Expanded use of combined heat and power (CHP) systems, which recover and make use of waste heat from power generation, could be a means of growing demand for Marcellus Shale natural gas, according to the Commonwealth Recycled Energy Economic Development Alliance (CREEDA).

“Marcellus Shale natural gas-powered CHP systems are more efficient than conventional electricity generation. They also are the lowest-cost method for reducing carbon emissions because they have longer operating hours throughout the year than solar photovoltaic or wind-powered systems,” said Richard Sweetser, senior advisor with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Mid-Atlantic Clean Energy Application Center, who introduced the initiative at the recent Natural Gas Utilization Workshop at Penn State University.

Besides CHP systems, the use of natural gas in transportation and as a fuel and feedstock for local manufacturing were discussed at the conference, with input from international companies with experience in the economics of large-scale energy projects, which the Marcellus has the potential to support.

Marcellus gas has the potential to reinvigorate the petrochemical industry in eastern Pennsylvania and create new petrochemical production in western Pennsylvania, said Tom Richard, director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment. “This is not just about clean energy or about creating a demand for cheap energy but about economic development,” Richard said. “Industries that use natural gas as a feedstock produce eight times more jobs than those that simply burn the fuel.”

Energy-intensive businesses in Pennsylvania that could potentially use Marcellus Shale gas include furnaces and foundries, lumber and wood products and wood processing. Workshop participants also explored the advantages of transitioning from petroleum-based fuels to natural gas-based fuels for transportation. These advantages include reductions in emissions and lower costs on a gasoline-gallon equivalent.

But switching involves significant challenges, from the cost of converting engines to natural gas to the limited refueling infrastructure across both the state and the nation. Regulatory barriers to conversions and bi-fuel vehicles also must be overcome, the group said.

“We need high-profile demonstrations with vehicle deployment to show that we can make this work,” said Andre Boehman, professor of fuel science in the Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

While as recently as 60 years ago many of Pennsylvania’s state institutions were powered by CHP, one of the biggest challenges facing adoption of these systems is lack of awareness by potential users, policymakers and the public of the benefits, such as greater fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions, CREEDA said. The target users of CHP include schools, hospitals and industrial plants.