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Brazilian official explores Pennsylvania energy sources

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By Rick Stouffer
Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pittsburgh's energy companies and a federal energy laboratory here were the major reasons a top Brazilian official visited Wednesday.

Marcio Zimmerman, Brazil's deputy minister of mines and energy, flew to Pittsburgh yesterday to learn about energy production and research from executives at Westinghouse Electric Co., Consol Energy Corp. and the National Energy Technology Laboratory in South Park. He spent Monday and Tuesday in meetings with counterparts in Washington before traveling here.

"It's important for us to be updated on efforts concerning energy efficiency and what's being developed with alternate energies like wind, solar, and biomass," Zimmerman said, speaking through an interpreter.

At Consol's Research and Development facility in South Park, he listened to presentations and asked about Consol's coal and natural gas businesses and Westinghouse Plasma Corp.'s high-temperature gasification process.

He was particularly interested during a presentation by state Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary for Mineral Resources Management J. Scott Roberts about the state's Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits, which has sparked major expansion in drilling and production.

"What is the percentage of natural gas that is found in the Marcellus Shale?" And "is the Marcellus Shale natural gas environmentally the same as other natural gas?" Zimmerman asked. The answer is yes.

The minister drew laughs when he said that last year, Brazil's natural gas price, much like in the United States, climbed to $14 per thousand cubic feet on fears of a supply shortage.

"That's not a bad business to be in," Zimmerman said.

Technology at Westinghouse Plasma, a division of Calgary, Alberta Canada-based Alter NRG, also drew questions.

The Madison, Westmoreland County-based company uses superheated air, oxygen and steam to turn fuels such as coal, wood chips, and municipal waste into synthetic gas, which can be used in waste treatment, to produce ethanol and biodiesel, and to repower existing coal-fired power plants.

Zimmerman said he was very interested to see Westinghouse's advanced nuclear reactor, the AP 1000. Westinghouse has started construction of four AP 1000s in China and is exploring other sales worldwide.

"The world today looks through a new face when it looks at nuclear power," Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said both President Obama and Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva have pledged to develop a closer energy relationship, which could benefit other countries.

"Both presidents have agreed that they could help Latin America countries to develop their energy resources, which should be a way to develop economically," he said.

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