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I ndustrial R esearch O ffice N ewsletter


Summer 2011

PETROGEL™ Technology Offers Better Way to Clean Up Oil Spills Page 5

Also Inside... From the Director / Tech Transfer News Briefs. 2

Penn State Researcher Aims for Pure Water. 3

Research Team Strives to Protect the Chesapeake Bay. 4

Penn State Partners with Lockheed Martin to Develop Metamaterials. 6

Upcoming Events. 7

Innovation Park Featured Invention: PETROGEL™. 8

fro m t h e d i r e c t o r - Tanna P u g h , I n d u s t r i a l R e s e a r c h O f f i c e Our summer issue of The IRON is focused on research capabilities and new intellectual property in water related technologies. Water is a fundamental aspect of life that impacts all of us now; and it will have even greater implications in the future due to the growing world population. As we considered options for articles for our summer issue, the necessity to highlight some of the faculty members with expertise in water science became obvious. Penn State has strengths in modeling, monitoring of water resources, water treatment/remediation and restoration, watershed issues, and legacy and nutrient pollution to name only a few of the many research topics. In a recent strategic planning process, the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment (PSIEE) has made water science one of its strategic priorities. This is indicative of the high level of support, capabilities and future growth that is expected. I encourage you to not only review the sampling of articles in this issue, but consider calling the Industrial Research Office to gather greater understanding of all of the water science resources available to industry. I hope you enjoy this issue of The IRON. 814-865-9519



Penn State receives $27.3 million NIH grant

Hershey, Pa. -- Penn State, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine have won a $27.3 million, five-year award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) designed to accelerate the translation of scientific discovery into methods for improving public health. This competitive Clinical and Translational Science Award will support the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), a collaboration of many Penn State colleges and institutes, along with community and industry partners, devoted to using their research and outreach expertise to improve the health of Pennsylvanians.

Armstrong Process Group makes $9 million donation to IST center

University Park, Pa. -- Through the largest gift in kind in the history of Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), Armstrong Process Group (APG), a leading enterprise architecture service provider, is contributing software and content to support research and educational initiatives in the college’s Center for Enterprise Architecture (EA). The commitment is valued at $9 million dollars, to be utilized over several years, and it will help to shape the partnerships formed by the college and the center with businesses and organizations.



“APG’s support of the Center for Enterprise Architecture is an extraordinary example of corporate vision and philanthropic investment,” said David Hall, dean of the College of IST. “The commitment not only helps to set a new standard for giving by our partners in industry; it will also fuel the kind of boundary-crossing, solution-driven research and education that is the core of the IST mission.”

Ag gets $5 million grant to study food insecurity, food system

University Park, Pa. -- As part of a national initiative to reduce food insecurity, faculty in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences will direct a new $5 million project to study whether greater reliance on regionally produced foods could improve food access and affordability for disadvantaged communities, while also benefiting farmers and others in the food supply chain. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the project -- “Enhancing Food Security in the Northeast with Regional Food Systems” -- brings together researchers, educators, entrepreneurs and community leaders from a 12-state region to shed light on how the food system can better serve all Americans.

Penn State biofuels researchers get large grants from USDA

University Park, Pa. -- Three researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences recently were awarded a total of more than $2.8 million in Sustainable Bioenergy Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Penn State was one of only four universities to get three of these grants, and no other institution received more support from the program.

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www.research.psu . e d u / t h e i r o n

Penn State Researcher Aims for Pure Water


wo basics of life—clean water and energy—help keep Mike Hickner highly motivated in his Steidle Building labs. One of his goals is to develop technology that allows consumers to recycle water from their homes and decrease their reliance on the power grid. Home waterpurification units and distributed power devices—whether it’s power from a solar panel that sits atop their roof or from an energy storage device that is plugged into their basement—will usher in a new era of how we use and conserve energy.

Mike Hickner

Hickner is Assistant Professor and Walker Faculty Fellow in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Penn State and works with a team of researchers to develop technology related to alternative energy systems and next-generation polymers for water purification and antifouling applications. He has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Michigan Tech, a M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Virginia Tech, and has been at Penn State since 2007.

“We can have technology in our homes or office buildings to provide more of our everyday needs,” he says. Consider the pipes that carry water throughout a city. “These underground systems and infrastructure are getting very old. We need to figure out better ways to reuse, recycle and purify our domestic water supply as resources and infrastructure become more strained.” Converting salty ocean water into drinkable water is just one project for Hickner and his colleagues. He has developed close ties with researchers at the U.S. Navy and Army. A Navy ship might be in the middle of an ocean, and the sailors need to convert ocean water into drinking water. The Army may only have access to swamp or lake water and they too need to purify this water for consumption. Hickner wants to simplify and improve the desalination and purification process. “We need to get rid of viruses and pathogens and safely purify the water that our military members have access to, wherever that is in the world,” Hickner says.

The military’s basic everyday needs are water, energy and food. The Army and Navy are early adopters of new technologies since their training bases can be considered small, movable cities with self-contained infrastructures. And this controlled environment is helpful when implementing new technologies. Another water-related technology that Hickner is spearheading includes developing a polymer coating that can inhibit unwanted growth on the hulls of Navy ships, which will help keep these ships running efficiently. Because of his work in membranes and water treatment, the Department of Defense awarded Hickner a $1 million Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) grant to help fund his ongoing “The Industrial Research research.

Office plays an important role in interfacing with Hickner and his team are companies. These strong also focusing efforts on alternative energy storage. ties make us more visible This work includes storage in the industrial sector.”

devices that can be linked ~Mike Hickner to solar panels and wind generators. “We have to store energy for times during the day when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow,” he says. “Someday, we hope to charge our electric cars from our homes and not rely on the city’s aging electrical grid for all of our energy needs.” Major work in energy storage in Hickner’s lab is funded by DOE ARPA-E in a collaborative project with Chao-Yang Wang (Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering) and Proton OnSite, a leading company in hydrogen production. To discover these next generation materials, Hickner works closely with other universities and federal agencies, and collaborates with companies such as General Motors, Dow Chemical and 3M. Other partners include Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory. “The Industrial Research Office plays an important role in interfacing with companies. These strong ties make us more visible in the industrial sector.” “Water and energy are long-term issues. We will always need research to address these critical needs,” he says. Michael Hickner,

Summer 2011

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Research Team Strives to Protect the Chesapeake Bay Photo credit: Ben Longstaff, IAN Image Library


ncouraging Pennsylvania residents to be literate about the Chesapeake Bay is an ongoing effort for Penn State’s Kristen Saacke Blunk, senior extension associate, College of Agricultural Sciences – Agriculture and Environment Center. “Pennsylvania residents must understand their ‘spheres of influence’ when it comes to protecting our landscape and our local water supply that drains into the Bay,” she says. “We must continue to increase our understanding in the next 10 to 15 years of the connections between land-management choices, local water quality, and ultimately what impacts the Bay.” A Penn State research team, which includes Saacke Blunk, has launched a “discovery watershed” approach to improve local water quality in ways that ultimately restore the Chesapeake Bay and its ecosystem. The Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, home to 300 species of fish, shellfish and crabs. Even though the Bay does not border the state of Pennsylvania, the Susquehanna River—which represents just one of the more than 150 rivers and streams that drain into the Bay—drains more than half of Pennsylvania’s land base, providing more than 50 percent of the Bay’s fresh water. The goal is to adopt conservation practices that can improve water quality in bay tributaries. Pennsylvania residents, including agricultural producers, need to adopt better water stewardship and increase their level of concern about this precious water resource. Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay has been a priority for some time. President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2010 to vastly increase federal efforts and coordination to clean up the Bay. Cleanup efforts appear to be paying off. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the most recent Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey, there are about 460 million blue crabs—the second highest level since 1997. For decades, the Chesapeake has experienced harmful algae blooms due to excess nutrients and sediments, primarily coming from animal agriculture, sewage-treatment plants, and growing stormwater volumes from urban and suburban areas in the watersheds feeding the Bay. As the algae die,

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their decomposition uses up large amounts of oxygen in the water, creating dead zones of depleted oxygen where aquatic life can’t survive. The Penn State team wants to engage people within their communities and help them work together. “Anyone purchasing food, yard services, or making land-use decisions has the potential to impact the Bay,” Saacke Blunk says. Other groups that can become involved include local watershed associations, governmental agencies and foundations. “Pennsylvania agricultural, residential and urban practices will play a huge role in the Chesapeake’s future,” she says. There is, however, disagreement over the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan. For instance, farmers’ groups are suing the federal government primarily claiming that its pollution standards aren’t legally enforceable. The American Farm Bureau Federation and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau filed the complaint against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in federal court in 2011, calling the recently enacted standards flawed in several respects. The Farm Bureau emphasized that the lawsuit is not about reducing agriculture’s commitment to help restore the Chesapeake Bay. Rather it’s about challenging the EPA’s authority. Pennsylvania farmers are working with the Department of Environmental Protection on measures that would enhance efforts to reduce runoff from farmland. The lawsuit says that states, rather than the EPA, have the authority under the Clean Water Act to implement the total maximum daily load thresholds for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. Nevertheless, Saacke Blunk says states have significantly reduced the nutrients coming out of sewage-treatment plants and are seeing increasing evidence that farming conservation practices are producing results. “With practices like no-till, cover cropping, riparian buffers, and keeping livestock out of streams, we’re not losing the soil and nutrients that we once were. We have seen overall improvements in water quality indicators in the Susquehanna River.” Agriculture and Environment Center,

www.research.psu . e d u / t h e i r o n

PETROGEL™ Technology Offers Better Way to Clean Up Oil Spills


ith his many years of experience working at Exxon during the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, Professor T. C. (Mike) Chung, now in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is very aware of the need to safely clean up oil spills—even before the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico happened last year. He feels it’s his duty, and that of his team of researchers here at Penn State, to provide a better solution to more effectively remove, recover and clean up any oil spills that occur in the future. The oil spill in the Gulf provided yet another reminder of the need to develop a better way to handle this type of environmental disaster. “Most of the methods used in the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico were decades-old, low-tech, manpower-intensive methods, and some of the dispersants had unknown environmental consequences,” he says. “The goal is to clean up spills in a more effective manner—while being easier on the environment.” Chung, who has a vast background in polymer chemistry, has developed a new technology for oil recovery and cleanup. It’s called PETROGEL™, which Penn State has trademarked and plans to license in the near future. This new PETROGEL technology offers a unique combination of advantages over the existing oil absorbents, including high oil-absorption capability, no water absorption, fast kinetics, easy recovery from the water’s surface, no waste in natural resources, and cost-effectiveness. It’s a low density polyolefin composition with superabsorbent properties that effectively transform an oil spill in the natural environment, such as an ocean oil spill, into a soft, solid oil-containing gel. The oil-containing gel has sufficient structural integrity to be collected and transported without difficulty. Furthermore, the gel can easily be converted to a liquid and refined as regular crude oil. Penn State is currently seeking funding for this technology; possible sources include corporations, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Science Foundation.

Summer 2011

Other materials used to clean up oil spills have, unfortunately, shown their limitations. Scientists have used inorganic mineral products (e.g. clay, silica, zeolites) and organic vegetable products (e.g. straw, corn cob, peat moss, wood fiber, cotton fiber) for oil absorption, although they also absorb water and become unsuitable for further processing. Most of the commercially available oil absorbents show oil recovery capability at less than five times their weight. The recovered absorbent/oil mixtures are then treated as industrial waste which needs to be either burned or buried at specially-designated dumps. Some of these dumps are near residential neighborhoods. The difference with PETROGEL is its ability to absorb the oil, not the water, as well as more effectively release the recovered solid wastes. With PETROGEL, the resulting polyolefin/oil mixture can be treated as regular crude oil, suitable for the regular refining processes. One pound of PETROGEL is rated at 40 times absorption capacity and can recover more than five gallons of the spilled oil (currently treated as pollutants and wastes) to regular crude oil that is worth more than $15 (based on $100/barrel). “There is no waste of natural resources and no pollution in the air or water,” Chung says. Furthermore, polyolefin products are the most inexpensive polymeric materials, with a large production capability around the world. As a conservative estimate, the production cost of T. C. Mike Chung new PETROGEL material may be below $2 per pound in the large-scale industrial production. “This new technology can dramatically reduce the economic and environmental impacts created by oil spills,” Chung says. T. C. Mike Chung,

Visit for a video of this technology.

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Penn State Partners with Lockheed Martin to Develop Metamaterials


etamaterial technology is set to transform the performance of spacecraft antennas by offering reduced weight and lower cost, according to researchers at Penn State who are partnering with a team from Lockheed Martin.

Doug Werner

This breakthrough material can significantly improve the performance of spacecraft antennas because it can help make components smaller and/ or more lightweight. “This is important in space-based applications and can also be less costly to manufacture,” says Professor Doug Werner, director of the Penn State Computational Electromagnetics and Antennas Research Lab.

He has been leading a team of students and researchers who have developed the design tools for this technology. Modifications enabled by metamaterials can either enhance performance, or they can lower the mass and thus lower the cost of putting an antenna into space. “Lighter antennas reduce the cost of boosting a satellite into space. And once it’s in orbit, weight is also a factor,” Werner says. Metamaterials, simply put, are human-engineered materials that have exotic properties going beyond what are commonly found in nature. “Meta” is a Greek prefix meaning “beyond.” Metamaterials derive their unusual properties from structure rather than composition. Lockheed Martin’s University Research Initiative (URI) Program funded this project, which produced a metamaterial used in a horn-shaped satellite antenna. Researchers at Lockheed Martin had already come up with a concept design for the antenna, but they needed a metamaterial lining with a broad operating bandwidth of at least an octave, that would prevent the power going into the antenna from dropping too much before it could be transmitted. Lockheed Martin partnered with Penn State because they had the capability to custom-design and fabricate these metamaterials, according to Jeff Mucha, senior manager at Lockheed Martin. The company also wanted to reduce the weight of the antenna since anything going into space needs to be as light as possible. These antennas are for commercial

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applications: broadband devices, telecommunication systems, audio and video links, and other communication purposes. The antennas are naturally lighter because they are filled with air inside and have a thin metamaterial liner, Werner says. He also says that the new metaliner design needed a refractive index (the measurement of how much electromagnetic waves bend when they pass through something) of between 0 and 1. Air’s refractive index is 1 and this number is higher for most other natural materials. Penn State and Lockheed Martin have been working on this technology for the past three years. “We decided that the first year we were going to focus on applications for radio frequency antennas, where we thought we had a reasonable chance to succeed,” says Erik Lier, technical Fellow, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. It’s one of the first examples of a real-world use for metamaterials research, according to Werner. “It’s considered to be the first commercially viable product of its kind and is one of the first practical implementations of electromagnetic metamaterials that improves a real-world device,” he says. Werner’s team is also researching making antennas entirely out of the circuit boards, which would weigh and cost even less. Werner’s team will work with Theresa Mayer, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Penn State, focusing on optical metamaterials and nanostructures. Her team will move into Penn State’s Millennium Science Complex, slated to be completed by late Summer 2011. This state-of-theart facility will feature interdisciplinary research between the Life Sciences and the Material Sciences faculty and students. Penn State continues to refine its design process. “We have proven the concept already, and we are now working on a third-generation design,” Werner says. Penn State will continue to search for new ways to use this metamaterial technology. “We plan to seek out a broader range of other applications in the future,” he says.

Doug Werner,

www.research.psu . e d u / t h e i r o n

upcoming events Biomass Life Cycle Analysis The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel • State College, PA • July 26-27, 2011 Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is the normative benchmark method for analyzing bioenergy projects as to their environmental benefits and consequences. LCA is a key component to project planning and is the primary tool for comparing different bioenergy projects and options. Join us for this important and valuable 2-day short course that combines presentations and discussions on the role and importance of Bioenergy LCA with hands-on training in conducting LCA for a bioenergy project. Networking and Q&A sessions will also be an important component of the course, allowing participants to share insights and ask questions related to their particular interests. The hands-on training will utilize SimaPro Life Cycle Analysis software, and will introduce participants to the skills and techniques of carrying out LCA.

Wind Energy Engineering Short Course Nittany Lion Inn • State College, PA • August 1-4, 2011 This course was developed initially for new wind industry professionals and is being offered for the first time to the public. It is intended for those with an engineering or scientific background who are new to the industry or aspiring to transition into a wind energy technical position. Participants will get a comprehensive, engineering overview of wind energy systems and technology issues. Classroom lectures will be supplemented with a tour of a wind energy facility. Instructors are experienced wind energy faculty from Penn State’s Aerospace, Civil, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Departments as well as from the Meteorology and Energy Business & Finance Departments.

Penn State Ag Progress Days Rock Springs, PA • August 16-18, 2011 Ag Progress Days, Pennsylvania’s largest outdoor agricultural exposition, will return for its annual three-day run. Sponsored by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, the event is held at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs, nine miles southwest of State College on Pa. Route 45.

Workshop: Field Assisted Sintering Technology Nittany Lion Inn • State College, PA • August 24-25, 2011 A workshop for academia, national laboratories, equipment manufacturers and end users to exchange science and technology. The Penn State Applied Research Lab will present Field Assisted Sintering Technology (FAST), also known as Spark Plasma Sintering, as an emerging manufacturing technology process having a significant impact on sintering and densification of various ceramic, metallic and composite materials.

Summer 2011

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Innovation Park at Penn State Featured Invention

Innovation Park at Penn State is a 118-acre business park that provides companies with multiple real estate options and access to Penn State resources and the support services.

PETROGEL™: Super Absorbent for Oil Recovery and Cleanup Inventors: T. C. Mike Chung Penn State Invention Disclosure No. 3708

The IRON Industrial Research Office Newsletter Subscribe to the e-Edition of The IRON at The IRON is published three times per year: Spring, Summer, and Fall/Winter. Industrial Research Office The Pennsylvania State University 119 Technology Center Building University Park, PA 16802 814-865-9519 Send comments or suggestions for The IRON to: Gregory Angle, Marketing Strategy Specialist Featured Article Writer: Laura Coyne This publication is available in alternative media on request. The Pennsylvania State University is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to programs, facilities, admission, and employment without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. It is the policy of the University to maintain an academic and work environment free of discrimination, including harassment. The Pennsylvania State University prohibits discrimination and harassment against any person because of age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or veteran status. Discrimination or harassment against faculty, staff or students will not be tolerated at The Pennsylvania State University. Direct all inquiries regarding the nondiscrimination policy to the Affirmative Action Director, The Pennsylvania State University, 328 Boucke Building, University Park, PA 16802-2801, Tel (814) 865-4700/V, (814) 863-1150/TTY. U.Ed. RES 11-38.

PETROGEL™ is a polyolefin foam composition that has super-absorbent properties that effectively transform an oil spill in the natural environment, such as an ocean oil-spill, into a soft solid oil-containing gel. Invention Description PETROGEL™ is a polyolefin foam composition that has superabsorbent properties that effectively transform an oil spill in the natural environment, such as an ocean oil-spill, into a soft solid oil-containing gel. The oil-containing gel has sufficient structural integrity to be easy collected and transported. Further, the entire oil containing gel can be easily converted to liquid and refined as regular crude oil. The polyolefin composition used is a crosslinked amorphous polyolefin polymer having porous morphology with open cells and surface area more than 50 m2/g. The materials are expected to be fairly low cost using standard polymer manufacturing techniques. Invention Advantages • high oil absorption capability • fast kinetics • little or no water absorption • easy recovery from water surface • no waste in natural resources • low material cost Contact For Licensing Information Bradley Swope, Sr. Technology Licensing Officer Penn State Intellectual Property Office • 814-863-5987

Learn more at

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Summer 2011 - Penn State Industrial Research Office Newsletter  
Summer 2011 - Penn State Industrial Research Office Newsletter  

The Summer 2011 edition of the Penn State Industrial Research Office Newsletter, The IRON, features water-related research and technologies:...