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Federal grant will help build energy lab

FRANKFORT — The University of Kentucky has landed an $11.8 million federal stimulus grant to help build an energy research facility in northern Fayette County.

The 36,000-square-foot laboratory — an expansion of UK's Center for Applied Energy Research at Spindletop Research Park — will be used to research advanced batteries for electric cars, biofuels, clean coal technology and solar energy.

The grant "significantly advances efforts to make Kentucky a leader not only in energy research but in developing and manufacturing the high-tech batteries that will power the cars of the future," Gov. Steve Beshear said during a Capitol news conference Monday with UK President Lee T. Todd Jr.

The project was among 11 chosen from a pool of 167 proposals by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the U.S. Department of Commerce. UK's grant was the fifth-largest awarded from a pot of $123 million.

"We are delighted with the center's success in winning this grant, particularly during these lean economic times," Todd said.

Beshear said the new lab space also will be used by the Kentucky-Argonne National Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center, which he announced in April.

The battery center is a partnership of the state, Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, UK and the University of Louisville to develop a lithium-ion battery that can be used by the country's ailing automotive industry for use in electric and hybrid cars.

President Barack Obama is pushing for more electric vehicles to help reshape the nation's auto industry and decrease its dependence on foreign oil.

The new UK research facility announced Monday will cost $15.8 million. The state is contributing $3 million from federal stimulus funds previously earmarked to expand the applied research center building. The university will supply $1 million.

The project, which will create an unspecified number of jobs, is expected to be completed by fall 2011.

The two-story building will be on a parcel of land owned by the state that is part of the 125-acre research park.

Since opening in 1977, the Center for Applied Energy Research has focused almost exclusively on coal research, particularly efforts to reduce the amount of pollutants created by burning coal.

About 120 people, including graduate students, work at the center, which receives about $4.5 million a year from UK's general fund.

The center's current research projects range from coal liquefaction to underground sequestering of carbon dioxide emissions. In addition, researchers are working on using algae to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions.

Beshear said producing clean-burning fuels from coal is especially important in Kentucky, where 17,000 people work in the coal mining industry. He has been a leading proponent of coal production despite criticism from environmentalists.

"The renewable resources that we're working on and the coal that we have will both play a big part in Kentucky's future and this country's future," Beshear said.