and adapt to change as technologies advance and priorities alter, and to avoid complacency.

Frank Derbyshire, CAER Director

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