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NSF chooses Purdue to lead engineering research center

Staff Reports - WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - The National Science Foundation has chosen Purdue University to lead an engineering research center that will develop new technologies to produce fuels from U.S. shale-gas deposits.

The new approach proposes to convert light hydrocarbons from shale gas into chemicals and transportation fuels using a network of portable, modular processing plants. It is estimated that there is enough energy in shale to provide all of the nation's transportation fuels for a hundred years.

Purdue's Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources, or CISTAR, has received the highly competitive NSF engineering research center (ERC) designation. It is one of 19 active ERCs in the United States and one of four new ERCs announced this year.

The NSF will provide $19.75 million over five years for the center. Industrial and university partners will contribute additional funding and critical resources.

"This is a prestigious and important moment in the history of Purdue and places our researchers at the center of transformational technological advances in energy production," Purdue President Mitch Daniels said. "What a tribute to our faculty, whose expertise and dedication enable them to play a leading role in this critical work."

CISTAR, which begins operating Oct. 1, will be housed in Purdue's Discovery Park and will be led by Fabio Ribeiro, the R. Norris and Eleanor Shreve Professor of Chemical Engineering.

The center includes academic teams of researchers from Purdue, the University of New Mexico, Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Texas at Austin, as well as partners from industry, national laboratories and national and international research organizations.

"Until we can perfect renewable sources, we have a tremendous resource right here in the United States," said Sangtae Kim, the Jay and Cynthia Ihlenfeld Head of Purdue's Davidson School of Chemical Engineering. "We can use domestic shale resources as a bridge until renewable technologies can completely support our society's needs for chemicals and transportation fuels."

The team has proposed a new process concept that, with innovations in catalysts, separation processes and reactor designs, is projected to be profitable at today's energy prices, Ribeiro said.

These new technologies will help the United States maintain its manufacturing competitiveness while reducing the cost and potential environmental risks associated with gas and natural gas liquids transportation by pipeline, trucks and rail. The CISTAR process also will result in lower carbon emissions by reducing the cost of extracting natural gas and improving energy efficiency in converting light hydrocarbons to fuels and chemicals.

The CISTAR research will be linked with educational, mentoring and outreach initiatives for students at all levels. Graduate students will have opportunities to engage in multi-institution collaborative research, to mentor undergraduate and K-12 students in research, and to plan and participate in K-12 outreach events. Undergraduate students will learn about the research through coursework and educational training such as an entrepreneurship boot camp.

Ribeiro said, "We have a team of extraordinarily talented researchers focused on bringing to fruition new ideas that have the potential to convert a huge but still underutilized hydrocarbon resource into a responsible and efficient pathway to a sustainable energy future. We are eager to see the development and commercialization of the ideas, the associated preparation of a diverse and well-educated workforce to enable their applications, and their impact on the energy scene. We are grateful to NSF and our university and industrial partners for making this exciting opportunity possible."

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