sea change

Houston robotics company secures deal with Brazilian energy giant

Nauticus Robotics has secured a new customer, taking expanding its services to Brazil. Photo courtesy of Nauticus

Houston-based Nauticus Robotics, a developer of autonomous ocean robots, has landed a deal to supply its equipment to one of the world’s largest energy companies — a deal that eventually could blossom into $100 million worth of contracts.

Under the deal, Nauticus will dispatch its Aquanaut autonomous subsea robot to support offshore oil exploration activities carried out by Brazil’s Petrobras. Specifically, Aquanaut — propelled by artificial intelligence-enabled software — will supervise infield inspection services over a two-month span.

The deal with Brazil’s Petrobras represents Nauticus’ entry into the South American market and puts Nauticus in a position to score several Petrobras contracts that could collectively be valued at $100 million. Both companies are publicly traded.

Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus, says Brazil offers a significant market opportunity for his company, as South America’s largest nation boasts one of the world’s most active offshore energy basins.

“A contract with [a] worldwide leading operator for Nauticus speaks to the state-of-the-art technologies of our autonomous robots as we further penetrate the global markets,” Radford says in a news release.

Petrobras is one of the world’s biggest offshore operators, managing 57 platforms, operating 10,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines, and producing the equivalent of 2.6 million barrels of oil per day. The company generated $124.47 billion in revenue last year.

Founded in 2014, Nauticus posted revenue of $11.4 million in 2022. The company went public last year through a $560 million merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). Nauticus recently opened a new office in The Ion, in addition to their Webster office.

“I see Nauticus being the preeminent ocean robotics company. I want Nauticus to be an empire. It starts small but it grows — and it grows in many different ways, and we’re exploring all of those different ways to grow,” Radford told InnovationMap in May. “We’re leading a technology renaissance in the marine space — and that happens only a few times in an industry.”

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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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