Companies including Houston-based Chevron and Hess and BP, each with a Houston presence, offered bids. Photo via Getty Images

Last month, oil companies offered $382 million for drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday after courts rejected the Biden administration's plans to scale back the sale to protect an endangered whale species.

The auction was the last of several offshore oil and gas lease sales mandated under the 2022 climate law. It comes as President Joe Biden’s Democratic administration tries to navigate between energy companies seeking greater oil and gas production and environmental activists who want to stop new drilling to help combat climate change.

Companies including Houston-based Chevron and Hess and BP, each with a Houston presence, offered bids on more than 300 parcels covering 2,700 square miles (7,000 square kilometers), according to the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The dollar amount of the successful bids marked a sharp increase from the previous sale in March 2023, when the Interior Department awarded leases covering about 2,500 square miles (6,500 square kilometers) for $250 million.

The next sale will be conducted in 2025, to the frustration of energy companies and Republicans who say the administration is hampering U.S. oil production.

Wednesday's online auction was originally scheduled for September but got delayed by a court battle after the administration reduced the area available for leases from 73 million acres (30 million hectares) to 67 million acres (27 million hectares) as part of a plan to protect the endangered Rice’s whale.

Chevron, Shell Offshore, the American Petroleum Institute and the state of Louisiana sued to reverse the cut in acreage and block the inclusion of the whale-protecting measures in the lease sale provisions.

A federal judge in southwest Louisiana ordered the sale to go on without the whale protections, which also included regulations governing vessel speed and personnel. Environmental groups appealed, but the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last month rejected their arguments against the sale and threw out the plans to scale it back.

The lease sale was required under a compromise with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a supporter of the oil and gas industry who cast the deciding vote in favor of the landmark climate law. The measure was approved with only Democratic votes in Congress. Under the terms negotiated by Manchin, the government must offer at least 60 million acres of offshore oil and gas leases in any one-year period before it can offer offshore wind leases that are part of its strategy to fight climate change.

Only a small portion of parcels that are offered for sale typically receive bids, in areas where companies want to expand their existing drilling activities or where they foresee future development potential.

The administration in September proposed up to three oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico over the next five years and none in Alaska waters. That was the minimum number the administration could legally offer if it wants to continue expanding offshore wind development.

Environmental groups criticized the five-year plan as a “missed opportunity” to stop the expansion of oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and address climate change.

“New oil and gas operations (in the Gulf) will only bring more health risks to Gulf Coast communities and slow our transition to a clean-energy economy,'' said Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy.

The industry, meanwhile, said more sales are needed — and sooner.

“In our forward-thinking industry, securing new lease blocks is vital for exploring and developing resources crucial to the U.S. economy,'' said National Ocean Industries Association President Erik Milito. “The Gulf of Mexico is a prime economic engine and investment area, and this (lease sale) was the last chance for companies to secure leases in the near term.''

Holly Hopkins, API vice president of upstream policy, called Wednesday's sale "a "positive step after multiple delays,'' and noted that it generated the highest dollar value for bids in nearly a decade.

The results demonstrate that the oil and gas industry “is working to meet growing demand and investing in the nation’s long-term energy security,'' Hopkins said. “Just as today’s record U.S. production was supported by investment and policy decisions made years ago, new leasing opportunities are critical for maintaining American energy leadership for decades to come.''

The administration's clean-energy ambitions have been hampered by recent project cancellations including two large wind projects shelved last month off the New Jersey coast and the earlier cancellation of three projects that would have sent power to New England.

Alvarez & Marsal announced the appointment of Jay Johnson as senior adviser to its energy practice. Photo via alvarezandmarsal.com

Global consulting firm names new Houston energy practice leader​

onboarding

A top global professional services firm named a Houston-based energy leader amid industry evolution and regulatory changes.

Alvarez & Marsal, or A&M, announced the appointment of Jay Johnson as senior adviser to its energy practice.

“I enjoy bringing together teams of people to solve the complex challenges facing companies today,” Johnson says in a news release. “I’m looking forward to working with A&M’s energy team to build leadership and capabilities to address industry challenges.”

The firm has over 500 energy consultants in over 30 countries.

According to A&M, Johnson’s joining represents the “next phase of A&M’s strategic plan to help energy clients maximize value and drive change amidst industry challenges, regulatory changes and economic volatility.”

“The firm’s focus on operational improvements lines up well with my own,” Johnson said.

The move complements last year's integration with The Carnrite Group, according to A&M's news release.

Johnson spent 40 years at Chevron in a variety of roles that took him from London and Kazakhstan to Papua New Guinea and the United States. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois, as well as an MBA from Louisiana State University.

“Jay’s background leading the upstream business for one of the largest energy companies and his industry perspectives will help A&M shape its future growth,” A&M Managing Director and Energy Practice Leader Lee Maginniss says in a news release. “Jay’s leadership experience combined with his operational mindset will be instrumental to developing firm-wide talent that can best advise clients.”

UH's winning team, ECHO, or Electrochemical CO2 Harvester from the Ocean, was awarded a $25,000 award from Chevron. Photo courtesy of UH

UH Energy names latest winners of commercialization competition

future energy leaders

UH Energy named its second Innovation Commercialization Competition winners earlier this month with the goal of identifying promising ideas within the university that could have an impact in the energy transition.

The winning team, ECHO, or Electrochemical CO2 Harvester from the Ocean, was awarded a $25,000 award from Chevron, the event's sponsor, after presenting their pitch in front of a live Houston audience earlier this month.

“You don’t see the full impact of a good idea until someone figures out a way to convert it to a usable product or service that has value, brings it to market and makes money off of it—this is what makes it a sustainable business,” S. Radhakrishnan, the competition's coordinator and a retired University of Houston business professor, says in a statement. “To have a successful energy transition, we need many innovative ideas to be commercialized.”

Eighteen teams of University of Houston graduate students competed in the months-long competition and focused on projects related to carbon capture, carbon sequestration and lithium extraction from geothermal operations. Each team received a $2,000 stipend and mentoring throughout the competition.

The ECHO team was named the UH-Chevron Energy Transition Energy Innovation Challenge Winner. Comprised of four UH environmental engineering doctoral students (Prince Aleta, Ahmad Hassan, Mohsen Afshari and Abdelrahman Refale) and advised by Mim Rahimi, assistant professor of environmental engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering, the team pitched a membrane-less electrochemical process to capture carbon dioxide efficiently and sustainably. According to a statement from UH, the technology "seamlessly integrates with existing seawater intake infrastructure."

“As we’re from the STEM field, we normally work in lab environments, and I hear people say that what we’re working on has less commercial value and that it would take ages for them to commercialize,” Hassan adds in the statement. “This (competition) gave us the confidence and motivation to move forward.”

UH-based startup GeOME Analytics, led by UH's Moores Professor of Biology and Biochemistry and GeOME's president Preethi Gunaratne, was named the UH Energy Innovation Challenge Winner. The team pitched a new method for reservoir drainage diagnostics that uses the company's personalized DNA biomarkers. Other team members include Marcus Phillips, GeOME's vice president; postdoctoral researchers Partha Bhagavanthula and Nuwan Acharige; and UH graduate students, Micah Castillo, Dishan Adhikari and Shiyanth Thevasagayampillai.

Additional finalists included:

  • Team LiQuidium – Pitched lithium extraction from geothermal brines
  • Aldrogen – Pitched an A.I.-powered solution to improving grid resiliency while reducing emissions
  • MacAlgae – Pitched an environmentally conscious method of mycelium production

“The technology that was on display was fascinating,” Liz Schwarze, vice president of global exploration for Chevron, said in a statement. “I’m optimistic we can continue to grow this program, because it’s all about creating a culture where we can pursue our scientific and engineering dreams while partnering with business and entrepreneurship along the way to spinoff value to our community faster.”

Last month, UH and Chevron also partnered up to name its first-ever cohort of UH-Chevron Energy Graduate Fellows. The PhD and doctoral students will each receive a one-year $12,000 fellowship, along with mentoring from experts at UH and Chevron.
This roundup of things to know this week is full of PSAs for the energy startup community. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Energy transition startups to know, event not to miss, and more to be on your radar this week

hou knew?

Editor's note: It's a new week — start it strong with three quick things to know in Houston's energy transition ecosystem. A new-to-Houston program is calling for applicants, the most promising energy tech businesses pitched here in Houston, and learn about an event not to miss this week.


Most-promising startups named at energy tech event

Ten companies from around the world were named as most promising. Photo courtesy of Rice

At Rice Alliance's annual Energy Tech Venture Forum, 10 startups were named most-promising by investors and experts — and one additional company jumped out to the audience.

"The selection process was both exhilarating and challenging given the incredible ideas we've seen today," says Jason Sidhu, director of information services business engagement at TC Energy, who announced the top companies. "I want to extend my gratitude to every company that participate din this year's Energy Tech Venture Forum. Your commitment to solving energy problems and pursuing ambitions ideas is truly commendable."

From circular economy solutions to hydrogen infrastructure, all 11 of the startups are ones to watch. Click here to find the full list.

Activate is looking for Houston applicants

Calling all hardtech innovators in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

Got an early-stage hardtech innovation? As of today, Houston innovators can apply for a new-to-Houston program that supports researchers on their entrepreneurial journeys. Activate opened the application period for its 2024 cohort, and the window closes October 17.

Applications are open across Activate's five programs. The two-year, hardtech-focused program was founded in Berkeley, California, in 2015 and expanded to Boston and New York before launching its virtual program, Activate Anywhere. Activate announced its expansion into Houston earlier this year, naming Jeremy Pitts as Houston managing director.

“Activate’s recruitment process is crucial, as it centers around finding scientists directly interested in solving urgent problems,” Pitts says. “Activate fellows are turning their technical breakthroughs into businesses that can help industries like manufacturing, energy, chemicals, computing, and agriculture, to meet their decarbonization and resiliency goals.” Click here to read more.

Chevron Technology Ventures hosting pitch competition

The Cannon and Chevron Technology Ventures are hosting a pitch competition. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

On September 28, Chevron Technology Ventures is hosting a pitch competition to identify novel technologies and innovation systems that stand to transform and improve facility-focused operational efficiencies at the Chevron Technology Ventures Pitch Competition. Six Houston companies will compete to win a tailored field trial opportunity with CTV experts, plus a six-month, complimentary, flexible-workspace membership at The Cannon.

The six companies pitching this week are:

  • Corrolytics
  • GuiseAI
  • OctoRD
  • Flite
  • Magic Asset
  • Pike Robotics

Chevron New Energies now owns a majority share of the Advanced Clean Energy Storage project in Delta, Utah. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-headquartered Chevron acquires majority stake in ongoing hydrogen project

M&A move

The Houston-based clean energy subsidiary of Chevron is making a big splash in the clean hydrogen sector. It just acquired a majority stake in what’s being promoted as the world’s largest facility for clean hydrogen storage.

Chevron New Energies bought Salt Lake City-based Magnum Development from Houston-based private equity firm Haddington Ventures. As a result, the New Energies unit now owns a majority share of the Advanced Clean Energy Storage (ACES) project in Delta, Utah. A joint venture of Magnum Development and Mitsubishi Power Americas is developing ACES. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

“Having been the primary financial sponsor behind this key energy hub since 2008, we believe this transaction will accelerate lower-carbon-intensity solutions that reduce emissions in the western United States,” says John Strom, managing director of Haddington Ventures.

ACES plans to use electrolysis to convert renewable energy into hydrogen and store the energy in salt caverns. The first phase, designed to convert and store up to 100 metric tons of hydrogen per day, is under construction and expected to begin commercial-scale operations in mid-2025.

“Using salt caverns for seasonal energy storage is a significant opportunity to empower hydrogen as an energy carrier and greatly expand energy storage resources throughout the U.S.,” says ACES contractor WSP, an engineering, environmental and professional services consulting firm.

The hydrogen facility will support Intermountain Power Plant, a Utah power plant operated by the municipal utility in Los Angeles. The stored hydrogen is expected to fuel a hybrid 840-megawatt combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power plant that’ll replace an 1,800-megawatt, coal-fired power plant.

A CCGT plant harnesses exhaust heat from natural gas turbines to generate steam through a heat recovery steam generator, according to IPIECA, an oil and gas association that focuses on environmental and social issues. The steam is then fed to a steam turbine to supply additional power.

Michael Ducker, senior vice president of hydrogen infrastructure at Mitsubishi Power, says the ACES project “will serve as a blueprint for future hydrogen opportunities.”

“We seek to leverage the unique strengths of each partner to develop a large-scale, hydrogen platform that provides affordable, reliable, ever-cleaner energy and helps our customers achieve their lower carbon goals,” says Austin Knight, vice president of hydrogen at Chevron New Energies.

Chevron New Energies is marketing its low-carbon hydrogen offering to sectors like transportation, power, and industrial. These sectors face especially big hurdles in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In June 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a $504.4 million loan guarantee to finance ACES. The facility will combine 220 megawatts of alkaline electrolysis with two 4.5 million-barrel salt caverns for storage of clean hydrogen.

ACES expects to create up to 400 construction jobs and 25 permanent jobs.

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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.