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

James W. Bunger, president of the University of Utah Research Park-based company James W. Bunger and Associates, says the award is based on a competitive evaluation of the technical merits of the company's proposal.Brunger said results of the project are expected to make technology available for commercial development of Utah tar sands on a large scale. He also said production of Utah tar sands for asphalt would improve the availability and quality of asphalts used in the Rocky Mountain region.

The award is for the second phase of a Small Business Innovation Research contract. The Phase I study by Bunger verified the technical, market and economic feasibility for producing a premium, specification-grade asphalt from Uintah Basin tar sands.

The potential for producing asphalt from tar sands was identified in 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.

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 university technology, will be built and operated to obtain engineering design data.

Deposits under consideration are Sunnyside near Price, White Rocks near Roosevelt, Asphalt Ridge near Vernal and P.R. Spring near the Uintah County and Grand County line.