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Why Microsoft is investing in Houston as an energy transition leader

The Energy Transition Center for Excellence is housed out of Microsoft Technology Center in Houston. Photo courtesy of Microsoft

Houston is known as the energy capital of the world to many, and major players — from the mayor to corporations — are determined to translate that leadership to the energy transition.

With that in mind, Microsoft has launched its own hub to celebrate the movement — the Energy Transition Center for Excellence, which was announced this spring. The new center, based in the Microsoft Technology Center in Houston, exists to support companies as they evolve their business to be more sustainable and climate-conscious.

“We are proud to have a vast and rich ecosystem of partners that actively co-develop sustainability solutions,” Darryl Willis, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Energy and Resources Industry tells EnergyCapital via email. “Our featured partners demonstrate what is possible across the energy transition value chain from decarbonization to new clean energy solutions.”

Microsoft is behind platforms such as Microsoft Cloud, AI, machine learning, the Internet of Things, and mixed reality, all of which can help to “power transformation,” as Willis puts it.

According to research provider BloombergNEF, it will take an investment of $5.8 trillion into energy transition to achieve a global net-zero by 2050. Not every company is committed to spending the necessary funds to make the sometimes-massive changes to their operations.

But Willis lists nine partners that have actively been collaborating with Microsoft to achieve net-zero goals. Each boasts an exhibit at the Energy Transition Center for Excellence. There, customers have the opportunity to see precisely how Microsoft and those companies are working to make their operations healthier for the planet, from decarbonization to new, clean energy solutions.

For example, Bentley is working with Microsoft to provide digital solutions in offshore wind power. EY is furthering decarbonization with its Hydrogen Pathways, a molecular accounting platform that creates a “holistic view for hydrogen production.” Terra Praxis is behind REPOWER, a standardized system that is helping to repurpose coal plants to create clean energy.

Customers can make an appointment to experience a new energy future through immersive, interactive exhibits built by Microsoft’s partners.

“Many of the energy customers we support on their decarbonization and sustainability efforts are either headquartered or have significant presence in Houston, making it an ideal location for deeper collaboration as we tackle this significant challenge facing the world,” says Willis.

With the city becoming a hub for the incubation of climate tech, Houston is inching ever closer to becoming the Energy Transition Capital of the World.

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A View From HETI

A View From UH

A Rice University professor studied the Earth's carbon cycle in the Rio Madre de Dios to shed light on current climate conditions. Photo courtesy of Mark Torres/Rice University

Carbon cycles through Earth, its inhabitants, and its atmosphere on a regular basis, but not much research has been done on that process and qualifying it — until now.

In a recent study of a river system extending from the Peruvian Andes to the Amazon floodplains, Rice University’s Mark Torres and collaborators from five institutions proved that that high rates of carbon breakdown persist from mountaintop to floodplain.

“The purpose of this research was to quantify the rate at which Earth naturally releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and find out whether this process varies across different geographic locations,” Torres says in a news release.

Torres published his findings in a study published in PNAS, explaining how they used rhenium — a silvery-gray, heavy transition metal — as a proxy for carbon. The research into the Earth’s natural, pre-anthropogenic carbon cycle stands to benefit humanity by providing valuable insight to current climate challenges.

“This research used a newly-developed technique pioneered by Robert Hilton and Mathieu Dellinger that relies on a trace element — rhenium — that’s incorporated in fossil organic matter,” Torres says. “As plankton die and sink to the bottom of the ocean, that dead carbon becomes chemically reactive in a way that adds rhenium to it.”

The research was done in the Rio Madre de Dios basin and supported by funding from a European Research Council Starting Grant, the European Union COFUND/Durham Junior Research Fellowship, and the National Science Foundation.

“I’m very excited about this tool,” Torres said. “Rice students have deployed this same method in our lab here, so now we can make this kind of measurement and apply it at other sites. In fact, as part of current research funded by the National Science Foundation, we are applying this technique in Southern California to learn how tectonics and climate influence the breakdown of fossil carbon.”

Torres also received a three-year grant from the Department of Energy to study soil for carbon storage earlier this year.

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