Q&A

Why Nabors wants to be an early leader within the energy transition

In a Q&A with EnergyCapital, Guillermo Sierra of Nabors Industries explains how the 70-year-old company is navigating the energy transition. Photo via LinkedIn

With over 70 years of experience, Nabors Industries has established itself as one of the largest land contract drilling companies in the world, as well as a provider of offshore platform rigs in the United States and international markets. But how is the company thinking of its next decades amid the energy transition?

Considering the role Nabors is playing in the future of energy is Houston-based Guillermo Sierra's job as vice president of energy transition. In a Q&A with EnergyCapital, he explains how the company envisions its future as an energy leader and what all that entails, including sourcing new technologies — sometimes from promising startups like Sage Geosystems.

EnergyCapital: Tell me about Nabors' commitment to the energy transition. What are your responsibilities leading this initiative?

Guillermo Sierra: Understanding that no single source today consistently delivers affordable, reliable and responsible energy, Nabors sees its future innovating solutions for hydrocarbons and clean energy while removing the tradeoffs between them. “Energy Without Compromise” is the vision guiding these efforts. Ultimately, we view three critical paths for the industry and ourselves to realize this:

  • Embrace energy innovation over energy exclusion. Too often the energy transition conversation is about excluding particular sources when we should be focused on solving challenges or overcoming limitations with technology. Oil and gas provide affordable and reliable energy but we must address emissions. Renewables are a greener solution but powering society, heavy industries, and hard-to-abate sectors requires sources that are clean, scalable, and baseload-seeking. For our part, we are lowering the carbon intensity of oil and gas operations with AI-based engine management software, fuel enhancers, highline power solutions, energy storage and forthcoming hydrogen injection systems while also investing in geothermal, concentrated solar power, alternative energy storage, emissions monitoring, hydrogen, and advanced materials, to make renewables a viable solution to decarbonize the industrial and energy industries.
  • Capitalize on strengths and adjacencies. Companies should seek opportunities to apply skillsets and competencies to advance other industries in the pursuit of a sustainable future. It is easy to see how our drilling expertise is valuable to the geothermal industry. Those companies need to drill wells and use technology that’s been developed by the oil and gas industry for decades to produce heat instead of hydrocarbons. Beyond the drill bit though, companies in the broader clean energy community see tremendous strategic value in partnering with Nabors. Our robotics, remote operations, software, automation, AI, manufacturing and engineering capabilities, global customer base of some of the world’s largest companies, worldwide vendor relationships and supply chain can be used to help startups grow and scale much more quickly.
  • Collaborate to accelerate progress. The proverb is if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go deep or go far, go together. Working together and leveraging collective strengths will help us solve some of the most meaningful challenges. There’s room for us all and we need to work together to achieve emissions goals.

EC: When considering a clean tech company, what are the top qualities driving your investment decisions? How did Sage Geosystems fit what you were looking for?

GS: Traditionally, renewables have stumbled some in the power business because they are intermittent and therefore not dispatchable or reliable baseload. There are also safety, supply chain, and environmental challenges to overcome with lithium-ion batteries and the lack of circularity of panels, blades, and other equipment. Additionally, to decarbonize industrial processes, you need clean and efficient sources of heat – which have largely been nonexistent. And the broader industrials complex needs green fuels, hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel to eliminate their carbon footprint.

Therefore we believe the world needs clean, renewable, scalable, and baseload/dispatchable generation, and alternatives to today’s chemical-based energy storage. When we evaluate our investments, this is what we’re ultimately seeking.

Sage checks every one of these boxes. The company envisions producing renewable baseload power from geothermal and has novel solutions to energy storage. And unlike many geothermal companies, their approach is deployable today with off the shelf technologies.

EC: What role do you see enhanced geothermal playing in the energy transition?

GS: In my opinion, geothermal has been the gaping hole so to speak in net zero plans from companies and governments. Less than 1 percent of the earth is cooler than 1,000 degrees Celsius. Heat gradients needed are miles away while the sun is 93 million miles away. The oil and gas industry has spent decades perfecting how we drill safely and efficiently. We have near limitless energy beneath our feet and have the tools to tap it. Now we need the focus and capital of the broader energy complex.

EC: How big are your long-term aspirations for Nabors in regards to the energy transition?

GS: I believe the energy transition will represent one of the biggest reallocations of capital in human history. By some estimates, some $300 trillion is expected to spent. We want to be a leader. We want in early. We believe we have the skills, competencies, workforce, relationships, and scale to make a meaningful impact and we are taking action.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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A View From HETI

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want. Photo courtesy of Boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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