Two collaborations between Penn State and local companies are sharing $50,000 in awards for creating innovative products related to the development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas play.
The Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center announced the winners of its shale gas innovation contest as State College-based Polymics Ltd. and the team of State College-based Glenn O. Hawbaker and Penn State’s Larson Transportation Institute.
The contest was designed to “identify, support and commercialize technologies and early-stage businesses that enhance responsible stewardship of the environment while properly utilizing this transformative energy asset,” according to the news release announcing the winners.
Polymics, a developer and manufacturer of high-tech polymers, created a lightweight, reusable, leak-proof mat system designed to contain drilling mud and fracking fluid produced during the gas drilling process.
“The problem with the current system is that it’s heavy and difficult to assemble and disassemble. It also tends to tear,” said Tim Hsu, Polymics’ founder and president. “Every time a driller changes sites, which they do every 20 days, they have to replace the liner, which goes to the landfill, and a new one costs about $150,000.”
Working with technical assistance from a Penn State laboratory, Polymics created a composite system made of a more durable material. It’s more resistant to tears, and it breaks down like Legos, which makes it easier to install, move and reuse, Hsu said.
The award money will go toward the cost of creating a prototype, Hsu said.
“There’s lots of potential for this idea, but we have to prove that it works first, and that requires a prototype,” he said.
Seeking to encourage wider domestic consumption of the natural gas coming out of the Marcellus, Glenn O. Hawbaker teamed with the Larson Transportation Institute to create a system for retrofitting diesel trucks to run on compressed natural gas.
The idea could lead to whole commercial fleets being converted to run on CNG, which is much cheaper and cleaner than diesel, said Joel Anstrom, a senior research associate at the Larson Institute.
“Energy independence and lower energy costs are our overarching goals,” Anstrom said. “There are some technological barriers to doing that, and that’s what we’re trying to help overcome.”
The prize money will be spent on testing the prototype vehicle, Anstrom said.
At a press conference unveiling the prototype, a hybrid Mack truck that runs on both diesel and compressed natural gas, Glenn O. Hawbaker President Dan Hawbaker said his ultimate vision was to see the conversion of North America’s entire fleet of transportation vehicles to CNG.
“With this much natural gas that we have access to in Pennsylvania, why wouldn’t we be doing something to utilize it?” Hawbaker said.
Cliff White can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @CliffWhiteNews