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KREC Competitive Grants Program

Fiscal Years 2008-2011 Awardees

Through the Competitive Grants Program, KREC advances and funds innovative research on renewable energy and energy efficiency that focuses on developing resource-responsible technologies and practices for the energy sector.  The 2009 Competitive Grants Program received 43 letters of inquiry for projects covering a wide range of renewable energy and energy efficiency research interests at six Kentucky universities.  Twenty-nine of these projects responded to KREC's Request for Proposals (RFP), issued in May.  Projects have been reviewed according to the guidelines set forth in the RFP.  A total of $864,000 will be awarded to seven recipients.


KREC is pleased to announce the grant award recipients for 2009:


Large Size, Lithium Ion Batteries for HEV Applications

$199,996, Mahendra Sunkara & Gamini Sumanasekera PI, University of Louisville

New energy technologies based on electric/hybrid electric vehicles (EV/HEV) are crucial to the enrichment of U.S. economic security and reducing dependence on foreign oil. Currently, a major hurdle to achieving this goal is that safe, cost-effective and weather-tolerant large lithium ion batteries for vehicular applications (requiring a pack-capacity for 100 miles per charge) are not readily available.

A Li-ion battery is comprised of a negative electrode (anode) which is typically graphite, a positive electrode and a non-aqueous liquid electrolyte. Although carbon electrodes have been the conventional anode materials. Although carbon electrodes have been the conventional anode materials, a few challenges persist and limit their use for electric vehicle applications.

Some of the disadvantages with carbon anode materials include low storage capacity, low compatibility with other polymer electrolytes and ionic liquids and safety temperature range. Hence, it is necessary to develop new non-carbon based anode materials. 


Optimal Energy Usage Control for Residential Solar Photovoltaic Systems

$50,000, Donald Colliver PI, University of Kentucky

In a house there are many different ways to utilize the energy production from photovoltaic collectors.  For example, the power can immediately be put back on to the electrical grid, used to heat or cool the house, used by many electrical appliances, or stored in either electrical or thermal storage devices to be used or put on the grid at a later time.  The control of these systems has the potential to be very complex.  Control systems need to be analyzed to determine the potential increases in efficiency and developed to optimize these energy storage and flows.

The objective of this project is to demonstrate and determine the effectiveness and maximum potential savings (energy, dollars or carbon) of an optimized energy management system in a house which has multiple sources of energy.


Nanostructured Device Designs for Enhancing the Performance of Thin Film CdTe/CdS and CIS/CdS Solar Cell Devices

$181,528, Vijay Singh PI, University of Kentucky

The increasing demand for energy (from 14 terawatts in year 2000 to 50 terawatts in year 2050) and its environmental impact requires a renewed effort and novel approaches to developing clean and efficient energy sources. Nanoscience and nanotechnology offer exciting approaches to addressing these challenges. At the root of the opportunities provided by nanotechnology is the fact that all the elementary steps of energy conversion (such as charge transfer, molecular rearrangement, chemical reactions etc.) take place at the nanoscale. Thus the development of new materials, device structures as well as methods to characterize, manipulate and assemble them, creates an entirely new paradigm for developing new and revolutionary energy technologies.

For the realization of the possibilities offered by nanoscale science and technology, development of novel techniques for fabricating large area, uniform, self-ordered films, is indispensable. Thus, there is a need for a process to economically fabricate large periodic arrays of semiconductor nanostructures.

The proposed research involves the fabrication, characterization and analysis of Nanoscale heterojunctions inside an insulating Alumina (Al2O3) matrix and applying this understanding to increase the short circuit currents and efficiencies of solar cells based on above semiconductors. The potential applications of this research include energy conversion, display devices and sensors.

This technology will establish a clear path for increasing the CdS/CIS cell efficiencies to 25% from the current value of 19.5%, and the CdS/CdTe cell efficiencies to 22% from the current value of 16.8%. These thin film solar cells are already part of a multi-billion industry, which is growing at a fast pace.


Investigation of Cooling Season Performance of a Solar Heat Pipe System

$91,568, M. Keith Sharp PI, University of Louisville

This project evaluates options for enhancing the performance during the summer cooling season of a novel passive solar heating system that utilizes the one-way heat transfer of heat pipes to significantly improve heating performance relative to conventional systems.

This system has already been shown to be roughly twice as effective as the typical direct gain system during the heating season and, with this proposed project, is expected to demonstrate similarly significant increases in effectiveness during the cooling season. This project will support the growth of renewable energy research in the Commonwealth and result in the creation of new commercial and industrial opportunities in renewable energy.

The objective of this project will be to quantitatively evaluate various cooling options with computer simulations, and bench-scale and full-scale experiments.


Production of High Value Cellulase Enzymes from Tobacco Biomass

$100,475, Eric Berson & Keith Davis PI, University of Louisville

The objective of this research project is the development of lower cost, plant-based expression systems to produce enhanced cellulose degrading enzymes. Reduction in the cost of mass-producing cellulase enzymes, a key economic bottleneck in the conversion of biomass to ethanol, will boost production of second generation biofuels. Tobacco plants can play a role in producing cellulase enzymes for ethanol production.

The objectives are to optimize plant-based expression systems to produce enhanced, lower-cost cellulose–degrading enzymes, compare plant-produced CBH1 to CBH1 purified from Spezyme CP, and obtain preliminary data for more comprehensive proposals to federal agencies  such as the Department of Energy and the United States Department of Agriculture.

This project incorporates an important Kentucky agricultural resource, tobacco, that has recently become under-utilized due to known health issues associated with smoking. The use of tobacco crops to mass produce enzymes works towards the goal of developing more efficient and economical methods for producing a fermentable sugar stream from biomass, and for the downstream conversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals.


Development of a Solid Catalyst-Based Technology for Production of Biodiesel from Waste Vegetable Oils

$200,000, Mahendra Sunkara & Paul Ratnasamy PI, University of Louisville

The 2007 RFS and Energy and Independence Security Act designates 22 billion gallons of the 36 billion gallons of biofuels production by 2022 to come from non-food–based biomass (such as nonfood crops, waste vegetable oils, algae, switch grass, waste biomass, municipal wastes etc.). There is, thus, a change in focus, during the last few years, from renewable to sustainable (economically and environmentally ) raw material for biofuels.

In response to this change, the biofuels industry worldwide is now focusing on the development of  next generation feedstocks and technologies. The United States produces in excess of 3 billion gallons of waste vegetable oils annually.

Catalytic technology can convert Waste Vegetable Oils (WVO) into biodiesel. Unlike refined oils, WVOs contain significant amounts of Free Fatty Acids (FFA), water and other impurities. A solid catalyst-based technology for conversion of WVOs is, currently, not available worldwide. We propose to develop such a technology in this project.

The project involves reacting triglycerides and FFAs in Waste Vegetabe Oils with methanol over a solid catalyst to yield, quantitatively, the fatty acid methyl esters (FAME known popularly as “ biodiesel”) and glycerol. This glycerol (> 98% pure) will be suitable for use as a chemical feedstock. Unlike the current alkali – catalyzed processes, there will be no metal contaminants (like Na or K) or soap in the outlet from the reactor containing the solid–catalyst. Biodiesel from WVOs is, still, one of the few economically profitable options available to the biofuels industry provided an appropriate technology is available.


Cost Effective Energy Efficient School Design-Applied Research – Energy Efficiency

$40,614, W. Mark McGinley PI, University of Louisville

The goal of this project will be to use Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Schools-New Construction and Major Renovations, and the Kentucky Green and Healthy Schools Design Guidelines to develop a list of low life cycle cost systems (both first cost and maintenance costs) that can be used to meet, at least in part, the energy efficiency and sustainability goals of the State of Kentucky.  Specially, the study will focus on evaluating building envelope systems, day-lighting and heating and cooling system configurations that have, or could be, incorporated into school designs.

The effort above will result in a matrix of sample building system designs that can be quickly reviewed by designers and school officials to quickly assess which systems might be implemented to reduce energy use, at the least cost. The investigation will also include a structural, energy and economic analyses of prototype elementary, middle and high school buildings to determine the effects of the systems described above, as well as the effect of:

1. Increased design life – The investigation will evaluate how life-cycle costs are changed by increasing the design life of the schools and what is the most cost effective design life for a school.

2. Day-lighting on envelop/building performance and cost.  The investigation will look at optimizing the costs of day-lighting systems while maintaining the effectiveness of this lighting source and the building energy performance.    

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