Explaining CNG-powered refrigeration systems or electrolytic bromide generator technology in eight minutes is a tall order.
Explaining such concepts in eight minutes with $25,000 on the line? Pressure's on.
But that's exactly what 12 presenters had to do Tuesday at the Shale Gas Innovation Contest, the second annual shale science fair for startups and small firms who want to get their technology out of the lab and onto drill sites.
It takes a rather sophisticated village to access the gas found deep within Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale formation, and the contest is meant to bring more firms into the fold. More than 70 companies applied for the chance to fire up a PowerPoint presentation and pitch their product to oil and gas company representatives watching in a Southpointe hotel.
The event placed startups that have pending patents alongside veteran executives with decades of experience. The field was leveled by the format: eight minutes to sell an idea to a panel of judges, who then had two minutes to ask questions.
A total of $75,000 in prize money went to three winners -- an amount that organizers admit isn't enough to bankroll massive operations but that could be used as a stamp of approval when pitching the product to potential clients or investors.
Drillers operating in the Marcellus Shale of rural Appalachia are often looking for different technologies than their counterparts in Texas or North Dakota. The region's four-season weather, hilly terrain and ample supply of water create site-specific needs not found in other shale formations, said William Hall, director of the Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center in State College.
The need for innovation in Pennsylvania development is now, he said.
"We have a two-to-three year window" to find in-state ways to use Marcellus gas or risk seeing it shipped out of state in pipelines, said Mr. Hall.
One high-profile way to use the gas -- by building a massive petrochemical facility -- is a $5 billion investment that can be cost prohibitive.
But creating a community of smaller vendors trying to treat the gas or turn it into usable products is an easier option, and the contest finalists Tuesday included several companies that promise to transform natural gas into different fuels or chemicals.
State College-based Calyx Bioprocess Technologies showed how it can transform synthesis gas to more useful fuels and chemicals, while several presentations dealt with treating the contaminated waste water created by the drilling process. Many of the participants acknowledged following a crooked route into the oil and gas sector.
Lasers for Innovative Solutions of State College demonstrated how its laser technology -- originally developed for the genetics field -- could analyze shale rock to see which parts of the formation yield the highest production results.
Atlantis Technologies of Oakdale showed off a system originally built to make ocean water drinkable that could be adapted to take the heavy salts out of wastewater extracted from the ground after drilling.
Atlantis' technology -- initially developed for the Army -- was one of three winners in the contest.
Pyrochem Catalyst, a National Energy Technology Laboratory spinout that converts natural gas to a mixture called synthesis gas, also took home $25,000. The third winner was Rev LNG of Pittsford, N.Y., which builds mobile stations that provide liquid natural gas fuel.
The $25,000 prizes come with no strings attached, though participants must have a Pennsylvania headquarters or office to qualify.
The contest was inspired by the Three Rivers Venture Fair, an annual Pittsburgh event where area tech companies pitch their products to potential investors, said Kathryn Klaber, CEO of the Marcellus Shale Coalition industry group that was one of the shale event's sponsors.
The coalition pledged Tuesday to support another shale innovation contest next year.
Erich Schwartzel: email@example.com or 412-263-1455.