University grants aid unconventional forms of energy

Money from Colorado Mesa University’s Unconventional Energy Center will go to help the energy industry find and drill for natural gas, make the most of wells and encourage students to get in on the action.

The Unconventional Energy Center handed out six grants on Tuesday, the first round of grants to be made from a $3.2 million endowment made up of $1.6 million in money from federal mineral lease payments and $1.6 million from the university.

The John McConnell Math and Science Center scored the largest of the grants, $30,000, which will support the Energy Science and Policy program, with Nanocoatings Inc. just behind, with a $25,500 grant.

The grant “will assure that we have a third year” of the Energy, Policy and Science program, said Teresa Coons, executive director of the Math and Science Center.

So far, 35 students have taken the class, which includes visits to drill rigs, mines, the Legislature and other locations to study the energy industry.

“It’s not a lecture format,” Coons said. “It’s very interactive.”

Nanocoatings Inc., will use the grant to continue development of coatings that will give extra life to parts used in the energy business, from hydraulic fracturing to ventilating mine shafts.

Some parts are rendered useless by corrosion after a single hydraulic fracturing job, said Frank Kustas, president and chief technical officer. Coating those parts, as well as equipment such as blades for mine ventilation, could give them extra life and reduce costs, Kustas said.

Nanocoatings, which operates in the Grand Junction Business Incubator Center, is the commercial spinoff of Engineered Coatings Inc., Kustas said.

A grant of $24,718 will go toward research on carbon-dioxide sequestration, enhanced oil recovery and research into shales and tight sands, studying the interactions of rock, fluids and organic material, according to Sally Potter-McIntyre, a grant recipient and a geology lecturer at CMU.

American Shale Oil contributed an additional $4,000 to the program, Potter-McIntyre said. AMSO is conducting research on oil shale on a federal lease on northwest Colorado.

The grant also will include money to help train three students for careers in the energy industry, Potter-McIntyre said.

A fourth grant, one of $17,671, to Rex Cole and Bill Hood of the CMU geology faculty, will be used to study the Mancos formation to determine the likelihood of it containing natural gas reserves.

The deepest parts of the Mancos are known as the Niobrara formation in eastern Colorado, where it’s being tapped for oil.

The data generated by the project will be public, giving small operators access to the same level of information as major companies, Hood said.

“Our thrust is to generate as much interest in the Mancos here as there is on the other side of the mountains,” he said.

Other awards are $5,000 for the Young Entrepreneur Academy and $10,000 from the university’s Center for Local Government, Energy and Environment.


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