Gas Advocates Step Back, Look Forward

By Erin Nelsen, Online Editor | February 2011, Vol. 238 No. 2

The Gas Technology Institute (GTI) holds an unusual position in the natural gas industry: although it is a nonprofit, its business plan is based around an intense focus on the market. And although it advocates for natural gas, it’s looking for long-term innovation, not short-term politics.

The combination of the two positions means GTI has a unique vantage point from which to view the big picture of the natural gas industry—and to try to adjust that picture’s focus.

The organization’s process is simple. “The first question we always ask when we’re considering a new project is, ‘Is this good for the natural gas industry?’” explains vice president of corporate development Ron Snedic. “Is this technology going to move the needle?”

CEO David Carroll puts it slightly differently. “A wise person in the research business once told me, you really need to be working on important problems. If you’re not working on important things, number one, they’re probably not worth solving, and number two, people don’t need to pay you to solve them.” Carroll says that reasoning has guided him in directing GTI since he took over in 2006.

If the project under discussion passes the good-and-important test, GTI applies its scientific experts and formidable Rolodex. “GTI’s strengths are collaboration, project management, research capability and leveraging funding resources,” explains Snedic. “We bring people together to accomplish things they couldn’t alone.” The institute usually has around 300 projects in the works at any one time, slotted into departments for supply, delivery, and utilization, with a strong focus on renewables across each of these areas.

Even at that scale, GTI’s influence is rising. In 2010—its tenth anniversary year—GTI racked up $68 million in net new business, an $8 million increase over 2009. “A very strong year for us in new business,” Snedic acknowledges. For GTI’s predecessor organizations, that kind of footprint would have meant success in lobbying FERC or Congress to direct public money toward their efforts. But GTI is wholly funded by its projects, the royalties they earn and the voluntary investments of other organizations. Each dollar in new business is a vote from the industry that the institute is contributing to its mission. (See sidebar “Happy Birthday, GTI.”)

A few examples of GTI’s current projects of interest:
Water use in shale plays. In the Marcellus shale, GTI is currently involved with projects to quantify water use (and thereby soothe community fears with hard data); detail exactly what additives hydraulic fracturing leaves in wastewater; and develop better, more efficient and cheaper methods of purifying the resultant solution. (See sidebar “Shale Plays And Water Use.”)

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CNG fueling stations. In 2010 GTI and the City of Chicago began the process to install a network of natural gas fueling stations throughout the area to encourage wider use of compressed natural gas-powered vehicles. Waste collection companies Groot and Waste Management have already introduced a fleet of CNG-powered garbage trucks locally, and Snedic reports that taxis and long-haul semis will be among the private-sector adopters in 2011.