Design Philosophy for Institute for Natural Gas Research

Given the enormous change in the marketplace, speed of change the design for the Institute for Natural Gas Research addresses both WHAT is done and HOW it is done.  The WHAT subject matter for the Institute is Energy, Energy System Transformation the role of Natural Gas as an element of future energy system design. For HOW dimension emphasizes collaboration, multidisciplinary teamwork and the use of technology to build new practices.

Mission for Institute for Natural Gas Research

Build a new research, development and education collaboration among students, faculty with Partners for economic growth and transition to future energy supply


Institute Design

To maximize multidisciplinary education and research the Institute for Natural Gas Research is designed as a series of  “horizontals”. The design of a horizontal cuts across all functional skills areas engaging multiple colleges, departments and capabilities across Penn State. Segmentation for a horizontal can be by market or major technology.  Examples would be oil and gas market or power/propulsion technology.

For each horizontal we seek a set of sponsors to help build and engage in all aspects of operation with an integrated education platform that can be used for sharing education, learning and reference material.  For both students and for use in sponsor organizations. The concept of a horizontal is not limited to technical areas. Economic development, regulation and policy also represent areas for horizontal design. Ultimately with a complete set of activities largely efforts can be created around scenario evaluation and policy planning for a broad range of future options.


Each horizontal is designed to access the broad range of capabilities at Penn State and to form multidisciplinary teams to work on problems in partnership with stakeholders.  Each horizontal will use a common framework but be operated locally in consultation with sponsors.

The term horizontal has been selected as it represents an integrated view from market back to basic research. A horizontal is intended to be a virtual structure and will be supported by existing functional structures within the University.


Integrated Market to Research

The figure below is an example integrated view for the oil and gas horizontal.

Virtual Asset: The concept of a “virtual asset” is to be a complete digital snapshot of all data that characterize an oil and gas formation. Ideally real-time data would be available, under NDA as needed, so that current information would be available for analysis.  There are many other domains where the concept of “virtual asset” could be developed which ultimately could lead to “virtual operations” at the University.  This would lead to much more realistic educational experiences for students.

Integrated Education: An asset life cycle course covering all aspects of operation from geology to business analysis will be developed and used to education. The content of that course would be developed in partnership with sponsor companies.

Research:  Several options have been developed for proposing and selecting specific sponsored research projects.  Sponsored projects would most likely have an immediate market benefit.  From the virtual asset analysis new concepts would be generated.  Additionally, for on-going basic research having connection to market need provides guidance for longer term basic research. From this integrated view having a feedback loop to the field for new trials, operation changes etc. could be made. Further as projects are developed specific services, facilities use and other educational opportunities could be engaged.

Integrated Education

Below is illustrated a longer term concept.  By building a generally accessible library of course content the delivery of the “virtual asset course” or any other training offering could reference existing content.  Having content that is available from all colleges and disciplines will enable constructing truly multidisciplinary courses.  It is also possible to extend this model so that it can be self-paced or used externally within sponsor companies.

Having an integrated effort will enable capturing and making available most current technology as practiced.  Given the short cycle-times in the market this will help to maintain a current educational offering.

Horizontal Design Details

As needs change the structure of the horizontal can also change.  Local and shared elements of a horizontal are below:

  • Horizontal champion – Senior faculty with time allocated for external engagement and internal development or Professor of Practice with knowledge from the market / application side
  • Program Leader(s) – a critical role to run integrated projects so that overall program objective can be satisfied from integration of multiple functional projects. This is critical to ensure that activities underway are integrated and working toward common outcomes. Often this type of role is lacking and an option that is being used is to hire senior graduate students and providing leadership training for their professional development. Another concept is to create a role of “industrial post-doc”. A role which could be pre-employment in industry with training and experience in a given domain prior to taking on a permanent position.
  • Innovation funds – a source of funds for allocation by the horizontal team to new emerging ideas that warrant attention or might advance the project activities under consideration. Typical funding in a University is to write a proposal or resource request for a specific project. Often these are prioritized by external functional metrics separate from the goals of the horizontal. Having a source of funds for allocation to local ideas will not only promote rapid advancement of the best concepts as judged by the local team it will also eliminate unproductive overhead of review and decision making.
  • External sponsors – companies with an interest in the horizontal space who can help provide market insight, problems as well as guidance and funding support. A range of engagements are available. Shared publicly funded projects that are pre-competitive gain from market based feedback. Where there is an interest to have IP-protected projects this can be established based on Penn State’s IP policies. Further, collaboration across multiple sponsors is possible if they desire and have a collaborative commercial relationship in the marketplace. Further for sponsors who want to have access to a specific set of technology development major sponsorships can be designed allocating topics, based on faculty agreement, to a select company or companies. Precedent for this is with the Start Lab in Mechanical Engineering.
  • Affiliate faculty – faculty from across all Penn State regardless of discipline who have an interest and can become an affiliate faculty and contribute to the projects under consideration.
  • Integrated Education Plan – using a shared EdTech platform basic training, application knowledge would be jointly defined and implemented for shared access. Initially the emphasis would be on content between University and Business and focus on best-in-class reference material for the horizontal space that is jointly created and hosted. A number of outcomes from future certificated, new education programs, student orientation are all possibilities.
  • Practices Sharing – there is never a perfect organization structure. It is intended to have a shared team of horizontal champions who share current needs and opportunities to enable translation and sharing of ideas. Further, the horizontal structure can involve any of the Penn State campuses as well as outside university partners.

Shared Practices

  • University Support –Based on sponsor interest there would be funds available from the University to cover the core horizontal costs: senior faculty support, program leader support and initial innovation funds.
  • Sponsor Support – to minimize overhead costs and simplify operation a set of shared common practices have been designed. Any sponsor funding would be allocated to a central University account. Based on the priority expressed by the sponsor the funds would be directed to the horizontals and specific activities of interest at all of Penn State. Further, funds would not be spent until agreement with sponsor on specific activities.
  • Public Funding Support – as part of the development in each horizontal areas for advanced study would be identified and proposals developed to build a public funding support.
  • Agreements and IP – common practices and single point of contact on the Penn State has been designed to minimize complexity, as possible, in processing agreements.
  • Sponsor engagement – critical to success of operation is to have an active set of sponsors to support effort from need through basic research. And integration with sponsor operation. Having sponsor funding support can assist with direct projects as well as be a source of co-funding for major public research proposals. Assisting with the design and submission of major proposals provides funds to create a balanced research to market effort.
  • Student Support – a major emphasis of the horizontal is to build an integrated education model into the design and operation of a horizontal. Discovery fellowships that allow students to explore an emerging topic, to spend time at a sponsor company or other education activity would be desired. Further help with securing 1X funding for major equipment, facilities or other capabilities for the horizontal would be helpful based on priority and need.
  • Education – a shared EdTech platform is being designed for sharing across all horizontals. Support for development of new training, problem based course design, field application training etc. would be valuable. Further, extending this capability for internships and other student education could complement existing training supplied by the University.
  • Program Management – a common project management system to share and make efforts underway more accessible across functional groups subject to IP restrictions agreed to with the sponsor.