Bracewell announced that Jennifer Speck has joined the firm's tax department as a partner in the Houston office. Photo via LinkedIn

A law and government relations firm serving energy, infrastructure, finance, and technology industries has named a new Houston partner.

Bracewell announced that Jennifer Speck has joined the firm's tax department as a partner in the Houston office. Speck will advise clients on energy transition tax incentives.

Some of her experiences include onshore and offshore wind, solar, carbon capture, clean hydrogen and clean fuel projects. She recently served as senior manager of tax and regulatory compliance at Navigator CO2 Ventures LLC. She graduated in 2010 with a B.F.A. in mental health psychology from Northeastern State University, and received her J.D., with honors, from The University of Tulsa College of Law in 2012.

"Jenny has significant experience in critical tax credits for carbon capture and other energy transition projects," Elizabeth L. McGinley, chair of Bracewell's tax department, says in a news release. "Her knowledge of these, and other, tax incentives strengthens our ability to help clients take full advantage of the tax benefits available under the Inflation Reduction Act."

Nationally recognized, Bracewell's tax department is known for its experience involving tax matters related to the energy industry. Bracewell has also led the development of one of the country's largest multidisciplinary energy transition legal teams.

Calpine’s Baytown Decarbonization Project will capture around two million metric tons of carbon dioxide for permanent sequestration each year. Photo via LinkedIn

DOE taps Houston company's facility to advance carbon capture, storage infrastructure

greenlight

Earlier this month, a Houston power company was selected by the Department of Energy's Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations for a cost-sharing agreement for a commercial-scale carbon capture and storage project.

Calpine's Baytown Decarbonization project is projected to capture and store about two million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. The Baytown Energy Center is an existing 896-megawatt natural gas combined heat and power facility, according to a news release, "that provides steam and power to the adjacent Covestro chemicals manufacturing facility as well as power to the Texas electric grid."

The project will add post-combustion carbon capture equipment that will reduce the emissions intensity of two of its three combustion turbines at a design capture rate of 95 percent. In addition to the Baytown project, the DOE also selected Calpine’s carbon capture project at its Sutter Energy Center in California.

“We are very pleased and honored that the DOE has recognized the quality of this project and the strength of Calpine’s CCS program,” Thad Hill, CEO of Calpine Corp., says in the release. “We are looking forward to working with the DOE to finalize the cost-sharing agreement and with our other stakeholders to advance the development of the Baytown Decarbonization Project. Carbon capture is an important technology for decarbonizing the electricity sector and the economy. Calpine is very grateful for the commitment and support for the project by our stakeholders.”

The Baytown Decarbonization Project is being developed collaboratively with local stakeholders in East Houston. In addition to expanding full-time job opportunities, Calpine will enhance workforce development programs, target procurement with diverse and small business enterprises, and work with local schools and other organizations.

"This is a critical step towards decarbonizing Calpine’s facility, which is located on our Covestro Baytown site,” Demetri Zervoudis, Covestro head of operations for North America and Baytown site general manager, says in the release. “Carbon capture and storage technology is an important tool for the chemical industry to reduce carbon emissions, and it is encouraging to see Calpine at the forefront of this transition.”

Oxy, which broke ground on its DAC project Stratos earlier this year, has secured a $550 million commitment from a financial partner. Photo via 1pointfive.com

Oxy subsidiary gets $550M boost to form new CCUS joint venture

howdy, partner

Occidental Petroleum’s direct air capture (DAC) initiative just got a more than half-a-billion-dollar investment from Blackrock, the world’s largest asset management company.

Houston-based Occidental announced November 7 that on behalf of its investment clients, BlackRock has agreed to pump $550 million into the DAC facility, called Stratos, that Oxy is building in the Midland-Odessa area. The investment will be carried out through a joint venture between BlackRock and Oxy subsidiary 1PointFive, which specializes in carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration (CCUS).

A groundbreaking ceremony for Stratos — being billed as the world’s largest DAC operation — was held in April 2023. Construction is scheduled to be completed in mid-2025. The facility is expected to capture up to 500,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Among the organizations that have agreed to buy carbon removal credits from 1Point5 are Amazon, Airbus, All Nippon Airways, TD Bank, the Houston Astros, and the Houston Texans.

Occidental says 1PointFive plans to set up more than 100 DAC facilities worldwide by 2035.

Vicki Hollub, president and CEO of Oxy, says the joint venture with BlackRock demonstrates that DAC is “becoming an investable technology.”

“We believe that BlackRock’s expertise across global markets and industries makes them the ideal partner to help further industrial-scale [DAC],” she says.

DAC removes CO2 from the atmosphere then stores it in underground geological formations.

“Occidental’s technical expertise brings unprecedented scale to this cutting-edge decarbonization technology,” says Larry Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock.

He adds that Stratos “represents an incredible investment opportunity for BlackRock’s clients to invest in this unique energy infrastructure project and underscores the critical role of American energy companies in climate technology innovation.”

1PointFive, Oxy's CCUS subsidiary, has secured a deal that's being billed as among the largest carbon removal credit deals. Photo via oxy.com

Oxy's CCUS subsidiary inks massive carbon removal credit deal

making moves

Canada’s TD Securities investment bank has agreed to buy 27,500 metric tons of carbon removal credits from the 1PointFive subsidiary of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum.

The four-year deal involves 1PointFive’s first direct air capture (DAC) plant, called Stratos, which is under construction in the Midland-Odessa area. The Occidental Petroleum subsidiary specializes in carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration (CCUS). Under this agreement, the captured CO2 underlying the carbon credits will be stored through geologic sequestration.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Stratos will be capable of capturing and removing up to 500,000 metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year, 1PointFive says.

Michael Avery, president and general manager of 1PointFive, says in a November 1 news release that TD Securities’ purchase of carbon removal credits demonstrates how DAC “can become a vital tool in an organization’s sustainability strategy and help further net-zero goals.”

“Carbon removal credits from [DAC] will be measurable, transparent, and durable, with the goal of providing a solution for organizations to address their emissions,” Avery adds.

The 1PointFive deal is part of TD Securities’ broader decarbonization initiative.

“As the need to move from climate commitments to action intensifies, corporations across all sectors are looking for tangible ways to achieve their net-zero goals,” says Amy West, global head of ESG solutions at TD Securities.

In September, 1PointFive announced a 10-year deal with e-commerce giant Amazon to purchase 250,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide removal credits via Stratos.

Graham Payne, the new director of energy transition at Caliche Development Partners II, is bullish on Houston. Photo courtesy

Houston carbon storage solutions company names new energy transition leader at pivotal time of growth

ready to grow

Graham Payne sees a bright future for the multibillion-dollar energy transition economy in Houston.

“It’s been said that Houston is poised, like no other city, to lead the energy transition. And I’d have to agree, because we have all the requisite natural resources, industry, and talent,” says Payne, the new director of energy transition at Houston-based carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) company Caliche Development Partners II.

Caliche and other Houston-based energy transition companies secured $6.1 billion in private funding last year, up 62 percent from 2022, according to the Greater Houston Partnership.

“As the region positions itself as the leader in the global energy transition, Houston has seen constant growth in annual energy transition investments over the last five years,” the partnership says.

Payne, a geologist, comes to Caliche after holding roles at Battelle and Schlumberger, among other companies. Houston-based Sudduth Search recruited Payne for the Caliche job.

In his new position, Payne is overseeing permitting and completion of a leased 4,000-acre site in Beaumont for sequestration of carbon dioxide. Payne will also work on current and potential gas storage projects, which he says “will continue to play an important role in the energy mix.”

At previous employers, Payne has tackled various aspects of CCUS.

“The really enticing part about this job is the chance to put it all together, and then operate a full-scale operation,” he says. “I want this technology to move firmly out of the research phase and start making a measurable difference against climate change.”

Payne says Caliche is capable of successfully straddling the worlds of CCUS, natural gas storage, and industrial gas storage. The Beaumont project alone will be able sequester at least 30 million metric tons of carbon, a Caliche estimate indicates.

In November, Caliche announced the acquisition of its first CCUS assets, Golden Triangle Storage and Central Valley Gas Storage, following a $268 million infusion of capital from Orion Infrastructure Capital and GCM Grosvenor. Orion maintains offices in Houston, New York City, and London. GCM is based in Chicago.

The Golden Triangle and Central Valley deals were valued at a combined $186 million.

The first phase of the Pelican Gulf Coast Carbon Removal project recently received nearly $4.9 million in grants. Photo via Getty Images

Louisiana DAC project supported by UH, Shell gets $4.9M in funding

closer look

The University of Houston is spilling details about its role in a potential direct air capture, or DAC, hub in Louisiana.

The first phase of the Pelican Gulf Coast Carbon Removal project recently received nearly $4.9 million in grants, including almost $3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. Led by Louisiana State University, the Pelican consortium includes UH and Shell, whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston.

The funding will go toward studying the feasibility of a DAC hub that would pull carbon dioxide from the air and either store it in deep geological formations or use it to manufacture various products, such as concrete.

“This support of development and deployment of direct air capture technologies is a vital part of carbon management and allows us to explore sustainable technological and commercial opportunities,” Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president for energy and innovation at UH, says in a news release.

Chemical engineer Joseph Powell, founding executive director of the university’s Energy Transition Institute, will be the primary leader of UH’s work on the Pelican project.

“DAC can be an important technology for addressing difficult-to-decarbonize sectors such as aviation and marine transport as well as chemicals, or to achieve negative emissions goals,” Powell says.

Powell, a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, was Shell’s first-ever chief scientist for chemical engineering from 2006 until his retirement in 2020. He joined Shell in 1988.

Shell is the Pelican project’s “technical delivery partner.”

“Advancing carbon management technologies is a critical part of the energy transition, and effectively scaling this technology will require continued collaboration, discipline, and innovation,” says Adam Prince, general manager of carbon capture storage strategy and growth at Shell.

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Houston startup taps new corporate partner for AI-backed sustainability consumer tech

out of the 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.

Houston software company to manage IRA compliance for solar, storage company with national presence

tapping into tech

Houston company's Inflation Reduction Act compliance management software has scored a new partner.

Empact Technologies announced a multi-year agreement with Ampliform, which originates, builds, develops, and operates utility-scale solar and solar plus storage projects. The Empact platform uses a combination of software and services to ensure projects meet IRS regulatory requirements, which focus on wage and apprenticeship, domestic content, and energy and low-income community incentives. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed

Empact will partner specifically with Ampliform’s project Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) firms, subcontractors, and key suppliers of steel and iron products. In addition, they will work through a project’s life cycle for EPC’s solar modules, trackers, and inverters to manage prevailing wage & apprenticeship, domestic content, and other tax incentive qualification and compliance.

“The team at Ampliform had the leadership and foresight to recognize the significant risks of IRA non-compliance and the need to have third party compliance management in place prior to construction kick-off," Charles Dauber, CEO and founder of Empact, says in a news release. We look forward to helping Ampliform fully leverage the IRA tax incentives to develop and build their project development pipeline.”

Ampliform has approximately 700MW of projects in short-term development. Ampliform also plans 3GW of projects in its development pipeline. Ampliform’s future expansion plans exceed more than 13GWdc in total. Empact will manage the IRA compliance for these projects. According to a Goldman Sachs report, the IRA is estimated to provide $1.2 trillion of incentives by 2032.

Guest column: Cold weather and electric vehicles — separating fact from fiction

EVs in winter

Winter range loss is fueling this season’s heated debate around the viability of electric vehicles, but some important context is needed. Gasoline cars, just like their electric counterparts, lose a significant amount of range in cold weather too.

According to the Department of Energy, the average internal combustion engine’s fuel economy is 15 percent lower at 20° Fahrenheit than it would be at 77° Fahrenheit, and can drop as much as 24 percent for short drives.

As the world grapples with the implications of climate change and shifts toward sustainable technologies, it's important to put the pros and cons of EVs and traditional gas vehicles in perspective. And while Houston isn't known as the coldest of climates, you still might want to review this information.

The Semantics of Energy Consumption Hide the Real Issue: Cost

First, let's talk about the language. When discussing gas vehicles in cold climates, the conversation often centers around "fuel efficiency." It sounds less threatening, doesn't it? But in reality, this is just a euphemism for range loss, something for which EVs are frequently criticized.

Why does that matter? Because for most drivers who travel less than 40 miles a day, what range loss really means is higher fueling costs. When a gas vehicle loses range, it costs a lot more than the same range loss in an EV. For example, at $3.50 a gallon, a car that gets 30 MPG in warm weather and costs $46.67 to go 400 miles suddenly costs $8.24 more to drive the same distance. By contrast, an EV plugging in at $0.13 per kWh usually costs $13 to go 400 miles and bumps up to a piddly $16.25 even if it loses 20 percent efficiency when the temperature drops.

Some EV models lose 40 percent in extreme cold. OK, tack on another $3. That still leaves almost $30 in the driver’s pocket. Over the course of a year, those savings pile up.

Let’s Call It What It Is: Fear Mongering

Any seismic shift in technology comes with consumer hesitancy and media skepticism. Remember when everyone was afraid to stand in front of microwaves and thought the waves would make the food unsafe to eat? Or how, just a decade or so back everyone was talking about how cell phones could spontaneously explode?

Fear of new technology is a natural psychological response and to be expected. But it takes the media machine to turn consumer hesitation into a frenzy. Any way you slice it, 2023 was one big platform for expressing fears around EVs. Headline-grabbing tales of EV woes often lacked context or understanding of the technology. In a highly partisan landscape where EVs have been dubbed liberal leftist technology, what should be seen as a miraculous pro-American, pro-clean-air, pro-energy independence, pro-cost saving advancement is getting a beating in the press. In this environment, every bit of “bad EV news” spirals out into an echo-chamber of confirmation bias.

For example, Tesla’s recent software update was hyped as a 2 million vehicle “recall” even though the software was updated over the air without a single car needing to leave the driveway. Hertz's recent decision to reduce its Tesla fleet was seen by many as a referendum on the cars’ quality but was actually a decision based on Hertz’s miscalculations around repair costs and a mismatch in their projections of consumer demand for EV rentals.

While the cost of repairs might be higher, maintenance and fuel costs are still much lower than gas vehicles. EVs are better daily-use cars than rentals because while our country’s public charging infrastructure is still lagging, home charging is a huge benefit of EV ownership. Instead, the Hertz move and the negative coverage are further spooking the public.

The Truth About EVs

Despite the challenges, it's crucial to acknowledge the environmental advantages of EVs. For instance, EVs produce zero direct emissions, which significantly reduces air pollution and greenhouse gasses. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EVs are far more energy efficient than gas-powered cars, converting more than 77 percent of electrical energy from the grid to power, compared to 12-30 percent for gasoline vehicles.

This efficiency translates to a cleaner, more sustainable mode of transportation. And stories of EVs stranded in Chicago aside, generally they perform well in cold weather, as clearly demonstrated in Norway. In Norway, the average temperature hovers a solid 10 degrees lower than in the U.S. Yet 93 percent of new cars sold there are electric. The first-ever drive from the north to the south pole was also completed by an electric vehicle. The success story of EVs in Norway and demonstration projects in harsh winter climates serve as a powerful counterargument to the notion that EVs are ineffective in cold weather.

So where does this leave us? The discourse around EVs and gasoline vehicles in cold weather needs a more balanced and factual approach. The range loss in gasoline vehicles is a significant issue that mirrors the challenges faced by EVs. By acknowledging this and understanding the broader context, we can have a more informed and equitable discussion about the future of automotive technology and its impact on our environment.

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Kate L. Harrison is the co-founder and head of marketing at MoveEV, an AI-backed EV transition company that helps organizations convert fleet and employee-owned gas vehicles to electric, and reimburse for charging at home.