Penn State University Professors start eco-friendly proppant company

Source: Penn State University

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania recently invested $167,600 in a start-up company called Nittany Extraction Technologies, to commercialize the work of Penn State University professors John Hellmann and Barry Scheetz. An executive-in-residence (EIR) from the Ben Franklin program, Martin Bradley, has signed on to help the professors in managing their new company. Rounding out the team are Dr. Ryan Koseski, co-inventor of the technology, and Timothy Hurley, an experienced developer of new products and processes. 

Professors Hellmann and Scheetz, who work in the University’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and College of Engineering, respectively, and who have also collaborated with the oil and gas industry for more than twenty years, have developed an innovative process for manufacturing proppants used to stimulate oil and gas production. Proppants, which are not currently manufactured in Pennsylvania, are used to “prop” open rock fractures that occur during the drilling process. Proppants create a pathway for the transmission of hydrocarbons and maintain the porosity needed to allow the flow of oil and gas. 

The new company plans to call its first product PennProp and is on track to be producing commercial quantities by year end. 

Using various sources of mineral and waste-glass found in Pennsylvania, the team has developed manufacturing processes that allow the use of low-cost, widely available industrial and domestic waste materials in the production of high-quality proppants. The technology offers the additional prospective benefit of diverting millions of tons of minerals from landfills. 

Pennsylvania is expected to be the largest producer of natural gas via extraction from the Marcellus Shale project, the world’s second largest natural gas deposit. The ability to manufacture cost effective proppants here in the state represents a very significant commercial opportunity. 

“We saw this as a great opportunity to assist the Commonwealth in generating a large-scale manufacturing opportunity, to complement the excellent work of Penn State in promoting responsible development of the Marcellus Shale resource, and to co-invest with a group of experienced technology developers,” said Ben Franklin President and CEO, Stephen Brawley. 

The company has entered into an exclusive license with Penn State University and has agreed to sponsor product-development research within Dr. Hellmann’s lab. The initial activities are to scale up the manufacturing process from laboratory quantities to multi-ton lots of material. Using the resources of an industrial partner, the company has already successfully manufactured its first multi-ton test batch in a high-temperature processing facility. “We still have a lot of analytical work to conduct on the resulting product,” said Dr. Hellmann, “but the initial results appear promising.” Current activities are aimed at producing sufficient quantities, in excess of one hundred tons, in order to conduct a pilot-scale field demonstration in a hydrofractured gas well in Northwestern Pennsylvania.

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