2023 CGRS Presenters

Second-Life Battery Energy Storage For Sustainable Power Grids

A new era of electrification is dawning on us, in which lithium-ion batteries are widely used to decarbonize various key sectors of the economy. The soaring use of lithium-ion batteries will reshape the energy landscape, but also present an increasingly pressing problem: after the batteries complete their useful first life, how to make them live a second life? To put this into perspective, EV sales in the U.S. accounted for 5.8% of all new car sales in 2022 and will surge to 29.5% or about 4.7 million in number in 2030, and on par with this trend, retired EV batteries will exceed 40 GWh per year by 2030. Enabling second-life applications for these batteries will be crucial for environmental sustainability, economic viability, and the resilience of battery supply chains. Meanwhile, the U.S. power grid growingly requires utility energy storage to reach net-zero carbon emissions and ensure reliability under the impacts of climate change. Our research thus aims to repurpose EV battery packs for grid energy storage. Thinking outside the box, we propose a new second-life battery system design technology, which includes novel power electronics architectures and advanced power management algorithms. The technology overcomes some major barriers in using second-life batteries to bring about significant benefits: avoiding the need to disassemble and repackage retired battery packs, allowing scalable integration of batteries of different types or from different manufacturers, and enabling plug-and-play-based installation and operation. Techno-economic analysis shows that our invention holds a significant promise for cost-efficient and long-duration grid energy storage.

Advisor: Huazhen Fang

Engineering A Novel Insulin Compound As A Type 1 Diabetes Therapy

Individuals living with autoimmune diseases are undergoing constant internal conflict as a civil war is waged against them. Autoimmunity is the body’s immune system attacking a self-component of the body that should be there, but it cannot be distinguished from an antigen, a foreign invader. In individuals living with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), the immune system battles with insulin-producing beta cells. These cells are essential workers that produce insulin which is responsible for blood sugar regulation. Without blood sugar regulation, devastating events can incrementally or rapidly arise such as loss of vision, fatigue, organ failure, weight loss, and more. In addition, the financial burden that comes with rising costs of insulin is a significant concern for Kansas families. This concern calls for the development of more potent insulin drug compounds that are more cost-effective in production and therapeutic in nature leading to lower costs financial, physical, and emotional for Kansans. Our unique immunotherapy targets anti-insulin memory cells compared to current insulin analogs on the market that target disease maintenance. We have designed a novel drug construct consisting of insulin linked to a memory cell inhibitor. Tested against anti-insulin memory cells, this construct has demonstrated significant inhibition of successive memory cell growth. Furthermore, upon injection into a preclinical model, this construct traffics to the specific organs where these anti-insulin cells reside. While this work is preliminary, it provides the necessary framework and highlights the potential of this drug construct as a preventative therapy for T1D directly benefiting Kansans and Americans alike.

Advisor: Cory Berkland

Recycling Refrigerants To Reduce Global Warming

Refrigerants play an essential role in technology, comfort, healthcare, and many more applications. Currently, millions of kilograms of high global warming potential refrigerants are being phased out and replaced with more environmentally friendly alternatives due to the 2020 AIM act. Many refrigerants used today are mixtures and often, during use or recovery, the refrigerants are mixed making even more complex mixtures. These complex mixtures make recycling refrigerants difficult because many of these mixtures cannot be separated using the incumbent separation technology available today. Without technology to effectively separate these refrigerant mixtures, millions of kilograms of refrigerant will be vented or incinerated. Project EARTH: Environmentally Applied Research Toward Hydrofluorocarbons is focused on the development of selective, energy efficient, and economical processes for separation of complex refrigerant mixtures so they can be recycled. One of three separation techniques being investigated is the use of ionic liquids. Ionic liquids are liquid salts that are uniquely suited for selective separation of refrigerant mixtures due to their tunable physical properties. The separation process using ionic liquids has been demonstrated at lab scale and validated using modeling. The first pilot scale separation process for separating complex refrigerant mixtures has been designed and constructed and is ready for demonstration at the University of Kansas. This technology is being commercialized by a startup company founded in Kansas and will transform the way refrigerants are reclaimed and recycled in the refrigerant industry.

Advisor: Mark Shiflett

Accessibility Of Written Medication Information For Patients With Visual Impairment 

According to the CDC 2018 statistics, there were approximately 4.6% of adults in the United States with blindness or serious difficulty seeing. Currently, there are limited options for patients with visual impairment or blindness to obtain accessible written medication information. The objectives of this study were to determine the availability of accessible medication guides provided by pharmaceutical manufacturers and identify common barriers reported by patients with visual impairment in obtaining accessible written medication information in healthcare settings. A total of 39 manufacturers were contacted regarding the availability of accessible medication guides or an alternative format for visual impairment. The majority (36/39) of manufacturers did not provide either. Additionally, fifty medication guides were evaluated for accessibility using a checklist and tested with screen reader technology. Common errors found by the screen reader were lack of a description for images (alternative text) and headings were not available to help with navigation. To identify barriers in obtaining written medication information, respondents were recruited through an anonymous, online survey administered through Qualtrics from September to October 2022. A total of 699 participants responded, and descriptive statistics were used to report the data. The median age was 35, and 49% of respondents were female.  Paper copy was identified as the most common format (38%) provided in the pharmacy, and barriers identified included lack of braille or electronic options and personnel not equipped to serve patients with visual impairment. With the lack of accessible written medication information, pharmacists and manufacturers need to provide alternative formats such as audio, electronic formats, or braille to patients with visual impairment. 

Advisor: Cambrey Nguyen

Cultivating Equity Through 638: How Tribal Self-Determination Projects Impact Economies Through Food Procurement Preferences

The USDA Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) provides aid to food insecure households through 15 national programs. Of those, only one program mandates a “prohibition on dual participation.” The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) is the only program that serves as a substitute rather than a supplement to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). FDPIR is also the only program exclusive to American Indian and Alaskan Natives (AIAN) on or near reservations, yet research shows that AIAN suffer twice the rate of food insecurity with half the average allotment of food benefits. Public Law 93-638, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, grants Tribal Nations the autonomy to operate and administer Federal funding to their tribal communities. In the 2018 Farm Bill, the USDA authorized its first 638 demonstration project for Indian Tribal Organizations (ITOs) that administer FDPIR. The first round of funding expires in 2024 and the second round of solicitations culminated in January of 2023 with a projected start date for Summer 2023. This project seeks to identify how FDPIR 638 meets 2018 Farm Bill priorities through tribal procurement preferences. By analyzing the seven sites selected for the first round of funding, we can compare the purchasing habits of ITOs when granted self-sufficiency of commodity procurement. The main objective of this research is to identify potential impacts to rural economies through localized purchasing power. This research will conduct spatial analysis, program evaluation, and case studies through a mixed methods approach.

Advisor: Jay Johnson

Carebots Don’t Care: An Ethical Analysis Of Socially Assistive Robots In Kansas’ Elderly Care Industry 

The state of Kansas has a problem. The demand for care providers in the elderly population is too high and cannot be fulfilled with the current infrastructure. However, there are new solutions to this problem because of advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and data science. This research reveals the ethical challenges and puzzles of utilizing technologically advance robots in the elderly care industry. I defend two theses. First, relationships with AI raise real ethical challenges to the care ethics framework that dominates within the care industry. Second, the care industry is not currently equipped to handle global implementation of carebots within elderly care. Kansas policy makers have a responsibility to care for its vulnerable populations. If there are technologies that exist that could decrease the chances of people developing serious health problems, this would not only positively affect the health and wellbeing of patients, but it would also substantially reduce government expenses for medical care. Despite the promising benefits of carebots, there are ethical challenges that emerge with implementing carebots in the elderly care community. It is paramount for policy makers to be mindful of the ethical challenges these advance technologies present and develop safeguards against harm. The primary motivation for developing safeguards concerns moral and epistemic harms. 

Advisor: John Symons 

Building Early Literacy Skills At Home: Insights From Bilingual Families

Learning an additional language is linked with increased economic mobility and cognitive advantages. Learning another language can help an applicant be more competitive for a job. Learning another language has also been shown to slow down memory loss in older individuals. Learning another language can also help communities build bridges and foster understanding, helping people feel more connected to their neighbors and society overall. According to the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), over 160 different home languages are spoken across the state and 10% of the Kansas student population identify as English language learners. However, we don’t know very much about how people learn to speak, read, and write in different languages. Learning about how Kansas families help their children learn to be bilingual can help Kansas teachers and districts to design effective educational programs that strengthen Kansas communities. This study asked bilingual families how they help their children learn another language and the strategies they used at home to encourage their children to learn to read. This research directly fulfills KSDE’s Title III mission to help all students learn English, to understand challenging State academic content, and to meet state standard requirements. The study’s results show that bilingual families use a variety of strategies to help their children learn languages and learn to read. Results from this study will help teachers, administrators, and parents alike in Kansas to provide a solid educational foundation that will positively impact the Kansas workforce.

Advisor: John Colombo

Peek Inside The Box: Gamified Learning Of Computing Hardware Fundamentals 

The rapid development of the microelectronics industry nationwide has created a significant demand for engineers, researchers, and technicians who are skilled in electronic hardware manufacturing and assembling. However, nowadays, students are more inclined to software development, data analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI). In high school and undergraduate studies, students get the experience of coding camps and competitions, which motivate them to choose computing related carrier paths. Misconception about semiconductor manufacturing job also discourages students from choosing hardware-related courses during their studies. Moreover, hardware details are often kept hidden in computing courses to simplify the learning and that leads to lack of interest regarding this topic. These impediments have led to the creation of significant shortage of skilled domestic workforce for semiconductor industry. To mitigate this skill gap in microelectronics industry and make students more interested in electronics, hands-on training with a novel learning approach is needed. In this project, we aim to train high school and undergraduate students in Kansas, Florida and beyond through a course with interactive lectures and games developed in easy-to-use hardware platforms. This course covers the fundamental concepts related to electronics, from basics of binary bits to the designing of a circuit system. Moreover, it provides the basic idea of memory and physical security systems of hardware platforms. Learning about hardware fundamentals with hands-on experience with games will motivate students to explore more about microelectronics and choose their carrier in microelectronics. As a result, this will help mitigate the skill gap and workforce demand for future microelectronics manufacturing facilities in this country.

Advisor: Tamzidul Hoque