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November-December, 2003 - VOLUME 2, NUMBER 6

Taking Stock with CAER Director Ari Geertsema

Ari Geertsema, CAER Director

In spite of the war in Iraq, international unrest and budget constraints within the university and the state, CAER has not only been holding its own during 2003, but has moved into new areas of research that hold very good promise for the future.

While maintaining our core competencies, we have expanded our fields of research by adding Mark Crocker and Steve Lipka as two new key CAER team members in catalysis and in carbon materials respectively. Their research areas of environmental catalysis and electrochemical energy storage will help to extend our expertise.

We were very successful in the number of awards this year, being awarded 47 percent of the 40 proposals we submitted in response to a range of solicitations: probably an all time high for CAER and certainly quite a bit above the average for UK. The average amount per awarded proposal was, however below that of previous years.

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The largest award is a Clean Coal Power Initiative project supported by the US Department of Energy. The DOE will contribute $4.5 million to the project of $9 million in collaboration with CEMEX, Inc. and LG&E Energy, Inc. This project involves a coal ash beneficiation demonstration plant at the Ghent power station in Kentucky. It is the first time that a university was awarded a CCPI project and although a large part of the money will be spent on plant equipment, it will be a very significant demonstration of technology which was developed at CAER. Other projects in the Environmental and Coal Technologies group cover the recovery of filler materials from ash ponds and the beneficial use of wood waste combined with coal cleaning reject streams. A number of the awards of the ECT group are shared with UK's Department of Mining Engineering.

Regarding the catalytic work in the Clean Fuels and Chemicals group, new topics include expanding into hydrogen production optimization focusing on the catalysis for water gas shift technology. This could lead to improved economic viability for hydrogen production. Supporting work is done on fuel processing for fuel cells. In the area of environmental catalysis, new investigations were started on automotive catalysis. The DOE has not substantially supported the catalysis of Fischer-Tropsch reactions in recent years. This required an adjustment in an area in which CAER has established itself as a world class university research facility. This transformation was rewarded when a project to study the separation of FT wax and catalyst in a slurry reactor was selected by DOE.

A milepost was reached this year with the commissioning of a continuous nanotube production unit. The unit produces in excess of 1 kilogram per day, with the capability of producing larger amounts if required. These amounts place CAER among the leaders for the production of multi-walled nanotubes of above 90% purity. CAER is now in a position to use such quantities to produce a range of nanotubes-containing composite materials for characterization and assessment for potential applications. Work on carbon fibers and different applications of such fibers, as in concrete or in foams, form part of the current portfolio. There is particular interest in the work on composites by defense authorities. Actions are underway to work towards the scale-up and commercialization of this technology.

Electrochemical opportunities abound in combination with the carbon materials expertise at CAER. New work has been initiated to explore fuel cell systems and investigating electrochemical energy storage devices using carbon nanostructures and activated carbon fibers.

At the Institutional level, I was asked to chair a task force nominated by the Provost to evaluate energy and the environment as a thrust area at UK and to recommend steps to progress in this area. The report was presented in February 2003 and the topic was added to UK's list of 11 topics identified as priority areas for further development. During the year, interactions with our faculty colleagues also grew and we now have formal Faculty Associate relationships with seven UK academics.

CAER continues to be a facility of choice for a growing number of industries to have research and analytical services performed. We highly value these relationships with such institutions as they help to ensure the applied relevance and application of our research.

The end of the year is a time for reflection. In reviewing CAER's performance in 2003 it seems quite evident that it was the coming together of the old and the new that made for a successful year. By using the strengths founded on years of fossil fuel research and branching out to new and complimentary areas, the CAER has set the foundation for a very successful 2004.