The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a Utah company a $500,000 contract to expand research and development work for producing asphalt from Utah's tar sands, a spokesman said.

James W. Bunger and Associates Inc. said the money is for Phase II of a Small Business Innovation Research contract. The Phase I study by JWBA verified the technical, market and economic feasibility for producing a premium, specification-grade asphalt from Uinta Basin tar sands.Dr. James W. Bunger, president of the University of Utah Research Park-based company, says the award was based on an evaluation of the technical merits of the company's proposal.

Phase II will be conducted over a 21-month period and will consist of technology research and development, resource characterization and evaluation, and product and market development.

Bunger, who also works at the University part time as research assistant professor of fuels engineering, says a modular process development unit, based on patented U. technology, will be constructed and operated to obtain engineering design data.

Deposits to be considered are Sunnyside near Price, White Rocks near Roosevelt, Asphalt Ridge near Vernal and P.R. Spring near the Uintah-Grand county line.

The potential for producing asphalt from tar sands was identified as early as 1976 in a project initiated by Bunger and Dr. Alex G. Oblad, Distinguished Professor of Fuels Engineering, and funded by the State Division of Oil, Gas and Mining.

"Results of the (current) project are expected to make technology available for commercial development of Utah tar sands on a large scale," says Bunger. "Production of Utah tar sands for asphalt would improve the availability and quality of asphalts used in the Rocky Mountain region."