Researchers from five public universities are working with the oil and gas industry and others to develop new technologies for converting shale gas into transportation fuels and petrochemicals, potentially adding $20 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

According to Purdue University, one of five schools collaborating in the Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources (CISTAR), a National Science Foundation (NSF) engineering research center, the NSF will provide $19.75 million in funding over five years to develop the shale gas technologies.

Purdue added that the NSF, an independent federal agency, is expected to financially contribute to CISTAR for a total of 10 years, with industrial and university partners providing additional funding and resources. The other schools working at the center are the University of New Mexico, Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Texas at Austin. CISTAR is headquartered at Purdue.

"Our challenge is to make the best and most responsible use of these staggering [shale] resources," said CISTAR's Peter Keeling, director of industry and innovation. Director Fabio Ribeiro added that researchers are "striving to revitalize the U.S. industry and its workforce through STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] research aimed at responsibly realizing the potential of shale resources."

According to its website, CISTAR's 19 industrial stakeholders include supermajors BP plc, ExxonMobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell plc.

Purdue said CISTAR's research "focuses on developing new catalysts, separation methods and process design, including modular systems that deliver cost-effective solutions for the transformation of alkane resources with major positive potential impacts on the environment, society and economy." The center's website shows its strategy also includes deploying small, mobile manufacturing plants close to U.S. shale plays.