Welcome to the Kansas NSF EPSCoR (KNE) news and announcements blog. Stay up-to-date with all the happenings, discoveries, events and funding opportunities associated with KNE. Enter your email in the "Follow by email" box below an to the right to stay notified of new posts. Feel free to leave comments.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Kansas EPSCoR Climate and Energy Exhibit travels to the Courtland Art Center

The Courtland Art Center in Courtland Kansas is featuring the Kansas NSF EPSCoR research exhibit on renewable energy and climate change.  The EPSCoR exhibit is titled Kansas: Climate and Energy Central, which is the central theme of the major research initiative, Climate Change and Energy: Basic Science, Impacts and Mitigation.

This traveling exhibit showcases the research of Kansas scientists who worked together to address the challenges Kansas faces in the areas of renewable energy and climate change. The key components of the research exhibit are broken down into four modular displays. These modular displays focus on the exploration of following research themes:
  1. Farmscapes examines Kansas farmer’s land practices and the impact of their choices
  2. Climate Science presents locally collected data and illustrates how climate trends are defined, compared and used to make future decisions. 
  3. Energy explores better ways to use the sun’s energy, examines the potential of protein based solar cells and investigates the role of nanotechnology
  4. Pathways explains how Native American traditions can be utilized to create a balanced relationship with nature.
The exhibit will be featured at the Courtland Art Center from now through February 29, 2016. Arrangements to visit the exhibit can be made by calling 785-527-0941 or emailing nick@jenrusfreelance.com. 
This exhibit originated with the Flint Hills Discovery Center museum in Manhattan, KS. 

Special thanks for developing this exceptional community outreach project goes to the team of Kansas EPSCoR scientists and faculty: Dietrich Earnhart, Department of Economics, University of Kansas; Charles W. Rice, Department of Agronomy, Kansas State University; Judy Wu, Department of Physics, University of Kansas; Joane Nagel, Department of Sociology, University of Kansas; and Dan Wildcat, American Indian Studies, Haskell Indian Nations University along with Chuck Regier and Joel Gaeddert of the Flint Hills Design company. 

Learn more about this exhibit here:  http://courtlandarts.com/blog/2016/1/climate-science-exhibit

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015-2016 Kansas EPSCoR First Awards Announced

Kansas NSF EPSCoR provides funding support for Kansas to build its research capacity and competitiveness in science and technology. One mechanism utilized to provide this support is the Kansas NSF EPSCoR First Award program. This program is designed to assist early career faculty with becoming more competitive for funding from the research directorates at the National Science Foundation by: 1) encouraging early career faculty to submit proposals to the NSF (or other federal funding agency) as soon as possible after their first faculty appointment, and 2) by accelerating the pace of their research and the quality of their subsequent proposals. 

For the 2015-2016 academic year, Kansas NSF EPSCoR honored six faculty members from across the state with First Award grants in the areas of Climate and Energy Research or Atomic/Molecular/Optical Science. The researchers and  their projects that were awarded the Kansas NSF EPSCoR funding are:

Placidus Amama
Assistant Professor 
Chemical Engineering
Kansas State University

Nanocarbon Hybrid Structures for Fast and Reversible Lithium Ion Storage

Current efforts to increase the performance of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) have focused on decreasing the diffusion distance of Li ions through the use of nanostructured electrodes with unique geometries. The use of 30 nanostructured electrodes with exceptionally short ion and electron transport distance will result in a significant decrease in the diffusion time. Significant enhancement in the LIB performance of over 50% is anticipated with the use of 3D nanocarbon electrodes. However, efforts thus far have failed to produce 3D nanostructured electrodes with the optimal architecture and textural properties due to the limited understanding of the complex electrochemical interactions within the multicomponent 3D electrode system (current collector, active material, and electrolyte). Consequently, there is a complete lack of guidelines for the rational design and synthesis of high-performance 30 nanostructured electrodes. The goal of this research is to fabricate high-performance 30 electrodes using carbon nanotubes (CNTs) as the nanoscale building blocks.

Hitesh Bindra
Assistant Professor
Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering
Kansas State University

A novel method to simultaneously separate CO2 and recover thermal energy from flue gases

This project will focus on evaluation of PI’s recent invention ‘Sliding Flow Method (SFM)’ for simultaneous energy and CO2 recovery from flue gases in fossil-fueled plants. The proposed method first recovers heat energy from the flue gases, and then utilizes same energy to recover CO2. The primary objective of this work is to measure the unknown critical design parameter i.e. axial dispersion of adsorbed CO2 molecules in a packed powder bed. Spectroscopy and other characterization techniques will be applied under different experimental conditions. Once determined, the axial dispersion values will be used for the development of a higher efficiency adsorption based flue gas purification system. A laboratory scale version of this purification system would be developed to assess the performance. This new concept proposed here has potential to fulfill the objectives of reducing the discharge if undesirable components into atmosphere with negligible water consumption and energy destruction when installed in the flue gas exhaust of existing plants. The nature of the proposed research is novel and transformative solution to one of the fourteen Grand Challenges in Engineering, as identified by National Academy of Engineering.

Alice Boyle
Assistant Professor
Kansas State University

Consequences of climate variability for prairie birds

The proposed project is central to the Kansas NSF EPSCoR focus on climate, investigating biotic responses to current climatic variability, filling crucial gaps in knowledge that limit our ability to predict and manage for the consequences of future climate change. Prairies are characterized by highly variable climate, yet we lack the theoretical knowledge to predict whether adaptions to such conditions offers organisms greater resilience to additional change, or whether they already experience conditions near the limits of their physiological capabilities. This study capitalizes upon a 28-yr data set of avian abundances and the infrastructure and experimental manipulations made possible by the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program at the Konza Prairie in NE Kansas. It integrates the insights from long-term data with detailed, mechanistic, individual-level data from a marked population of declining songbirds to predict biotic responses to future environmental conditions. This project provides exceptional opportunities for field-based training in research for undergraduates, and concrete plans for broad dissemination of study results commensurate with the scope of this funding opportunity. 

Zheng Chen
Assistant Professor
Electrical Enginnering and Computer Science
Wichita State University

Solar Energy Storage Using Ionic Polymer-Metal Composite Enhanced Water Electrolysis for Hydrogen Production

The long-term goal of this research is to develop an energy-efficient solar energy storage system. Existing solar energy harvesting systems are facing a critical issue in that the harvested solar energy is not storable. Ionic polymer-metal composites (IPMCs) have a built-in water electrolysis capability that can convert electricity to storable hydrogen fuel. However, the energy-conversion efficiency of IPMC-enabled electrolysis needs to be further improved in order to make the energy storage more efficient. The research objective of this project is to improve the energy-conversion efficiency of IPMC-enabled electrolysis through advanced fabrication, multi-physics modeling, and robust control from a system perspective. The educational/outreach objectives are to equip engineers with state-of-the-art modeling, advanced fabrication, and control skills and to inform the public society about solar renewable energy systems. The project accomplishes its objectives by the following:
  • Investigating energy-conversion efficiency of IPMC-enabled electrolysis.
  • Developing a multi-physics and control-oriented model for IPMC-enabled electrolysis.
  • Developing an adaptive and robust control strategy for IPMC-enabled electrolysis.
  • Developing a micro-fabrication process to fabricate micro-thin IPMC film.
  • Integrating and evaluating the solar energy storage system. 

Michael Clift
Assistant Professor
The University of Kansas

Sustainable Catalytic Methods for the Conversion of Biomass into Fine Chemicals

The long-term goal of this research program is to develop cofactor mimics as catalysts to enable novel synthetic transformations initiated by C-H and C-C bond cleavage. This approach to chemical synthesis is unique in that it relies on bond cleavage reactions to generate versatile reactive intermediates that will participate in a wide range of subsequent reactions. By contrast, classical synthetic approaches often focus exclusively on the development of bond forming reactions. The overall objective of this proposal is to develop new methods for quinone catalyzed C-C bond cleavage that will facilitate the conversion of bio-renewable feedstock chemicals into fine nitrogen-containing chemical commodities. Further, we seek to promote scientific curiosity and enhance the problem-solving skills of undergraduate students by integrating specific aspects of the proposed research into an innovative, inquiry based laboratory experiment for organic chemistry lab courses. Several aims are proposed to pursue these objectives:
  • Develop topa quinone (TPQ) mimics as catalysts to enable the oxidative decarboxylation of α-amino acids to provide versatile imine intermediates that will be utilized in subsequent in situ additions to generate amine-containing fine chemicals.
  • Develop TPQ mimics as catalysts to promote the depolymerization of lignin model compounds via C-C bond cleavage at the β -O-4 linkage to deliver imines and other useful products.
  • Develop and implement an inquiry-based laboratory experiment for undergraduate organic chemistry students using quinone catalysis to enable amino alcohol cleavage.

Gisuk Hwang
Assistant Professor
Mechanical Engineering
Wichita State University

Absorption-Controlled Thermal Diode and Switch (ACTS)

Completely new and unified theoretical/experimental frameworks of thermal diode and switching mechanisms are proposed using adsorption-controlled thermal transport in gas-filled heterogeneous nanostructures. This enables a) serving scalable and efficient thermal management systems (R > 15) with both theory and experiment, b) understanding atomic-level thermal transport mechanisms through thin adsorbed film in the nanostructures, and c) developing a basic building block for advanced thermal managements for highly-efficient, responsive renewable energy/environmental systems and completely new energy-saving applications i.e., thermal logic gate/computing. Despite rigorous advances in theory, experimental demonstrations for the practical applications have been much lagged behind. Main challenges have been poor steady-state efficiency/transient response time, difficult large-scale manufacturing, and limited operating conditions (very low pressure and cryogenic operation temperatures). Thus, an innovative approach that enables both high thermal diode/switch efficiency with fast transient response and experimental realizations would be highly transformative to carry significant impacts for clean energy and environment future.  This work will advance fundamental understandings of atomic-level thermal transport mechanisms through the thin film (adsorbed layers) near heterogeneous surfaces for energy, nanomanufacturing and biomedical systems.