Q&A

Houston energy leader on why the industry needs to implement circular economy, other sustainable initiatives

"Our focus on sustainability is the right thing to do for our employees, for our customers, and for our communities." Photo courtesy of EthosEnergy

When Ana Amicarella took the helm of EthosEnergy in 2019, she had no idea of the challenges that awaited her company, the industry, and the world.

But Amicarella, a former synchronized swimmer from Venezuela who competed in the 1984 Summer Olympics who has three decades of leadership experience at energy companies, has what it took to steer the ship in the choppy waters that was the pandemic, the ongoing energy transition, and more.

In a discussion with EnergyCapital, she shares how she navigated that difficult time and how important she feels it is that energy companies are committed to reducing their carbon footprints — especially through tapping into the circular economy.

EnergyCapital: How have you led EthosEnergy through the past few difficult years? What were the company’s biggest challenges and how did you address them?

Ana Amicarella: Growing EthosEnergy into a global powerhouse with hundreds of millions in turnover within nine years was a formidable task. Since our inception in 2014, we've expanded to 94 locations with 4,000 employees, becoming a leading provider of rotating equipment services in the power, oil, and gas sectors. However, when I assumed the role of CEO in December 2019, the company had evolved into a complex, unwieldy structure with missed opportunities and unsustainable overheads, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the pandemic, we were already on the path to transformation. COVID-19 accelerated our OneEthos strategy, focused on simplifying our business, fostering a new culture, and strengthening client relationships. Extensive listening exercises were held with staff and customers in March 2020 that led to a restructuring plan that was swiftly approved by the board. On July 1, 2020, we launched the new structure, emphasizing that this transformation went beyond organizational changes. Our simplified OneEthos plan focuses on core strengths, eliminating unprofitable activities, embracing cultural principles, and maintaining an unwavering commitment to quality and consistency for our customers. We've also shifted our perspective on capital expenditures, aligning them with energy transition goals to become the preferred partner for critical rotating equipment, offering assistance with end-of-life equipment and carbon footprint reduction as our key value proposition.

EC: How is EthosEnergy future-proofing its business amid the energy transition?

AA: We believe we have a moral responsibility to take a leading role in shaping a better future for us and for generations to come – essentially, we are trying to "Turn on Tomorrow." Our focus on sustainability is the right thing to do for our employees, for our customers, and for our communities. I like to say that behind our company’s name is a team of people. Behind our customers’ names are teams of people. Together we all share common communities, a common environment, and a common reliance on transparent, ethical practices.

A few years ago, we introduced a framework to help us build growth, financial sustainability and deliver long-term value. Our aim is to create value and improve our economic, social, and environmental impact by focusing in the following six areas: Policies and Procedures, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Environmental Footprint, Engineering Solutions, Alliances and Partnerships, and Third-Party Suppliers. As an example, for Environmental Footprint we are implementing programs to install LED lighting in our facilities, implement more robust environmental recycling and waste reduction plans, and identify other energy efficiency programs around the company. From a third-party supplier’s perspective, we are focused on increasing our spend with minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses. In the last two years, we’ve increased spend in those categories by 35 percent in the US alone. And, we are working towards issuing our first sustainability report in the near future.

EC: How does EthosEnergy help customers shrink their carbon footprint and why is that important to you as a business?

AA: Concerns about climate change have started to exert pressure on conventional business models that follow a linear approach of "take, make, dispose" – a system where we acquire new items, use them, and then discard them when they are no longer needed.

A circular economy approach, on the other hand, disconnects economic activities from excessive material and energy consumption by establishing closed-loop systems where waste and carbon-footprint is minimized, and resources are repeatedly used. Even industries traditionally adhering to linear models, like oil and gas and utilities, can incorporate elements of circularity into their operations. EthosEnergy explores the possibilities that circularity offers to companies in the power generation, oil and gas, and industrial sectors, aiming to revitalize and extend the lifespan of existing assets.

To transition from a linear economy to a circular one, we must focus on three key aspects: optimizing product usage, giving priority to renewable inputs, and effectively recovering by-products and waste.

EC: What sort of technology are you tapping into to help achieve these goals?

AA: The adoption of reusing equipment in the energy industry has room for improvement. There's significant potential for reusing rather than disposing of equipment when it nears decommissioning. Our mission is to offer solutions that are economically, socially, and environmentally beneficial, aimed at prolonging the lifespan of existing equipment. EthosEnergy has already developed a range of solutions for life extension and emissions compliance to help existing assets meet critical targets. This has a noteworthy impact on reducing CO2 emissions in two key ways: first, by avoiding the production of new equipment and thus preventing emissions during manufacturing, and second, by deferring or even eliminating the recycling of older assets.

Additionally, there's an opportunity to enhance the environmental performance of existing assets by increasing their efficiency through regeneration and enabling them to operate with lower-carbon alternative fuels like hydrogen. We've actively collaborated with a university in Italy, Politecnico di Torino, on this front, recognizing that partnerships between universities and industries will play a pivotal role in shaping our future.

We firmly believe that greater collaboration and alignment between business, social, and environmental factors are essential for achieving success in these endeavors.

EC: What’s your leadership style and how do you navigate the challenges that come with being a female CEO in a male-dominated industry?

AA: I would best describe my leadership style as inclusive and engaging. I firmly believe in the power of teamwork and fostering a culture where diverse voices are not only heard but valued. My leadership approach is rooted in transparency, open communication, and a commitment to empowering individuals within the organization to contribute their unique perspectives and talents.

In a male-dominated industry, being relentless is a necessity. I approach challenges with unwavering determination and persistence. I use adversity as motivation to push forward and break down barriers. My relentless pursuit of excellence sets an example for my team and reinforces the idea that gender should never limit one's aspirations.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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A View From HETI

The pilot project is a cornerstone of an extended agreement between ExxonMobil Technology and Engineering and Danbury, Connecticut-based clean energy company FuelCell Energy. Photo via exxonmobil.be

The Esso fuel business of Spring-based ExxonMobil is forging ahead with a pilot project at its Dutch refinery in Rotterdam to test technology aimed at reducing carbon emissions and simultaneously generating electricity and hydrogen.

The pilot project is a cornerstone of an extended agreement between ExxonMobil Technology and Engineering and Danbury, Connecticut-based clean energy company FuelCell Energy. The deal is now set to expire at the end of 2026.

ExxonMobil and FuelCell announced the pilot project in 2023.

“The unique advantage of this technology is that it not only captures CO2 but also produces low-carbon power, heat, and hydrogen as co-products,” Geoff Richardson, senior vice president of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, said last year.

The Rotterdam facility, which opened in 1960, will be the first location in the world to test the technology. The technology eventually could be rolled out at additional ExxonMobil sites.

The European Union is among the funders of the pilot project. FuelCell is making carbonate fuel cells for the project at its manufacturing plant in Torrington, Connecticut.

The extended agreement enables FuelCell to incorporate elements of the jointly developed technology into carbon capture products currently being marketed to customers. ExxonMobil and FuelCell are working on formalizing an arrangement for selling the new technology.

“The technology, which captures carbon while simultaneously generating electricity and hydrogen, could improve the economics of carbon capture and could potentially lower the barrier to broader adoption of carbon capture in the marketplace,” according to a FuelCell news release.

FuelCell says its 10-year partnership with ExxonMobil has focused on developing technology that reduces carbon emissions from emission-intensive sectors while generating electricity and hydrogen in the process — “something that no other fuel cell technology or conventional absorption systems can do.”

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