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Kunlei Liu, Director, IDEA; Professor, Mechanical Engineering

Our journey started in 2005. Based on our rich experience and knowledge in fossil fuel conversion, the research group was established in 2006 at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) to tackle the technological and economic challenges associated with power plant carbon management.

After almost two decades, this group has grown to be one of the nation’s most impactful research entities in the fields of carbon capture, conversion, hydrogen production and water treatment. We employ more than 30 full-time research staff who work on overcoming key obstacles to the decarbonization of energy and industrial sectors. A quick glance at our achievements to date include:

  • $92 million in extramural funding
  • 142 peer-reviewed journal articles published
  • 21 U.S. patents issued
  • 3 technologies licensed/transferred
  • 1 spin-off company

Through dynamic research, perseverance, self-motivation and a drive to succeed, we have effectively applied thermodynamic principles to balance capital (kinetics) and operating (enthalpy and entropy) costs to:

  • CO2 capture and utilization
  • Fossil fuel utilization for power generation
  • Fossil fuel utilization for liquid hydrocarbon and hydrogen generation
  • Contaminated water treatment
  • Material recovery from spent batteries and solar panels
  • Energy conversion and delivery processes
  • Energy-intensive manufacturing

In July 2023, realizing that our team would benefit from a propitious research ecosystem that is well-positioned to grow, the University of Kentucky and the UK Pigman College of Engineering endorsed our formation of IDEA. Inspired by the spirit of the last mid-century Bell Laboratory – a creative, self-motivated and cohesive research team and working environment, our institute also serves as a platform to build a low-carbon, clean energy research and solution hub, where we interlink our research to deployment, and progress along the path to redefine the future of energy and commodity material production.

To meet future demands of utilities and manufacturing, our team is working with PPL Corporation and a group of industrial partners to synchronize the reliable existing power generating fleet, intermittent renewable energy, hydrogen production, spent material management and minimalization applied at grid-scale and microgrid “energy parks” that could radically shape the world we live in. 

Our group has been and will continue to be a creative entity, reflected by its current name, the Institute for Decarbonization and Energy Advancement (IDEA), where the energized and empowered researchers and staff apply basic IDEAs at various engineering scales to deliver new and necessary solutions for a sustainable future.

I invite you to learn about our work via the content available here.  If you would like to discuss technologies or opportunities for collaboration, please contact our administration.