A Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) campus has been selected by the state’s top economic development organization to be a lead partner in developing the business and market opportunities created by the Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC ethane cracker under construction in Beaver County.

The Behrend campus in Erie, PA, where a plastics industry is established, was selected for the partnership by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. (DCED). The agency played a key role in attracting Shell to western Pennsylvania to build its multi-billion dollar cracker.

“Penn State Behrend can provide critical connections to research support materials testing and a talent pipeline that will add value to this large-scale petrochemical investment and associated growth in the plastics sector,” said DCED’s Denise Brinley, senior energy adviser.

Penn State Behrend’s School of Engineering offers one of only six accredited plastics undergraduate programs in the country. DCED would pilot the development strategies for Shell-related business, including downstream manufacturing, during a series of events in Erie County over the next three years. Several events are to be hosted at the campus.

To support the partnership with DCED, Penn State has committed $250,000 to an energy university partnership for oil and gas strategies. The university said the funding would help advance student-led research at its Institute for Natural Gas Research, the Marcellus Shale and Natural Gas Extension Office and at several other campuses, including Behrend.

A website has been launched for businesses and organizations to post questions related to energy-related matters, including supply chains, economic development and environmental sustainability. Questions are to be assigned to student research teams for answers.

Shell’s cracker has been designed to consume about 100,000 b/d of ethane to manufacture ethylene and polyethylene. The facility is expected to come online in the early 2020s.

Tuesday’s announcement is one of several in recent years as the private and public sectors in the state, along with Ohio and West Virginia, have come together to advance the economic opportunities that the cracker and others proposed for the region may create.