In this low-price environment, the oil and gas industry is hard at work to shore up shareholder value. The focus is on continued efficiency, cost reduction and process improvement. Continuous innovation is needed in every sector of the industry and all along the value chain. Costs can be lowered and processes can be improved at every facet of the play.
This is exactly the space that the Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation & Commercialization Center (SGICC) works in every day. Our mission is to identify and support the effort to commercialize technical innovations to provide value to the shale energy industry in the commonwealth. We are the only group in the nation that focuses solely on this effort – and it’s happening right here in Pennsylvania.
The first step in our process is to identify those innovations that can provide value to the industry. This can be a daunting task. Five years ago, we created the Shale Gas Innovation Contest with cash prizes to the winners as a way to bring innovations to us. The cash prizes are generated by sponsor contributions, and the sponsors are also the judging panel. Our sponsors include major players and independent companies from every sector of the shale energy industry. We have received over 40 applications this year and narrowed the field to determine the most promising innovations. Attendees at the Final Event will see exhibits and hear presentations from over 20 innovative companies as they share details regarding their latest products and services that will positively impact the shale energy industry. At the end of the day, the judges will select the four finalists that each will win $20,000.
The 5th Annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest will take place at the Hilton Garden Inn just southwest of Pittsburgh from 1p.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18. This is a free event put on by the SGICC, a Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA (BFTP/CNP) supported center located in State College, Pennsylvania.
For the last five years, the SGICC has been hard at work supporting myriad entrepreneurs across the state hoping to launch a new product or service to help positively impact the process of shale energy extraction, resource utilization, or improving the safety and environmentally sound practices being used during the process. Bill Hall, SGICC director, spends his time focused on advancing the most promising ideas.
“Until you’ve been in the trenches, so to speak, it’s hard to explain how challenging it is to advance an idea all the way to being a commercially successful product or service,” said Hall. “My job is to sort through dozens of promising ideas and identify ones that SGICC can impact through shining a light on them, helping them vet their concept with potential end users and, in some cases, providing an infusion of outside investment funds through the Ben Franklin Technology Partners program.”
Regarding the SGICC team’s overall effort, Hall commented: “It’s important to understand that this is way more than a one-event contest; it’s the beginning of relationships formed with SGICC that can lead to introductions to potential customers and potential Ben Franklin funding. It is extremely difficult for these small companies to reach major industry players without the help of the SGICC. It’s equally difficult for major players to see past the noise of innovators clamoring for a spot on their vendor list. Many of these major players look to the SGICC vetting process to provide them connections and to perform the initial screening, uncovering quality technology improvements.”
The shale energy play also offers a new playing field for entrepreneurs and can be a new market for an existing product or service being used in other sectors. For example, KCF Technologies, located in State College and a BFTP/CNP-funded company, has commercialized a low-cost, low-power sensor that is used for wireless monitoring of rotating equipment known as condition-based maintenance. Industries like pulp and paper, as well as the building maintenance sector, embraced KCF’s technology years ago, but their concept was new to the shale energy players. Through hard work and persistence and with the support of SGICC, KCF is now rapidly deploying its capability across the industry. Its product improves safety during drilling and fracking while saving the E&P companies significant dollars by increasing productivity and significantly lowering maintenance costs.
Ben Lawrence, KCF’s vice president of sales, commented: “Where would our business be without Ben Franklin Technology Partners? For starters, we would likely be stuck in startup mode and trying to figure out how to commercialize our technology. When it comes to gaining traction within the shale energy sector, the Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation & Commercialization Center has been especially helpful. SGICC is an organization we truly appreciate because they go the extra mile to help with real-world business introductions and trade show exposure. These guys don’t just fund back-office R&D; they take their small business partners by the arm and pull us into real-world customer meetings. They are a model organization leading PA entrepreneurs out of their shells, into the streets, and winning the sales game.”
SGICC has utilized the annual Shale Gas Innovation Contests to identify the majority of the novel technologies under development that they’ve helped advance. Now approaching the fifth contest, the center has a solid base of industry sponsors that provides the prize money to the chosen winners. These companies also supply the contest judges engaged in vetting the technologies.
Dante Bonaquist, senior corporate fellow, R&D at Praxair, is another sponsor and judge. “Through the Shale Gas Innovation Contest, SGICC brings together a broad range of promising ideas covering production, transportation, and utilization,” he said. From the technology-scouting perspective, there is no better opportunity to see high-caliber, shale gas-related innovations on display at a single event.”
This year’s contest also will include a keynote address by Joe Frantz, vice president of engineering for the Marcellus Shale Division of Range Resources Corp. Frantz will share his views regarding Range Resources’ innovation strategies, noting, “Range’s operational team continues to be creative and efficient in how we do our work, from small steps to large-scale changes, to help reduce costs. Last year alone, Range saw drilling costs drop by 21 percent per lateral foot, combined with a 33 percent reduction in completion costs.” Frantz’s presentation will focus on Range’s key drivers in well cost reductions and the application of technology to improve overall performance.
The contest uncovers a broad array of technologies. Any new technology that could be employed along the entire O&G industry value chain is of interest. This includes natural gas or NGL utilization concepts; exploration or drilling/fracturing-related technologies; water management or technologies such as novel coatings or chemicals, sensors, IT management concepts, and EH&S focused technologies.
To learn more about the upcoming Shale Gas Innovation Contest Finals Event, go towww.sgicc.org and click on the “2016 Shale Gas Innovation Contest” button. Information regarding all of the companies participating can be found there as well as registration information to attend the free event.
As part of the statewide Ben Franklin Technology Partners network, the Shale Gas Innovation & Commercialization Center is designed to vet new technology concepts, business strategies, or products/services directed towards the shale energy play, and when appropriate to provide access to seed capital that will help move promising concepts and early stage small companies forward.