National Science Foundation Awards Kentucky Millions

Aug 27, 2014

Reporters talking with Rodney Andrews.
Credit Stu Johnson / WEKU

A statewide effort to further the economy through funding energy research and attracting more students into STEM fields is getting a major financial boost.

Kentucky is one of six jurisdictions chosen to receive a five year research award from the National Science Foundation.

The award will fund the statewide project "Powering the Kentucky Bio economy for a Sustainable Future." $20 million comes from the National Science Foundation.  Another $4 million will come from Kentucky's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.  University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto says the goal of the initiative is to meet current and future economic needs.  "The focus of this $24 million dollar interdisciplinary multi-institution research effort will be to strengthen Kentucky's bio-economy and develop new applications for established and emerging industries," said Capilouto.

There will be targeted investments at 10 Kentucky research and higher education institutions, including all of the comprehensive universities.  Rodney Andrews, director of the UK Center for Applied Energy Research, is principle investigator. Andrews says a carbon material, found in most all energy storage, can be derived from biomass.  

"Okay, so we're looking at can we tailor that biomass so that when it is converted to carbon, it has a better structure than what we have now? Making those more effective, safer.  But, we also have that component of how do we do large scale?  How do we use this to implement into our grid system?" asked Andrews.

The project's overall goal is to discover and develop engineered bio systems for energy, environmental and industrial applications.  Governor Steve Beshear says the project could benefit the eastern Kentucky economy.  "By creating new opportunities for students who have traditionally been under-represented in the STEM disciplines, especially first generation college students from Appalachia, this initiative will help us to expand our efforts to diversify and rejuvenate the eastern Kentucky economy," said Beshear.

Work will include participation from all eight comprehensive universities.  The grant award will support 150 jobs over the next five years.