The DOE program allows graduate students to work on research projects that address national and international energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges. Photo via UH.edu

Three rising stars in the energy sector who are graduate students at the University of Houston have been chosen for a prestigious U.S. Department of Energy research program.

UH doctoral candidates Caleb Broodo, Leonard Jiang, and Farzana Likhi, are among 86 students from 31 states who were selected for the Office of Science Graduate Student Research program, which provides training at Department of Energy (DOE) labs.

“This recognition is a testament to their hard work and dedication to pushing the boundaries of science, and to our commitment to fostering excellence in research and innovation,” Sarah Larsen, vice provost and dean of the UH’s graduate school, says in a news release.

The DOE program allows graduate students to work on research projects that address national and international energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges.

The program “is a unique opportunity for graduate students to complete their Ph.D. training with teams of world-class experts aiming to answer some of the most challenging problems in fundamental science,” says Harriet Kung, acting director of DOE’s Office of Science. “Gaining access to cutting-edge tools for scientific discovery at DOE national laboratories will be instrumental in preparing the next generation of scientific leaders.”

Here’s a rundown of the UH trio’s involvement in the DOE program:

  • Broodo, a second-year Ph.D. candidate whose research focuses on heavy ion nuclear physics, will work at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.
  • Jiang, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in materials science and engineering, will head to Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois to research electrochemistry.
  • Likhi, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the materials science and engineering program, will conduct research on microelectronics at Oak Ridge Laboratory in Tennessee.
These appointments are part of a memorandum of understanding that Argonne, located in the Chicago area, recently signed with the Greater Houston Partnership. Photo via UH.edu

3 top DOE researchers take professor positions at University of Houston

new hires

Three top researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have accepted joint appointments at the University of Houston.

“This strategic collaboration leverages the combined strengths of Argonne and the [university] to further critical research efforts, public-private partnerships, and educational opportunities for students in the energy transition and lead to transformational advancement of commercial scale energy industries,” Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president for energy and innovation at UH, says in a news release.

These appointments are part of a memorandum of understanding that Argonne, located in the Chicago area, recently signed with the Greater Houston Partnership. The agreement seeks to accelerate decarbonization efforts in the Houston area.

The three scientists appointed to positions are UH are:

  • Zach Hood, whose appointment is in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering. He’ll be hosted by Yan Yao, a UH professor who is principal investigator at the Texas Center for Superconductivity.
  • Jianlin Li, whose appointment also is in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He plans to establish a dry room facility at UH and conduct research on energy storage technologies, electrode processing, and cell manufacturing.
  • Michael Wang, the inaugural Distinguished Senior Scholar at UH’s Energy Transition Institute. His objectives include advancing research in decarbonizing the oil and gas sector through carbon management and transitioning to renewable energy sources. Wang will conduct seminars and present lectures in environmental sustainability, lifecycle, and techno-economic analysis of energy technologies, while helping Argonne tap into the university’s talent pool.

“With more than 30 years of experience, Dr. Wang brings critical tools and expertise to the UH Energy Transition Institute, which is dedicated to unlocking the transformative potential within three critical domains: hydrogen, carbon management, and circular plastics,” says Joe Powell, founding executive director of the Energy Transition Institute. “These areas not only present opportunities for reshaping the energy sector but also stand as pillars for societal sustainable development and decarbonization.”

The GHP and HETI announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Argonne National Laboratory, a a federally-funded research and development facility in Illinois. Photo via Getty Images

HETI to partner with national research organization to promote energy transition innovation in Houston

team work

A new partnership between the Greater Houston Partnership and Argonne National Laboratory has been established to spur development of commercial-scale energy transition solutions.

The GHP and the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, or HETI, announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Argonne National Laboratory, a federally-funded research and development facility in Illinois. The lab is owned by the United States Department of Energy and run by UChicago Argonne LLC of the University of Chicago.

“The U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories have long been the backbone of research, development, and demonstration for the energy sector," Bobby Tudor, CEO of Artemis Energy Partners and Chair of HETI, says in a news release. "The Partnership and HETI, working with our industry members, business community and top research and academic institutions, in collaboration with Argonne, will work across our energy innovation ecosystem to drive this critical effort for our region.”

The partnership, announced at HETI House at CERAWeek by S&P Global, is intended to provide resources and collaboration opportunities between Houston's energy innovation ecosystem — from corporates to startups — to "accelerate the translation, evaluation and pre-commercialization of breakthrough carbon reduction technologies," per the news release.

“A decarbonization center of excellence in Houston is the missing link in the region’s coordinated approach to advancing critical energy transition technologies needed to mitigate the risks associated with climate change, while also promoting economic growth and job creation for the region,” Tudor continues.

Established in 1946, Argonne works with universities, industry, and other national laboratories on large, collaborative projects that are expected to make a big impact on the energy transition.

“Partnerships are essential to realizing net zero goals,” Argonne Director Paul Kearns adds. “We are pleased to extend DOE national laboratory expertise and work with HETI to focus the region’s considerable energy and industrial assets, infrastructure, and talent on broad commercial deployment of needed technologies.”

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Houston company expands JV to build new power generation, storage assets

team work

Houston-based Conduit Power is broadening the scope of its joint venture with Oklahoma City-based Riley Exploration Permian.

Under this deal, the joint venture, RPC Power, will build power generation and storage assets for the sale of energy and related services to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the power grid for the bulk of Texas.

RPC Power, established in March 2023, owns and operates power generation assets that use Riley Permian’s natural gas to power its oilfield operations in Yoakum County, located in West Texas.

The expanded relationship will enable RPC Power to sell power and related services to ERCOT, with plans for 100 megawatts of natural gas-fueled generation and battery energy storage systems across facilities in West Texas. The facilities are expected to start commercial operations in 2025.

In conjunction with the expanded scope, Riley Permian bumped up its stake in RPC Power from 35 percent to 50 percent. Furthermore, it plans to sell up to 10 million cubic feet per day of natural gas to RPC Power as feedstock supply for the new generation facilities.

"Our JV expansion at RPC Power represents a significant milestone for our company, and we are proud to build upon our successful partnership with Riley Permian,” Travis Windholz, managing director of Conduit, says in a news release.

Conduit, a portfolio company of private equity firm Grey Rock Investment Partners, designs, builds, and operates distributed power generation systems.

Riley Exploration Permian specializes in the exploration, development, and production of oil and natural gas reserves, primarily within the Permian Basin.

Elon Musk sees more resistance against his multibillion dollar pay package

just say no

A second shareholder advisory firm has come out against reinstating a pay package for Tesla CEO Elon Musk that was voided earlier this year by a Delaware judge.

ISS late Thursday joined Glass Lewis in recommending against the package, recently valued by the company at $44.9 billion but in January had a value of about $56 billion.

Shareholders of the electric vehicle and solar panel company are voting on the package, with the results to be tabulated at Tesla's June 13 annual meeting.

ISS said in its recommendations on Tesla's proxy voting items that Musk's stock-based package was outsized when it was approved by shareholders in 2018, and it failed to accomplish board objectives voiced at that time.

The firm said that Tesla met the pay package’s performance objectives, and it recognized the company's substantial growth in size and profitability. But concerns about Musk spending too much time on other ventures that were raised in 2018 and since then have not been sufficiently addressed, ISS said.

“The grant, in many ways, failed to achieve the board’s other original objectives of focusing CEO Musk on the interests of Tesla shareholders, as opposed to other business endeavors, and aligning his financial interests more closely with those of Tesla stockholders,” ISS wrote.

Also, future concerns remain unaddressed, including a lack of clarity on Musk's future compensation and the potential for his pay to significantly dilute shareholder value, ISS wrote.

Musk plays big roles in his other ventures including SpaceX, Neuralink and the Boring Company. Last year he bought social media platform X and formed an artificial intelligence unit called xAI.

Last week the other prominent proxy advisory firm, Glass Lewis, also recommended against reinstating Musk's 2018 compensation package. The firm said the package would dilute shareholders' value by about 8.7%. The rationale for the package “does not in our view adequately consider dilution and its long-lasting effects on disinterested shareholders,” Glass Lewis wrote.

But in a proxy filing, Tesla said that Glass Lewis failed to consider that the 2018 award incentivized Musk to create over $735 billion in value for shareholders in the six years since it was approved.

“Tesla is one of the most successful enterprises of our time,” the filing said. “We have revolutionized the automotive market and become the first vertically integrated sustainable energy company."

Tesla is struggling with falling global sales, slowing electric vehicle demand, an aging model lineup and a stock price that has tumbled about 30% this year.

Tesla asked shareholders to restore Musk's pay package after it was rejected by a Delaware judge this year. At the time, it also asked to shift the company’s legal corporate home to Texas.

Glass Lewis recommended against moving the legal corporate home to Texas, but ISS said it favored the move.

California’s public employee retirement system, which holds a stake in Tesla, said it has not made a final decision on how it will vote on Musk’s pay. But CEO Marcie Frost told CNBC that as of Wednesday, the system would not vote in favor. CalPERS, which opposed the package in 2018, said it will discuss the matter with Tesla “in the coming days.”

In January, Delaware Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick ruled that Musk is not entitled to the landmark stock compensation that was to be granted over 10 years.

Ruling on a lawsuit from a shareholder, she voided the pay package, saying that Musk essentially controlled the board, making the process of enacting the compensation unfair to stakeholders. “Musk had extensive ties with the persons tasked with negotiating on Tesla’s behalf,” she wrote in her ruling.

In a letter to shareholders released in a regulatory filing last month, Tesla Chairwoman Robyn Denholm said that Musk has delivered on the growth it was looking for at the automaker, with Tesla meeting all of the stock value and operational targets in the 2018 package. Shares at the time were up 571% since the pay package began.

“Because the Delaware Court second-guessed your decision, Elon has not been paid for any of his work for Tesla for the past six years that has helped to generate significant growth and stockholder value,” Denholm wrote. “That strikes us — and the many stockholders from whom we already have heard — as fundamentally unfair, and inconsistent with the will of the stockholders who voted for it.”

Tesla posted record deliveries of more than 1.8 million electric vehicles worldwide in 2023, but the value of its shares has eroded quickly this year as EV sales soften.

The company said it delivered 386,810 vehicles from January through March, nearly 9% fewer than it sold in the same period last year. Future growth is in doubt and it may be a challenge to get shareholders to back a fat pay package in an environment where competition has increased worldwide.

Starting last year, Tesla has cut prices as much as $20,000 on some models. The price cuts caused used electric vehicle values to drop and clipped Tesla’s profit margins.

In April, Tesla said that it was letting about 10% of its workers go, about 14,000 people.

Things to know: $17.5B oil acquisition, new accelerator focuses on sustainability, and more in Houston energy

take note

Editor's note: Dive headfirst into the new week with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: a podcast episode with a biotech leader, a very big oil and gas deal, and events not to miss.


Big deal: ConocoPhillips to buy Marathon Oil for $17.B in all-stock deal

ConocoPhillips is buying Marathon Oil in an all-stock deal valued at approximately $17.1 billion as energy prices rise and big oil companies reap massive profits.

The deal to combine the two Houston-headquartered companies is valued at $22.5 billion when including $5.4 billion in debt.

Crude prices have jumped more than 12% this year and the cost for a barrel rose above $80 this week. Oil majors put up record profits after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and while those numbers have slipped, there has been a surge in mergers between energy companies flush with cash. Continue reading.

Podcast to stream: Carlos Estrada, head of Venture Acceleration at BioWell, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast

Bioindustrial technologies have a high potential for impacting sustainability — but they tend to need a little bit more help navigating the startup valley of death. That's where the BioWell comes in.

Carlos Estrada, head of Venture Acceleration at BioWell, says the idea for the accelerator was came to First Bight Ventures, a Houston-based biomanufacturing investment firm, as it began building its portfolio of promising companies.

"While we were looking at various companies, we found ourselves finding different needs that these startups have," Estrada says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's how the opportunity for the BioWell came about." Continue reading.

Events not to miss

Put these Houston-area energy-related events on your calendar.

  • The Energy Drone & Robotics Summit is coming to Houston June 10 to 12. Join for the ultimate event in the world for UAVs, Robotics & Data/AI, 3D Reality Capture, Geospatial and Digital Twins focused on the business and technology in energy & industrial operations, inspections, maintenance, surveying & mapping. Register now.
  • Argus Clean Ammonia North America Conference will take place on June 12 to 14 at the Hyatt Regency Houston. Over the three days of the conference, explore the big questions many producers are facing around where demand is coming from, expect to hear perspectives from key domestic consumers as well as international demand centres for clean ammonia. Register now.
  • Join the over 150 senior energy and utilities leaders from June 17 to 18 in Houston for AI in Energy to unlock the potential of AI within your enterprise and delve into key areas for its development.Register now.
  • Energy Underground (June) is a group of professionals in the Greater Houston area that are accelerating the Energy Transition that connect monthly at The Cannon - West Houston. Register now.