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3 Houston companies leading the way towards a low-carbon future

Companies like ExxonMobil, NRG, and Shell play an important role in helping the world transition to renewable energy sources. Photo via htxenergytransition.org

As the world population makes a jump towards more than 9 billion people by 2050, the race to net-zero is more important than ever. An increase in population means an increase in the demand for energy. With everything from greenhouse gases, pollution, carbon and nitrogen deposition putting a strain on planet Earth, community and business leaders are making commitments to advance the energy transition.

Companies like ExxonMobil, NRG, and Shell play an important role in helping the world transition to renewable energy sources. Here are three ways that these energy companies are working towards an energy abundant, low-carbon future.

NRG Energy

Headquarted in Houston, NRG Energy is the leading integrated power company in the U.S. In 2022, NRG introduced a new Sustainability and Resiliency Impact Study as part of Harris County’s Climate Action Plan to reduce the city’s carbon emissions by 40% by 2030. The initiative includes $34 million in park upgrades and is expected to save $54 million.

That same year, Evolve Houston, a nonprofit working to accelerate electric vehicle adoption within the Greater Houston area, launched an e-mobility microgrant initiative funded by Evolve Corporate Catalysts, General Motors and bp. With five founding members, among them being NRG Energy and Shell, the goal of the initiative is to improve regional air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Greater Houston area.

At the top of 2023, Reliant Energy and NRG launched the Simple Solar Sell Back electricity plan for Texans aimed at providing solar panels to local homes for lower electricity bills.

Shell

On a mission to improve their own operations, Shell is addressing energy efficiency over time and capturing or offsetting unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions. Headquartered in London. Shell is on a mission to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050. In 2022, the British multinational company invested $6 million to create the Prairie View A&M Shell Nature-Based Solutions Research Program, funded through the company’s Projects & Technology organization dedicated to funding research to develop new technology solutions.

In March of 2022, Shell gifted the University of Houston $10 million to bolster the institution’s efforts to establish the Energy Transition Institute which focuses on the production and use of reliable, affordable and cleaner energy for all. The company also launched the residential power brand Shell Energy offering 100% renewable electricity plans.

ExxonMobil

ExxonMobil is one of the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas companies. In 2021, the multinational oil and gas corporation pledged to invest more than $15 million in solutions to lower greenhouse gas emissions initiatives across six years. As a part of their approach to improve air quality, ExxonMobil is working to:

  • Understand the composition and extent of our emissions
  • Meet or exceed environmental regulations
  • Reduce air emissions to minimize potential impacts on local communities
  • Monitor the science and health standards related to air quality

Throughout the years, plastics have become an essential component of products, packaging, construction, transportation, electronics and more. While plastics are durable, lightweight and cheap, they also emit 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Late last year, the major corporation announced the successful startup of one of the largest advanced recycling facilities in North America. Located in Baytown, Texas, the recycling facility uses proprietary technology to break down raw materials for new products and is expected to have nearly 1 billion pounds of annual advanced recycling capacity by the end of 2026.

According to their 2023 Advancing Climate Action Progress Report released early this year, the corporation plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through 2030.

From resolving power grid issues to developing renewable energy technologies, Houston energy companies are powering today to empower the future.

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This article originally ran on the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative blog. HETI exists to support Houston's future as an energy leader. For more information about the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, EnergyCapitalHTX's presenting sponsor, visit htxenergytransition.org.

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A View From HETI

The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to Rice University. Photo via Rice.edu

A team of Rice University physicists has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Physics for their work in high-energy nuclear physics and research into a new state of matter.

The five-year $15.5 million grant will go towards Rice physics and astronomy professor Wei Li's discoveries focused on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a large, general-purpose particle physics detector built on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, a European organization for nuclear research in France and Switzerland. The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to a statement from Rice.

Li's team will work to develop an ultra-fast silicon timing detector, known as the endcap timing layer (ETL), that will provide upgrades to the CMS detector. The ETl is expected to have a time resolution of 30 picoseconds per particle, which will allow for more precise time-of-flight particle identification.

This will also help boost the performance of the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC), which is scheduled to launch at CERN in 2029, allowing it to operate at about 10 times the luminosity than originally planned. The ETL also has applications for other colliders apart from the LHC, including the DOE’s electron-ion collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.

“The ETL will enable breakthrough science in the area of heavy ion collisions, allowing us to delve into the properties of a remarkable new state of matter called the quark-gluon plasma,” Li explained in a statement. “This, in turn, offers invaluable insights into the strong nuclear force that binds particles at the core of matter.”

The ETL is also expected to aid in other areas of physics, including the search for the Higgs particle and understanding the makeup of dark matter.

Li is joined on this work by co-principal investigator Frank Geurts and researchers Nicole Lewis and Mike Matveev from Rice. The team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas.

Last year, fellow Rice physicist Qimiao Si, a theoretical quantum physicist, earned the prestigious Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship grant. The five-year fellowship, with up to $3 million in funding, will go towards his work to establish an unconventional approach to create and control topological states of matter, which plays an important role in materials research and quantum computing.

Meanwhile, the DOE recently tapped three Houston universities to compete in its annual startup competition focused on "high-potential energy technologies,” including one team from Rice.

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