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executive summary for FY 1994-1995

Frank Derbyshire

In writing this summary to our Annual Report, my intention is to provide a few pages that serve as a preface to the main body of the document, and that highlight the salient accomplishments, difficulties, and future prospects of the Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER). The content of the report documents the activities of the Center for the fiscal year extending from 1st July, 1994 to 30th June, 1995 (abbreviated as FY94 - 95), and also includes the period since the end of FY94 - 95 up to the time of publication (March, 1996).

Perhaps the most significant events last year were the changes in the balance of political power in Washington D.C. that, amongst other outcomes, created a climate of uncertainty about the availability of federal funding for research and development. The situation continues to be extremely volatile and has raised concerns, not only about our future funding, but also about the longevity of some of our existing programs. Until some degree of stability is attained, it is extremely difficult to plan for the long term. However, the circumstances are not wholly negative, in that they have prompted us to take stock of our position and, somewhat perversely, there has been an increase in our external funding, as shown in the figure depicting our past and projected funding status. Notable awards include a second phase contract on Fischer-Tropsch catalysis (Burt Davis), and two contracts in direct coal liquefaction: the second phase of a project to examine advanced concepts (Ed Givens) and a subcontract from CONSOL Inc. to investigate novel chemistry for coal liquefaction (Geoff Kimber). The Center has also made successful bids for EPSCoR funding (Burt Davis, B K Parekh, Dave Robertson, and John Stencel).

Past and Projected Budget FY 89 - 99

As in previous reports, the figure represents only those grants and contracts that have already been put into place: these have expected durations of anywhere up to three years. According to this conservative method of accounting, the data indicates that there will be a precipitate drop in external funds after FY96 - 97. However, based upon past performance, we fully expect that, as existing sponsored projects come to a close, they will be compensated by new ones. In this same vein, I am very pleased to document that since FY88 - 89 the cumulative value of our sponsored projects has now exceeded $33 million. Again, we have continued to meet, and have usually exceeded, our target to attain a leverage of external to state research funds of 1.0, and last year the Center provided $537,875 in indirect costs to UK.

Leverage of state dollars

Leverage of State Dollars

These achievements are a consequence of our very high rate of success in the funding of research proposals. The average acceptance rate for proposals submitted over the past six years is over 31%, which presents a fitting tribute to the high quality of the research conducted by the CAER research staff and their associates outside the Center. There is also an untapped resource for further growth. A recent internal survey showed that 19 CAER researchers and five UK faculty were involved in the preparation of 29 proposals that were submitted between October 1993 and April 1995. Another group of approximately 18 CAER researchers are also qualified and potentially capable of writing or contributing to proposal submissions. Over the last year, we have increased efforts to encourage these researchers, most of whom are relatively inexperienced, to become more active participants and to start to develop their own research ideas.

Distribution of funds by topic area: FY94 - 95

The figure below shows the current and projected internal and external funding by topic area. I have chosen this mode of presentation in preference to the breakdown by program area used in earlier reports, because in some areas of research the interests of different programs have become coincident, albeit with distinct technical approaches. The most prominent example is in coal ash clean-up, where the Waste Management, Combustion and Emissions and Coal Cleaning Programs are each investigating prospective technologies (grouped in the figure under the category "separations"). One of the reasons for this confluence of interests is that there is a continuing focus on the resolution of specific environmental problems, and possible solutions could be represented by technologies and expertise that exist within various program areas.

As in the past, the Department of Energy (DoE) is overwhelmingly the Center's biggest external sponsor, and the largest current contracts are in indirect and direct liquefaction. Mention has already been made of the fact that the DoE (and other agencies) are under siege, and issues of coal utilization are not currently enjoying a very favorable light. In keeping with the Center's mission to help to promote the development and utilization of Kentucky's resources, we will continue to support work on coal and other relevant areas. However, it is also clear that we cannot rely upon federal funding sources to sustain these efforts. In looking to establish a firmer basis for long-term stability and growth, we must increase our efforts to diversify our external funding base, and to develop funding more effectively in the areas of separations, materials, and waste management, in which areas we have already engendered a number of innovative and promising technology concepts. In this same context, thanks largely to the initiative of some CAER re-searchers and UK faculty, a promising number of contacts are being formed with industrial organizations, and there appear to be good possibilities for improving our funding support from this sector. In addition, successful interactions with an increasing number of faculty have helped to strengthen our mutual ability to respond to new funding solicitations. Virtually all of the Center's projects now contain at least some elements that are concerned with environmental issues, and we are striving to institute a Center-wide identity that will increase outside awareness of these endeavors, and to connect with complementary research that is being conducted on the Lexington Campus and in the Medical Center.

We have also made some progress in re-building our analytical capabilities. With support from the office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, and through conscientious attempts to economize on operating expenditures (through the office of Don Challman), we have been able to upgrade some older analytical equipment and to accumulate a significant part of the cost for a major new instrument purchase for the Analytical Laboratory (Gerald Thomas). The acquisition of the instrument (an inductively coupled plasma/mass spectrometer) will furnish the Center with a state-of-the-art analytical capability that will greatly enhance our progress in environmental research. Despite these positive gains, the erosion of our operating budget by inflation continues to be a pressing problem. Since FY91 - 92, that portion of the state budget that is available to meet running costs has been insufficient to maintain our operation. In FY93 - 94, there was a shortfall of $300,000 which increased to about $430,000 in FY94 - 95. The shortfall is met by salary release dollars that are produced by paying the salaries of permanent staff from external contracts. At present, our main strategy for coping with the deficiency in operating costs is to expand our external support.

In addition to our constant quest for federal and industrial funding, we have forwarded a special budget request for consideration of the 1996 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. The request is for recurring funds to enhance existing programs, improve facilities and equipment, and to firmly emplace our new program in combustion waste management. The disposal or utilization of the solid by-products from coal combustion is a matter of rapidly growing interest to coal producers and utilities, and the development of applicable low-cost technologies can have a direct influence on economic development. The extent of this interest was demonstrated in October of 1995, when the Waste Management Program (Tom Robl) organized the first CAER sponsored International Conference on Coal Ash Utilization. The attendance, which was originally projected to be around 120, reached almost 300 with speakers from 13 countries.

I will make mention of two other meetings that were arranged and hosted by the CAER: a workshop on Dry Coal Cleaning (organized by John Stencel) and a third workshop on Adsorbent Carbons (organized by the Materials Group). Both meetings served the CAER well in propagating information about our research activities. In a similar vein, our bimonthly newsletter, Energeia (Editor, Marybeth McAlister) is now in its seventh year and is beginning to become a well-recognized channel for communication, as we hope will be the case for our newly-launched home page on the Inter-net's World Wide Web (address, http: //www.caer.uky.edu). The Center's output in terms of publications and our representation at scientific meetings has again been high, with 56 refereed papers appearing in scientific journals during FY94 - 95. A further indicator of productivity is the 11 patent applications pending.

Although most of this summary, and indeed the main body of the report, accurately indicates that the Center's primary business is in research, I wish to stress that we continually endeavor to expand our roles in instruction and in service. This year, the Fuel Science course that is taught predominantly by CAER staff reached a new high with an enrollment of thirty students, starting from six in 1990. CAER staff have been involved in helping to teach other courses, and this year we also held a very successful summer internship program for a limited number of high school juniors and seniors.

In closing, I realize that in my position as Director I have the habit of tempering my accounts of success with cautions, and with reminders (primarily to myself) not to become complacent. However, without reservation, I will attribute the CAER's accomplishments entirely to its staff and researchers, and to our friends and supporters within and outside UK.


Frank Derbyshire, CAER Director

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