In May, the Center for Applied Energy Research opened a new laboratory near its Iron Works Pike location in Lexington. The new facility provides 43,000 square feet of research space and features state of the art laboratories for three different research groups. Designed to operate 54% more efficiently than a standard laboratory building, the building utilizes a geothermal heating and cooling system, an energy recovery wheel and increased insulation in the building envelope. The building, referred to as Center for Applied Energy Research Building #2 for now, is the third construction project for CAER in the last five years; all three have one key ingredient in common.
Alumnna Courtney Fisk has overseen each one.
“My bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in biosystems and agricultural engineering, so building projects were new for me,” says Fisk. “But, out of necessity, someone needed to oversee the construction, and once I started doing it, I enjoyed it.”
Fisk joined CAER after graduating with her bachelor’s degree in 2005. Enrolled as a graduate student, she began conducting her master’s research at CAER. By the time she earned her master’s in 2007, CAER had hired her to be a full-time engineering associate. She was later moved into an engineering program management position that has largely revolved around her construction oversight responsibilities.
“We’ve grown significantly over past few years. My first experience with overseeing construction was a greenhouse we built specifically for the large algae culturing project we have been developing since 2009,” Fisk recalls. “Once that was completed, we received money to build a new laboratory for our mineral processing group and also retrofit parts of our main building. Because I had worked on the greenhouse, I was asked to take charge of the new project. When we obtained a grant to build this lab, my familiarity with the construction process and ongoing research in biofuels gave me the experience necessary to supervise the project.”
The new structure accommodates three different energy research groups: the Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis group, which studies how to convert natural resources to biofuels; the Electrochemical Power Resources group that is working with the Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center; and a group dedicated to research in the area of solar energy. Each group’s unique focus made Fisk’s job an enjoyable challenge.
“One of my main day-to-day responsibilities is to answer any questions that arise about the building. On a given day, I could receive calls ranging from which side of the door the kick plates needed to be on for the battery bunker to questions regarding building communications integration. Other days, I would handle budget issues so we could get what we wanted in an economical way. One primary responsibility was to handle the reporting requirements that come with an ARRA funded project.”
The opening of CAER’s new lab coincided with Fisk receiving her MBA from UK’s Gatton College of Business and Economics—an endeavor that had her managing a construction project by day and attending class at night for over two years. While both finish lines have brought relief and satisfaction, Fisk—who was featured in the Fall 2011 issue of Minority Engineer magazine—is ready to continue pursuing CAER’s vision to excel as an applied research and development center with an international reputation.
“The quest for renewable energy isn’t going away,” she says. “The technology is better, materials are cheaper and UK, as well as the Commonwealth of Kentucky, are putting themselves at the forefront of this research by supporting CAER’s research into this vital area.”