The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to Rice University. Photo via Rice.edu

A team of Rice University physicists has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Physics for their work in high-energy nuclear physics and research into a new state of matter.

The five-year $15.5 million grant will go towards Rice physics and astronomy professor Wei Li's discoveries focused on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a large, general-purpose particle physics detector built on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, a European organization for nuclear research in France and Switzerland. The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to a statement from Rice.

Li's team will work to develop an ultra-fast silicon timing detector, known as the endcap timing layer (ETL), that will provide upgrades to the CMS detector. The ETl is expected to have a time resolution of 30 picoseconds per particle, which will allow for more precise time-of-flight particle identification.

This will also help boost the performance of the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC), which is scheduled to launch at CERN in 2029, allowing it to operate at about 10 times the luminosity than originally planned. The ETL also has applications for other colliders apart from the LHC, including the DOE’s electron-ion collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.

“The ETL will enable breakthrough science in the area of heavy ion collisions, allowing us to delve into the properties of a remarkable new state of matter called the quark-gluon plasma,” Li explained in a statement. “This, in turn, offers invaluable insights into the strong nuclear force that binds particles at the core of matter.”

The ETL is also expected to aid in other areas of physics, including the search for the Higgs particle and understanding the makeup of dark matter.

Li is joined on this work by co-principal investigator Frank Geurts and researchers Nicole Lewis and Mike Matveev from Rice. The team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas.

Last year, fellow Rice physicist Qimiao Si, a theoretical quantum physicist, earned the prestigious Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship grant. The five-year fellowship, with up to $3 million in funding, will go towards his work to establish an unconventional approach to create and control topological states of matter, which plays an important role in materials research and quantum computing.

Meanwhile, the DOE recently tapped three Houston universities to compete in its annual startup competition focused on "high-potential energy technologies,” including one team from Rice.
Four decarbonization projects in the region have received federal support. Photo via Getty Images

DOE deploys $6B into decarbonization projects — including 4 on the Gulf Coast

fresh funding

Four projects along the Gulf Coast will receive a share of up to $6 billion in federal funding for decarbonization initiatives.

The $6 billion in funding was announced March 25 by the U.S. Department of Energy. The federal agency and the award recipients still must hammer out details.

“Spurring on the next generation of decarbonization technologies in key industries like steel, paper, concrete, and glass will keep America the most competitive nation on Earth,” U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm says in a news release.

Below are details about the four projects.

Baytown Olefins Plant Carbon Reduction Project

The Baytown Olefins Plant Carbon Reduction Project, led by Spring-based ExxonMobil, will receive up to $331.9 million in federal funding.

Officials say the project will enable the use of hydrogen in place of natural gas for heat-fired equipment using new burner technologies for ethylene production in Baytown. Ethylene is a chemical feedstock used in the production of textiles, synthetic rubbers, and plastic resins.

The equipment modification is aimed at generating 95 percent clean hydrogen fuel and eliminating 2.5 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year.

The Baytown project is expected to employ about 400 construction workers. Furthermore, an estimated 140 current Baytown workers will be trained in the use of hydrogen.

Sustainable Ethylene from CO2 Utilization with Renewable Energy (SECURE)

The federal government will supply as much as $200 million for the SECURE project, which will be located along the Gulf Coast. T.EN Stone & Webster Process Technology in Houston is leading the project in partnership with Illinois-based LanzaTech.

The project seeks to capture carbon dioxide from ethylene production — an important building block for many products — by applying a biotech-based process and green hydrogen to create clean ethanol and ethylene.

SECURE is expected to generate 200 construction jobs and 40 permanent jobs.

Star e-Methanol

The Star e-Methanol project, which will be located along the Texas Gulf Coast, will collect up to $100 million in federal funding. A subsidiary of Denmark-based clean energy developer Ørsted, which recently opened an office in Houston, is leading the project.

The project seeks to capture carbon dioxide from an industrial facility to produce e-methanol, helping reduce the carbon footprint for hard-to-electrify sectors like shipping. Ørsted’s facility will produce up to 300,000 metric tons of e-methanol per year.

Star e-Methanol is projected to create 300 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs.

Ørsted is collaborating with the University of Houston to develop a curriculum covering zero-carbon fuels and the hydrogen economy.

Syngas Production from Recycled Chemical Byproduct Streams project

The Syngas Production from Recycled Chemical Byproduct Streams project, led by chemical giant BASF, will secure up to $75 million in federal funding.

The project aims to recycle liquid byproducts into synthesis gas. That gas will be used as low-carbon feedstock for BASF’s manufacturing plant in Freeport.

BASF plans to use plasma gasification and renewable power to replace natural gas-fired incineration, decreasing carbon dioxide emissions at the Freeport site by as much as 90 percent.

About 1,600 employees and contractors work at BASF’s Freeport facility.

A company headquartered in The Woodlands has secured funding to study the recovery of rare earth elements as they pertain to the energy transition. Photo via tetratec.com

DOE grants Houston-area energy tech co. over $5M for rare earth elements study

energy transition materials

The Woodlands-based Tetra Technologies, an energy technology and services company, has picked up nearly $5.4 million in U.S. Department of Energy funding to study the recovery of rare earth elements and other critical minerals from coal byproducts in Pennsylvania.

The funding also will enable Tetra to explore converting coal byproducts, known as underclay, into clays that could be sold. In addition to the DOE funding, the company also secured about $1.3 million for a total of $6.7 million.

Publicly traded Tetra got the funding as part of a more than $17 million package aimed at designing and building facilities to produce rare earth elements, along with other critical minerals and materials, from coal resources. The Department of Energy (DOE) says these minerals and materials will go toward generating clean energy.

Rare earth elements can be derived from the country’s more than 250 billion tons of coal reserves, over 4 billion tons of waste coal, and about 2 billion tons of coal ash, according to DOE.

Clean energy fixtures like solar plants, wind farms, and electric vehicles generally require more minerals to build than their fossil-fuel-based counterparts, according to the International Energy Agency. For example, a typical electric car requires six times the mineral resources of a conventional car and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired plant.

The American Geosciences Institute says rare earth elements, a set of 17 metallic elements, also are an essential component of many tech-dependent products. These include cell phones, flat-screen TVs, and radar and sonar systems.

China is the top country for production of rare earth elements, with the U.S. far behind at No. 2.

Ten energy tech companies in Houston are among 111 organizations to receive up to $250,000 in vouchers from the DOE's Office of Technology Transitions, totaling $9.8 million in funding. Photo via Getty Images

Houston companies land DOE vouchers for clean tech

money moves

Ten Houston-area companies will receive vouchers from the Department of Energy's latest round of funding to support the adoption of clean energy tech.

The companies are among 111 organizations to receive up to $250,000 in vouchers from the DOE's Office of Technology Transitions, totaling $9.8 million in funding, according to a release from the department.

The voucher program is in collaboration with the Offices of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED), Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM), and Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). It is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“It takes a breadth of tools and expertise to bring an innovative technology from research and development to deployment,” Vanessa Z. Chan, DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of the Office of Technology Transitions, says in a statement. “The Voucher Program will pair 111 clean energy solutions with the support they need from expert voucher providers to help usher new technologies to market.”

In addition to the funding, the program seeks to help small businesses and non-traditional organizations gain access to testing facilities and third-party expertise.

The vouchers come in five different opportunities that focus on different areas of business growth and support:

  • Voucher Opportunity 1 (VO1) - Pre-Demonstration Commercialization Support
  • Voucher Opportunity 2 (VO2) - Performance Validation, Modeling, and Certification Support
  • Voucher Opportunity 3 (VO3) - Clean Energy Demonstration Project Siting/Permitting Support
  • Voucher Opportunity 4 (VO4) - Commercialization Support (for companies with a functional technology prototype)
  • Voucher Opportunity 5 (VO5) - Commercialization Support (for developers, including for-profit firms, that are working to commercialize a prototype that fits a specific technology vertical of interest for DOE)

The 10 Houston-area companies to receive funding, their voucher type and projects include:

  • Terradote Inc. with Big Blue Technologies Inc. (VO2): Full ISO-Compliant Life Cycle Assessment for Clean Energy Technologies
  • Solugen Inc. and Encina with ACTion Battery Technologies L.L.C. and Frontline Waste Holding LLC (Vo2): Barracuda Virtual Reactor Simulation, Validation and Testing
  • Flow Safe with Concept Group LLC and Precision Fluid Control (VO2): Durability Testing of Hydrogen Components, Materials, and Storage Systems
  • Percheron Power LLC (VO4): Fundraising Support
  • Capwell Services Inc. with Banyu Carbon Inc. (VO5): Field Testing Support for Validation of Novel Resource Sustainability Technologies
  • Syzygy Plasmonics with Ample Carbon PBC, Terraform Industries, Lydian Labs Inc. and Vycarb Inc. (VO5): Rapid Life Cycle Assessment for Carbon Management or Resource Sustainability Technologies
  • Solidec Inc. with GreenFire Energy (VO5): LCA Calculator Tool for Carbon Management or Resource Sustainability Technologies
  • Encino Environmental Services LLC with Wood Cache, Completion Corp and Carbon Lockdown (VO5): Realtime Above/Underground Gas Monitoring Reporting and Verification, Including Cloud Connectivity for Remote Sites
  • Mati Carbon PBC with Ebb Carbon Inc. (VO5): Community Benefits Assessment and Environmental Justice

Other Texas-based companies to receive funding included Molecular Rebar Design LLC and Talus Renewables from Austin, Deep Anchor Solutions from College Station, and ACTion Battery Technologies LLC from Wichita Falls.

Last October, the DOE also awarded the Houston area more than $2 million for projects that improve energy efficiency and infrastructure in the region.

In December, its Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations also selected a Houston power company for a commercial-scale carbon capture and storage project cost-sharing agreement.

The Baker Hughes Technology Showcase opens — and more things to know this week. Photo courtesy of Baker Hughes

New Houston energy tech showroom, a deadline not to forget, and more to know this week

take note

Editor's note: It's a new week — start it strong with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: looking back on top news from 2023, a deadline not to miss, and more.

New Baker Hughes Technology Showcase

The Baker Hughes Technology Showcase exists permanently at the company's Western Hemisphere Education Center in Tomball just outside of Houston to display the company's technologies.

There are more than 30 physical displays — some scaled down and 3D printed while others are exact replicas of the technology out in the field. In addition to these tangible pieces, hundreds are available to peruse on the touch-screen displays.

While there's the full technology spectrum represented, there's a particular focus on clean energy technologies — ones that aren't just future facing but are actually being used in the field today. Read more about the new showcase.

Upcoming deadline: The DOE's EnergyTech University Prize

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship will host the regional qualifier for a Department of Energy-backed student competition, and the application deadline to participate is coming up.

The DOE's EnergyTech University Prize, or EnergyTech UP, a virtual regional qualifier hosted by the Rice Alliance will take place in February, and applications for students and faculty are now open. A $400,000 collegiate competition, the program challenges student teams to develop a business plan based off of National Laboratory-developed or other emerging energy technology.

The application deadline is February 1 for students. This year there's a new track for faculty that has a prize of $100,000 on the line. Faculty have until January 5 to apply. Learn more.

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.”

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Annual offshore conference in Houston names honorees for leadership, sustainable efforts

otc 2024

The 2024 Offshore Technology Conference has revealed the three Distinguished Achievement Award recipients that will be recognized at the conference next month.

OTC, a conference that has served the offshore energy community for over 50 years, will bring 276,000 square feet of exhibit space to NRG Park and welcome over 31,000 attendees for more than 350 sessions. The awards reception will kick off the week on May 5.

One of the awards recipients named is Kerry J. Campbell, who will accept the OTC Distinguished Achievement Award for Individuals. Campbell was selected based on his "work in developing modern deepwater site characterization practice and for teaching and mentoring generations of site characterization professionals," reads the news release.

He's previously co-chaired sessions at OTC and served on a subcommittee for the organization, in addition to co-writing seventeen OTC papers. He retired from Fugro in 2020 after helping integrate 3D marine seismic data for engineering applications.

Petrobras will accept the OTC Distinguished Achievement Award for Companies, Organizations, and Institutions at the May banquet. The company was selected "for the deployment of a wide set of new technologies for the successful revitalization of the Marlim Field and the entire deepwater Campos Basin, unlocking new paths for mature deepwater asset redevelopment, with significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions," per the release.

For about 50 years, the Campos Basin has been subjected to exploration and is known for various shallow water discoveries. In 1992, Petrobras was recognized for its deepwater development in Marlim, and over 30 years later, the company will be praised for its work redeveloping mature fields and the pioneering subsea, drilling, reservoir and decommissioning technologies.

The third and final award recipient is EnerGeo Alliance, which will receive the OTC Special Citation award for promoting efficiency and environmental sustainability within offshore seismic data collection.

"For more than 50 years, EnerGeo Alliance has been a stalwart in the quest for accessible, affordable energy around the globe, while also being a standard-bearer for safety and the environment," reads the release. "EneGeo Alliance has set the standard in the energy geoscience industry by establishing best practices and recommended guidance in key energy areas, including its Environmental Impact Assessment Handbook and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Guidance, for its members."

Tesla starts off 2024 with tumble in sales

in a decline

Tesla sales fell sharply last quarter as competition increased worldwide, electric vehicle sales growth slowed, and price cuts failed to lure more buyers.

The Texas company said Tuesday that it delivered 386,810 vehicles worldwide from January through March, almost 9% below the 423,000 it sold in the same quarter of last year. It was the first year-over-year quarterly sales decline in nearly four years.

Sales also fell short of even the most bearish Wall Street expectations. Auto industry analysts polled by FactSet were looking for 457,000 vehicle deliveries from Tesla Inc. That's a shortfall of more than 15%.

The company blamed the decline in part on phasing in an updated version of the Model 3 sedan at its Fremont, California, factory, plant shutdowns due to shipping diversions in the Red Sea, and an arson attack that knocked out power to its German factory.

But TD Cowen Analyst Jeffrey Osborne wrote in a note to investors that weaker March sales indicate that incentives, including discounts and a free trial of “Full Self Driving” software, “did not work as demand deteriorated.”

Despite the sales decline, Tesla was able to retake its global EV sales crown from China's BYD, which sold just over 300,000 electric vehicles during the quarter, Osborne wrote.

In its letter to investors in January, Tesla predicted “notably lower” sales growth this year. The letter said Tesla is between two big growth waves, one from global expansion of the Models 3 and Y, and a second coming from the Model 2, a new, smaller and less expensive vehicle with an unknown release date.

“This was an unmitigated disaster 1Q that is hard to explain away,” wrote Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush who has been very bullish on Tesla's stock. The drop in sales was far worse than expected, he wrote in a note to investors.

The quarter is a “seminal moment” in the Tesla growth story, Ives wrote, adding that CEO Elon Musk will have to turn the company around. “Otherwise, some darker days could clearly be ahead that could disrupt the long-term Tesla narrative.”

Ives maintained his Outperform rating on Tesla's shares and cut his one-year price target from $315 to $300. Ives estimated that China sales slid 3% to 4% during the period.

Shares of Tesla tumbled 4.9% to close Tuesday at $166.63, continuing an extended decline. Investors have shaved 33% off the value of the company so far this year, dumping shares after growing leery of the tremendous growth story that Tesla has been telling.

“Street criticism is warranted as growth has been sluggish and (profit) margins showing compression, with China a horror show and competition increasing from all angles,” Ives wrote.

Tesla dramatically lowered U.S. prices by up to $20,000 for some models last year. In March it temporarily knocked $1,000 off the Model Y, its top-selling vehicle. Those price cuts narrowed the company’s profit margins and spooked investors.

Analysts polled by FactSet expected the average selling price for Model Y to be $41,000 last quarter, $5,000 less than a year ago and $15,000 lower than the peak of $56,000 in June of 2022.

Tesla's sales numbers also pulled down shares of its U.S. EV competitors. Shares of Rivian fell 5.2%, while Lucid stock dropped 3.5% on Tuesday.

Deliveries of the Models 3 and Y, fell 10.3% year over year to 369,783. Sales of the company's other models, the aging X and S and the new Cybertruck, rose almost 60% to 17,027. Tesla produced 10.7% more vehicles than it sold during the first quarter.

Softer-than-expected first-quarter sales are reducing analyst expectations for Tesla's quarterly earnings ahead of their scheduled release on April 23.

Tesla’s sales come against the backdrop of a slowing market for electric vehicles in the U.S. EV sales grew 47% last year to a record 1.19 million as EV market share rose to 7.6%. But sales growth slowed toward the end of the year. In December, they rose 34%.

Updated EV sales numbers will come later Tuesday when most automakers report U.S. sales.

Other automakers also have had to cut electric vehicle production and reduce prices to move EVs off dealership lots. Ford, for instance, cut production of the F-150 Lightning electric pickup, and lopped up to $8,100 off the price of the Mustang Mach E electric SUV in order to sell 2023 models.

SLB to consolidate carbon capture business in partnership

M&A moves

SLB announced its plans to combine its carbon capture business with Norway company, Aker Carbon Capture.

Upon completion of the transaction, which is expected to close by the end of the second quarter of this year, SLB will own 80 percent of the combined business and ACC will own 20 percent.

According to a SLB news release, the combined technology portfolios will accelerate the introduction of promising early-stage decarbonization technology.

“For CCUS to have the expected impact on supporting global net-zero ambitions, it will need to scale up 100-200 times in less than three decades,” Olivier Le Peuch, CEO of SLB, says in the release. “Crucial to this scale-up is the ability to lower capture costs, which often represent as much as 50-70% of the total spend of a CCUS project.

The International Energy Agency estimates that over one gigaton of CO2 every year year will need to be captured by 2030 — a figure that scales up to over six gigatons by 2050.

"We are excited to create this business with ACC to accelerate the deployment of carbon capture technologies that will shift the economics of carbon capture across high-emitting industrial sectors,” Le Peuch continues.

SLB is slated to pay NOK 4.12 billion — around $379.4 million — to own 80 percent of Aker Carbon Capture Holding AS, which owns ACC, per the news release, and SLB may also pay up to NOK 1.36 billion over the next three years, depending on business performance.