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Fischer-Tropsch Is Turning Kentucky’s Coal and Biomass into Ultra Clean Fuels
Discovered by two German scientists in the 1920s, the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process uses a catalyst (a reaction accelerator) to convert syngas to hydrocarbons. The hydrocarbons come out of the FT reactor as wax that is “cracked” (long molecules are chemically broken into shorter ones) to yield 20 percent low-quality gasoline and 80 percent high-quality diesel. FT diesel is cleaner than traditional petroleum diesel because nitrogen and sulfur are removed in the process, resulting in fewer undesirable emissions.

High fuel costs, political uncertainty and recent advances in FT efficiency have once again brought this technology to the forefront. As announced by Congressmen Hal Rogers and Geoff Davis, The UK Center for Applied Energy Research recently received $1.46 million in U.S. Department of Energy funding to begin design and construction of an FT mini-refinery. This facility will allow CAER to convert syngas through the FT process, with a research focus on new products such as chemicals, increasing process efficiencies and reducing the overall carbon footprint of the process. The mini-refinery will be capable of producing 0.5 barrels a day of finished products, which will be supplied to other universities and the government for testing in a range of diesel and jet engines.

Carbon Sequestration Process Targeting Coal Emissions by Injecting CO2 Underground
More than 90 percent of Kentucky’s electricity comes from coal, and more than 50 percent of the nation’s electricity is coal based. But with an ever-increasing supply of CO2 from coal-fired power plants, the need to do something with CO2 other than vent it into the atmosphere is growing. The best solution to this problem may be right under our feet.

The Kentucky Geological Survey at UK is taking the next step in clean-coal research by drilling test wells to store CO2 in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, unmineable coal seams and saline reservoirs. In 2007 the Kentucky legislature passed House Bill 1, which allocated $5 million to KGS to drill saline reservoir test wells in western and eastern Kentucky, as well as test the potential to recover oil and gas from coal seams.

In Hancock County, in western Kentucky, $1.4 million from House Bill 1 and $5.45 million pledged from industry partners (Peabody, ConocoPhilips, TVA, E.ON US and others) will fund drilling for an 8,300-foot well. This well will allow researchers to test the CO2 storage potential of three types of porous rock: sandstone, dolomite and shale. KGS is still seeking industry partners for the well proposed in Boone Country in eastern Kentucky. CO2 injection and testing is expected to begin in 2009.

With funding from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, KGS is also creating a “site bank” with information about the geologic sequestration potential beneath future locations for coal-fired power plants, Fischer-Tropsch or coal gasification plants.

New HPV Cancer Vaccine Licensed to ACT by UofL’s Brown Cancer Center
By targeting a different protein, University of Louisville researchers believe a new human pappilloma virus vaccine will prevent many of the world’s 500,000 annual cervical cancer cases. And by using tobacco plants to produce the vaccine more efficiently, as planned under a licensing deal to commercialize the research, it could become more affordable and save more lives.

UofL’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center has licensed the technology for a second-generation vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) to Advanced Cancer Therapeutics (ACT), a private, Louisville-based company dedicated to bringing new anti-cancer therapies to market.

The vaccine targets the HPV L2 protein while current vaccines currently on the market target the L1 protein. It is believed second-generation L2 protein vaccines may provide broader immune protection at lower cost.

The intellectual property, licensed to ACT through UofL’s Office of Technology Transfer, is based on research by associate professor Kenneth Palmer, professor A. Bennett Jenson and their colleagues.

“The human papillomavirus is the leading cause of cervical cancer and is increasingly being implicated in other cancers, such as those of the head and neck,” said Jenson.

The current vaccine, Gardasil®, costs approximately $350 for the three-dose series. According to the World Health Organization, about 80 percent of the world’s 500,000 annual cases of cervical cancer occur in developing countries, where neither routine screening nor the vaccine is available or affordable.

“We hope that the technology we are using to manufacture this vaccine will yield a product at a cost that will facilitate its use in resource-poor areas of the world where vaccines against HPV are most needed,” said Palmer.

To bring the vaccine to market quickly, ACT has licensed exclusive rights to GENEWARE®, a technology owned by Owensboro-based Kentucky BioProcessing LLC (KBP). GENEWARE® uses an engineered tobacco-mosaic virus to carry the L2 protein into the tobacco plant, where the plant’s natural growth reproduces the protein in larger quantities, producing the vaccine’s key ingredient in a cost-effective manner.

UofL Researchers Achieve Diagnostic Breakthrough Using New Plasma Test
University of Louisville James Graham Brown Cancer Center researchers have found a simple new way to detect hard-to-diagnose conditions by analyzing body fluids, especially blood plasma. Louisville Bioscience Inc. (LBI) has licensed the disease-screening breakthrough, which it believes could prove lucrative.

When heated, blood proteins create a unique visual map that provides clues to specific diseases, researchers learned. UofL scientists Jonathan Chaires, Nichola Garbett, A. Bennett Jenson and LBI believe the technology will lead to a future where doctors diagnose complex diseases with a simple blood test based on differential scanning calorimetry. Every disease examined so far leaves a distinctive signature on the test result, explains Chaires, who led the research team.

“This is in contrast to healthy people, for whom the test results look pretty much the same,” Chaires said.

In preliminary studies, blood plasma from individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease and lupus show test results that differ significantly from those of healthy individuals.

Eventually, the technology may be adopted for use in doctor’s offices and hospitals, providing physicians with an easy, fast way to test for hard-to-diagnose diseases and disorders.

LBI is uniquely positioned to develop this new technology for market applications, starting with early stage diagnostic medical tests. LBI’s team, which includes CEO Steve Benight, has over 20 years experience studying the thermodynamic binding properties of biological materials.

The exclusive licensing agreement, negotiated by UofL’s Office of Technology Transfer, became effective Oct. 1.

“We are extremely excited about the huge opportunity this technology offers to revolutionize medical diagnostics and make personalized medicine a reality,” Benight said.