Energy research funds to flow into Pittsburgh area

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Three companies and a consortium of five universities have received a major federal contract for energy research that could be worth nearly half a billion dollars over the next five years, with much of the money flowing into the Pittsburgh region.

The research contracts will support the work of the National Energy Technology Laboratory in South Park and Morgantown, W.Va., and fund everything from carbon capture techniques to cleaner power production.

The schools providing research scientists are the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, West Virginia University, Penn State University and Virginia Tech.

The lead contractor for the project is San Francisco-based engineering firm URS Corp., which will provide support services to the national lab sites and coordinate the various university research projects.

Booz Allen Hamilton, a McLean, Va., consultant, will get a contract to analyze the nation's energy system and the impact of various energy policies, while KeyLogic Systems, based in Morgantown, will provide project evaluation services.

The initial two-year contract, renewable to five years, is worth an estimated $465 million.

Andrew Gellman, a chemical engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon and research director for the consortium, said one major focus will be technologies to capture carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and store them underground or convert them into more benign substances.

Researchers also will work on hybrid power plants that might combine fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas with such other energy sources as biomass, wind and solar power, Dr. Gellman said, as well as conducting basic research on the chemistry of fuels and catalysts.

"One of the guiding themes we're trying to advocate," he said, "is fossil energy that integrates with renewable energy in a synergistic way."

The new contracts will at least double previous energy research funding from the federal government, Dr. Gellman said. Carnegie Mellon and Pitt alone have more than 170 scientists doing energy research.

The infusion of federal money could also generate new jobs in the region, attract new students and even lead to some demonstration power plants using experimental technology, he said.

URS, the lead contractor, already has a strong relationship with the Department of Energy, managing four other national labs, including the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.


Mark Roth can be reached at mroth@post-gazette.com or at 412-263-1130.


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