TribLIVE

| Business

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Bayer looks for source of benzene, pushes research consortium

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

On the Grid

From the shale fields to the cooling towers, Trib Total Media covers the energy industry in Western Pennsylvania and beyond. For the latest news and views on gas, coal, electricity and more, check out On the Grid today.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Tim Puko
Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

The region's cheap supply of shale gas could solve another problem if government and industry collaborate on new ways to convert it to benzene, a local Bayer Corp. executive said at a Downtown conference on Thursday.

The company's MaterialScience division in Robinson is pushing for a research consortium, possibly with the help of National Energy Technology Laboratory, said Don S. Wardius, head of renewable and alternative feedstocks.

Chemical companies use benzene to make foam car seats, sporting goods and paints, but it's expensive and will probably need to be imported to replace declining supplies, Wardius said.

“This is a vision,” he told about 130 researchers, government officials, and chemical and gas industry officials at the “Manufacturing Renaissance Series.” “It could be revolutionary and transformative if it were to come about.”

Bayer has been talking about the project with federal officials for about a year, said Andrew J. Gellman, the head of chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who sat on the same panel and works with the National Energy Technology Laboratory in South Park.

The key is finding a catalyst to make the conversion cheap enough to lower the price of benzene, they said.

“Bayer isn't wild about producing benzene itself,” Gellman said after the talk. “But they would love to have another company supply them.”

American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and the university organized the conference to help manufacturers, the business community, government and researchers collaborate on ways to maximize the cheap supply of gas coming from the Marcellus and other shale formations. The idea for benzene is similar to what Royal Dutch Shell plc and other companies are proposing to make ethylene in the region: Take cheap fuels from shale wells and break them down into raw materials manufacturers use.

Though benzene has many uses, few companies produce it, with its supplies coming mostly as a byproduct of other work, Wardius said. Its production declined 20 percent since 2007, and importing it is now the best solution available, he said.

Funding a research team could cost about $1 million, he said after his presentation. Bayer executives considered doing the project internally but decided it needed broader expertise.

A profitable solution is not guaranteed, and having a public-private partnership would mitigate that risk and help supply the level of expertise required, Wardius added.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Business Headlines

  1. Consol Energy, Range Resources report 2Q losses, plan deeper cuts
  2. Stocks end 5-day slide on strong Ford, UPS earnings
  3. Muni bond funds stressed
  4. U.S. Steel joins major producers in new dumping complaint
  5. Leisure, hospitality lead Pittsburgh area job gains
  6. Bayer sets sights beyond aspirin
  7. Plummeting natural gas prices slash revenue of Marcellus shale producers
  8. Analysts fear momentum in housing market won’t last
  9. Steelworkers union says U.S. Steel using downturn to ‘gut’ contract
  10. Wabtec moves to buy France-based transport company