University of Louisville
CC Reporter

Above: Undergraduate engineering student Amelia Gandara works on a plasma reeactor

Issue 1 - August 2011

The Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research was established at the University of Louisville in 2009 with a legislative mandate to develop a renewable energy research center and generous pledge of support from Hank and Rebecca Conn. The Conn Center mission is to perform research and development on practical, economical, and potentially commercializable renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and resources.

This periodic newsletter will keep you informed of progress being made at the Conn Center and by its partners.

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Dr. Moises Carreon Receives 2011 NSF CAREER Award

Dr. Moises Carreon, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering in the Speed School of Engineering at UofL, has been named a 2011 recipient of the NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award . This award acknowledges his overall research productivity, scholarship, and value as a rising junior faculty member. He was one of the first junior faculty members that Conn Center helped attract to UofL by providing resources for establishing his laboratory as well as access to expertise and facilities. Conn Center Research Scientists Jacek Jasinski and Paul Ratnasamy also provided technical expertise and access to critical instrumentation, particularly in the areas of Materials Characterization and Catalysis, respectively.

Dr. Carreon’s NSF CAREER-funded research aims at demonstrating the potential of zeolite imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs) as membranes for the separation of CO2 from light gases and other important functional gas separations. Beyond cleaning natural gas, cost effective technologies for carbon dioxide capture technology from flue gases is needed immediately for the state of KY where over 92% of its electricity is generated via coal fired power plants.

The CAREER Award is given to few select junior faculty members who have shown a good track record and promise for future success. Dr. Carreon was able to take advantage of the Conn Center’s support, expertise, and facilities to produce a very good number of manuscripts (twelve) in high-quality journals in just three years.

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Mr. Ezra Clark Named 2011 Goldwater Scholar

Ezra L. Clark, a junior undergraduate chemical engineering student at UofL, was named a 2011 Scholar by the highly prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence Program for his research in the area of renewable energy technologies. Ezra, who is a member of the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research, was nominated for the highly competitive award based on his academic merits, innovative scientific research, and leadership qualities. For the past two years, he has worked with Dr. Mahendra K. Sunkara , Professor of Chemical Engineering and Interim Director of the Conn Center. Ezra has undertaken numerous research projects exploring the use of nanotechnology in energy conversion applications. His current research efforts include synthesis of metal oxide nanowires for different metal systems over large surface areas and in bulk quantities. Once synthesized, these nanowires undergo testing and characterization to validate their capabilities as anode materials for lithium-ion batteries.

Sunkara, Ezra’s mentor and major professor, gives high praise to his student. “When Ezra began his studies in the Conn Center, he was already very talented academically but was not entirely sure of his life’s path. In a short time, he saw how basic advances in materials can have transformational affects on big energy challenges. Ezra seemed to find his purpose in life and I am very certain that he will be a successful researcher with worldwide impact.”

Ezra intends to pursue a PhD in chemical engineering. Ultimately, he wants to apply his knowledge and training toward a successful career in renewable energy research and technology advancement. Until that time, Ezra continues his innovative work with Dr. Sunkara and his fellow researchers at the Conn Center and enjoys his experiences as a UofL student.

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NEW! Ultrafast Transient Absorption Spectroscopy Facility

Starting in 2011, an Ultrafast Transient Absorption Spectroscopy (UTAS) system will be available at the Conn Center that has been funded by DOE’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program (Dr. Tim Fitzsimmons , Prog Mgr). This system is the only one of its kind in Kentucky and enables the measurement of ultrafast kinetic processes that are initiated by light ranging from the ultraviolet to the infrared. A time resolution of <30 femtoseconds can be achieved for the investigation of fast electron transfer, proton transfer, short-lived intermediates, and other femto- to picosecond timescale phenomena. These measurements are crucial for characterizing advanced materials used in development of solar cells and energy storage devices. The facility is in a dedicated, secure lab and is open to students and faculty. The DOE EPSCoR program funds a group of investigators from UofL and UK who are focused on basic research on nanoscale materials and architectures for solar energy conversion to electricity and fuels.

Dr. Mahendra Sunkara, Technical PI for DOE EPSCoR (E.Grulke, main PI), describes the effect this system will have across the state. “This UTAS facility will enhance the infrastructure for performing basic research necessary to advance projects in energy conversion and biological medicine. This facility is the only one of its kind in a 200-mile radius and these capabilities will elevate Kentucky scientists to a new level. This system allows us to study various energy conversion processes, such as electron transport and transfer across material interfaces. This system will bring new collaborations not only between DOE EPSCoR investigators, but with faculty and researchers from universities across the region.”

Dr. Bruce Alphenaar , UofL Professor of Electrical Engineering and Conn Center collaborator, describes some of the work his research group will undertake. “Using the dual output of the ultrafast laser system, we plan to develop a far-field microscope capable of imaging nanometer-scale particles or fluorescent tags with sub-diffraction limit resolution. Resolution (defined as the ability to produce a distinct image of two objects very close to each other) is normally limited by diffraction to be on the order of the wavelength of light (>200 nm for visible light). In the proposed technique, two overlapping laser beams are used to simultaneously excite and bleach the fluorescence of nanometer scale particles. A regularly shaped excitation beam is super-imposed on a donut-shaped bleaching beam. The fluorescence is confined to the donut zero, with all particles on the periphery being bleached. This produces a factor of 10 improvement in resolution.”

“The Chemistry Department at UofL is approaching completion of a search for a new faculty member who will make use of the femtosecond laser system,” added Dr. Richard Wittebort, Chair of Chemistry. “This new faculty member will use the unique capabilities of this instrument to establish a laboratory aimed at unraveling fundamental chemical processes relevant to solar energy production, biomedicine, and national security.”

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2011 KY Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Workshop

The Kentucky Statewide Workshop on Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency, held March 13-15 in downtown Louisville, KY, brought together top minds currently focused on research and policy for solar energy, biofuels, advanced energy materials, energy efficiency, and energy storage. Over 250 people from throughout the state participated in the two-day event, consisting of engaging lecture presentations, industry exhibit booths, a student research poster competition, and a panel discussion on commercialization challenges for Kentucky. The student poster competition attracted nearly 60 posters. Of these, a total of six winners were chosen by a multi-institutional faculty jury.

Planning is now underway for the 2012 Workshop; please contact Rodica McCoy at for more information or to be part of the organizing committee!

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Student Researcher Amelia Gandara Named Miss Jefferson County

Miss Amelia Gandara, an undergraduate chemical engineering student at UofL, was crowned Miss Jefferson County 2011 in Louisville this past April by the Miss Jefferson County Scholarship Organization, Inc. Amelia is an Undergraduate Research Assistant for the Conn Center, working with Dr. Delaina Amos on inkjet deposition technologies toward low-cost solar cell technologies.

Amelia has performed with the Louisville Ballet and Missouri Contemporary Ballet, will pursue her Masters in Chemical Engineering, and as Miss Jefferson County, advocates an empowerment platform entitled “Transferable Skills: Encouraging Childhood Expressive Arts.” In addition to her engineering studies, she competed for the title of Miss Kentucky for a chance to represent Kentucky in the Miss America 2012 pageant.

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Y. Sam Park, PhD, Recruited to Mechanical Engineering Department

The Conn Center welcomes Dr. Sam Park , Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Park’s research interests are to develop next generation fuel cell technologies and systems that can use renewable feedstocks and biomass-derived fuels. His research activities include new materials and fabrication processes necessary to engineer functional properties of electrode assemblies toward anodes and cathodes. In addition to fuel cell technologies, Sam is also focused on finding and fabricating nanomaterials for detecting gas molecules, chemical species, and biological agents. These projects have broad implications in understanding the fundamentals of energy transport, energy conversion, and thermal properties in nanomaterials.

Sam received his doctorate in Mechanical Engineering in 2007 from Texas A&M University in College Station TX, where he researched polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells and proton exchange membrane fuel cells. He holds an MS in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M (2003) and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Kyungpook National University (1999) in Taegu, South Korea. He served as a Senior Engineer at Arbin Instruments in Texas (2005-2009), where he developed hybrid vehicle test protocols, PEM fuel stacks, and hydrogen generation/recycling systems. He also worked at NexTech Materials in Ohio as Senior Engineer from 2009-2010 on fuel cell electrode materials. In 2010, Sam joined the faculty at the UofL Speed School of Engineering. He continues his research at the Conn Center involving multiphase transport in electrochemical power and conversion devices including polymer membrane fuel cells, solid oxide fuel cell, electrochemical sensors, and flow batteries.

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Conn Center Develops and Commercializes Technology for Manufacture of Jet Biofuels, Bioparaffins, and Olefins from Renewable Raw Materials

The Conn Center has licensed 2 patents to Aliphajet, a Delaware corporation, for the conversion of a variety of biomass materials to hydrocarbons toward jet fuels. Greater feedstock flexibility is a key advantage of this technology and distinguishes it from other technologies for the manufacture of jet fuels from biomass sources including used fats and oils. Feedstock variety equates to a more secure supply.

The continuous 3-step process using solid catalysts, developed by Professor Paul Ratnasamy and his group at the Conn Center, converts the bio-derived raw materials (oils, fats, fatty acids, algae, jatropha oils, or their mixtures) into jet fuels or, optionally, into bioparaffin and olefin intermediates for use in the polymer, detergent, surfactant, lubricant, and chemical industries. Independent outside evaluations have confirmed that the jet fuels made by the Conn Center process meet the industry’s specifications for use with available storage, transport, and delivery equipment as well as freezing and boiling specifications.

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Upcoming Features - Issue 2

Dr. Thad Druffel - Solar Manufacturing R&D Theme Leader

Dr. Delaina Amos - Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering

Glass plate solar cell manufacturing facility

Research Breakthrough in Solar Fuels!

Conn Center Co-op Students' Experiences


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