The University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research has been engaged with industries in Kentucky and beyond for nearly 40 years, creating and enhancing energy technologies to improve the environment. Their most recent engagement was revealed this past October, when researchers, state legislators and officials, along with utility representatives, gathered to announce funding to scale-up the center's research on carbon capture using algae by demonstrating the process at the East Kentucky Power Cooperative's (EKPC) Dale Power Station in Winchester, Ky.
Researchers from the CAER and the UK Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering are using the algae to convert CO2 emissions into biomass. The double reward of the research is that it appears that valuable co-products can be gained at the end of the process. Like plants, algae use CO2 to grow. Researchers are looking at the potential of using waste CO2 and heat from a coal-fired power plant to cultivate algae, which can then be processed into value-added products like biodiesel, animal feed, fertilizer, and chemicals.
The technology is so promising that the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet is committing nearly $1.3 million over two years, while EKPC is contributing in-kind costs to the project estimated at $75,000, and UK is providing a $543,663 cost share.
"East Kentucky Power Cooperative is proud to partner with UK and the state to explore viable options for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants while keeping costs affordable," said Tony Campbell, CEO of EKPC. "This research is vital to EKPC and to Kentucky's economy."
"It's imperative that we find ways to use our abundant coal resources in an environmentally sensitive manner to affordably provide the growing demands for energy in Kentucky," Gov. Steve Beshear said. "Our success in achieving this goal will truly benefit Kentucky's citizens, businesses and industries. It will also benefit the nation as a whole, which heavily depends on the manufactured goods Kentucky is able to produce thanks to our relatively low electricity rates. That is why we support projects such as this and are grateful to the Kentucky General Assembly for its leadership and support, as well."
This demonstration will use a closed culture system with vertical photobioreactor tubes that are 8-feet tall by 5 inches in diameter. Once the system is installed, the entire bank of tubes will equal the length of a football field. Algae and water flow continuously through the tubes, with no water loss. The algae are continuously harvested by sedimentation. This is a simple, inexpensive process where the algae settle in a tank and are then removed as a thick paste.
The smaller-scale project began in a commercial-scale greenhouse at CAER and has been refined for the last three years.
"Carbon dioxide levels have risen in the last several decades in part because of fossil fuel combustion," said Rodney Andrews, director of CAER. "However, coal will remain the main source of electric power for the foreseeable future. This project is one of the technologies that could curb CO2 emissions, while burning fossil fuels to allow coal to be burned in a more carbon neutral way."
The CAER is one of UK's multidisciplinary research centers. Its energy research provides a focal point for coal and environmental research in Kentucky. Research efforts are directed to: coal cleaning, beneficiation, utilization, and conversion process technologies. Environmental issues relating to fuel use and coal combustion by-products constitute a major effort, along with the derivation of high added-value materials and chemicals from energy resources.