Researchers from the University of Houston, Jackson State University, and Howard University have created a new type of flexible high-energy-density capacitor, a device that stores energy. Photo via UH.edu

Storage is a major part of the energy system that's ripe for innovation and disruption — and a research team based partly out of the University of Houston has made a remarkable milestone in capacitor technology.

Researchers from the University of Houston, Jackson State University, and Howard University have created a new type of flexible high-energy-density capacitor, a device that stores energy. For now, the prototype is just 1-inch by 1-inch, but a larger version of the technology can highly impact industries that rely on energy storage or batteries.

The research team explained their project in a paper titled “Ultrahigh Capacitive Energy Density in Stratified 2D Nanofiller-Based Polymer Dielectric Films” published in the journal ACS Nano.

“High-energy and high-power capacitors are essential for a reliable power supply, especially as we shift to using more renewable energy sources," Alamgir Karim, Dow Chair and Welch Foundation Professor of Chemical Engineering at UH and faculty mentor on the team, says in a UH news release. "However, current dielectric capacitors don't store as much energy as other types of energy storage devices such as batteries. The higher power density of capacitors makes them more attractive for a multitude of applications as compared to batteries."

The unique design of the capacitor includes layering polymers with oriented 2D nanofillers — which create a material that's thinner than human hair. The design featured an improved energy storage performance with higher energy density and efficiency than existing technologies.

"Our work demonstrates the development of high energy and high-power density capacitors by blocking electrical breakdown pathways in polymeric materials using the oriented 2D nanofillers," adds Maninderjeet Singh, who earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at UH last year and is the first author on the paper along with Priyanka Das from Jackson State University. "We achieved an ultra-high energy density of approximately 75 J/cm³, the highest reported for a polymeric dielectric capacitor to date."

Once scaled, the technology has the potential to enhance energy storage in electronics, electric vehicles, power systems, and more.

CTV has announced its newest fund to deploy capital to innovative clean energy tech. Photo via Getty Images

Chevron launches $500M clean energy fund to target low carbon fuels, advanced materials

fresh funding

Chevron Technology Ventures has announced its latest fund raised to deploy capital into clean energy technology.

CTV's Future Energy Fund III has reportedly launched with $500 million — an increase from its second fund from 2021 that was valued at $400 million. The inaugural Future Energy Fund was established in 2018. Each fund has targeted separate technologies — from capture, emerging mobility, and energy storage in fund I to industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and circular economy in fund II.

"Future Energy Fund III, launched in 2024, will continue to look forward in the areas of focus for the earlier two funds and aims to expand investment in the areas of novel low carbon fuels, advanced materials, and transforming carbon to higher-value products," reads Chevron's website describing the Future Energy Funds.

The first two funds have invested in over 30 companies and has more than 250 other investors supporting low-carbon innovations.

CTV, based in Houston, has strategic partnerships with organizations within the Houston innovation ecosystem, including Greentown Labs, Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Ion, The Cannon, and the HX Venture Fund.

"CTV engages a range of startup companies, investors, incubators and accelerators to access technology that can be used across Chevron now and in the future to enable us to operate more efficiently, to lower the carbon intensity of our operations and launch viable new businesses," reads the CTV site.

Founded in 1999, CTV invests in emerging energy technologies as well as incubating startups in its Catalyst Program. Last month, CTV added Cerebre, a software-as-a-service company that works with its customers to unlock and leverage data to tap into AI tools and digitization, to the Catalyst Program.

Combining batteries with green energy is a fast-growing climate solution. Photo via Getty Images

Batteries and green energies like wind and solar combine for major climate solution across Texas, U.S.

team work

In the Arizona desert, a Danish company is building a massive solar farm that includes batteries that charge when the sun is shining and supply energy back to the electric grid when it's not.

Combining batteries with green energy is a fast-growing climate solution.

“Solar farms only produce when the sun shines, and the turbines only produce when the wind blows,” said Ørsted CEO Mads Nipper. “For us to maximize the availability of the green power, 24-7, we have to store some of it too.”

The United States is rapidly adding batteries, mostly lithium-ion type, to store energy at large scale. Increasingly, these are getting paired with solar and wind projects, like in Arizona. The agencies that run electric grids, utility companies and developers of renewable energies say combining technologies is essential for a green energy future.

Batteries allow renewables to replace fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal, while keeping a steady flow of power when sources like wind and solar are not producing. For example, when people are sleeping and thus using less electricity, the energy produced from wind blowing through the night can be stored in batteries — and used when demand is high during the day.

Juan Mendez, a resident of Tempe, Arizona, gets power from local utility Salt River Project, which is collaborating with Ørsted on the Eleven Mile Solar Center. As a state senator, Mendez pushed SRP to move to renewable energies.

He thinks the power company is still investing too much in gas and coal plants, including a major expansion planned for a natural gas plant in Coolidge, Arizona, near the solar center.

“This solar-plus-storage is a good step, but SRP needs to do more to provide clean energy and clean up our air and help address climate change," Mendez said.

The utility said it’s adding more renewables to its energy mix and recently pledged to zero out its emissions by 2050.

The U.S. has the second most electrical storage in the world, after China. In 2023, the U.S. added an estimated 7.5 gigawatts — 62% more than in 2022, according to the BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy factbook. That amount can power 750,000 homes for a day and brings the total amount of installed capacity nationwide to nearly enough for 2 million homes for one day, according to BloombergNEF.

In the U.S., California leads in energy storage as it aggressively cuts greenhouse gas emissions. It has twice as much as any other state. Residential, commercial and utility-scale battery installations increased by 757% there over just four years, meaning there's now enough to power 6.6 million homes for up to four hours, according to the California Energy Commission.

That's partly because in 2013, the California Public Utilities Commission told utilities to buy energy storage with a target to be met by 2020. Since then, power companies have continued to add more batteries to help the state meet clean electricity requirements.

Southern California Edison is one utility adding thousands of hours of energy storage. It is putting in solar-plus-batteries to replace some power plants that burn natural gas and would typically supply electricity in the evening.

“If it’s just clean and not reliable, you really don’t have anything,” said William Walsh, vice president for energy procurement and management. “We need both.”

In California, batteries proved their value in September 2022, as the West was experiencing a long heat wave that sent temperatures into the triple digits. Electricity demand reached the highest the state had ever seen on Sept. 6, 2022, as people cranked up air conditioners.

Walsh credits the batteries added to the grid between 2020 and 2022 with helping to avoid blackouts. Two years earlier, there were rolling electricity outages in California during a similar extreme heat wave.

Texas has the second-most battery storage after California. Last month, Schneider Electric announced it's teaming up with energy company ENGIE North America on solar and battery systems in Texas to get closer to the French multinational’s 100% renewable energy goal in the U.S. and Canada. Before the Inflation Reduction Act, a major climate law passed in 2022, the deal and the necessary $80 million investment would not have been possible, said Hans Royal, Schneider Electric's senior director for renewable energy and carbon advisory.

Royal is advising other global Fortune 500 companies it works with to get into the market.

“The industry needs that, the grid needs it," said Royal.

Back in Arizona, Ørsted’s Eleven Mile Solar Center covers 2,000 acres in rural Pinal County. It has 857,000 solar panels and more than 2,000 cubes that look like large shipping containers but contain battery modules. Ørsted also has large solar and storage projects in Texas and Alabama, and in Europe.

When the Arizona facility opens this summer, most power from the solar farm will go to Facebook owner Meta's data center in Mesa. The solar power not needed by Meta, in addition to the power stored in the batteries, will go to the local utility's customers. The new batteries can ensure power to roughly 65,000 homes during peak hours of demand.

“What I think is exciting is just how rapidly this market is moving," said Yayoi Sekine, head of energy storage at BloombergNEF. “There's so much pressure for the U.S. and different regions to decarbonize, and storage is one of the major technologies to enable that. There's a lot of momentum."

Tierra Climate is technology agnostic, so while the company is seeing activity in the battery space, they can also work with other types of storage. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based energy storage fintech platform founder targets new market key to transition

ready to grow

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things."

Konet says she was bullish on the energy storage side of things when she was an early hire at Key Capture Energy, a private equity-backed energy storage project developer. The issue with energy storage projects, as Konet describes, is they aren't being monetized properly and, in some cases, aren't sustainable and increasing emissions.

"The product we're building is solving these problems. It's a financial product, but what it's doing is solving a market deficiency," she says. "We're sending the right signal to the battery to operate in a way that reduces emissions, and then we're paying them for it because there's a demand to decarbonize."

For over a year, Konet, as co-founder and CTO, has worked on the platform, which is essentially a marketplace for corporates to buy carbon offsets, incentifying and monetizing storage projects.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Tierra Climate is technology agnostic, so while the company is seeing activity in the battery space, they can also work with other types of storage — like hydrogen, pumped water, and more. Konet says her ideal customers are companies with money and interest in playing a role in the energy transition and looking to offset their scope two and three emissions.

"The ultimate vision for our company is for this to be an accessible product that has a high degree of integrity that small to very large companies can execute on, because it's a pay-per-performance mechanism that doesn't lock companies into a really large contract," she says. "It's really scalable."

This year, she says the company, which won fourth place in the 2023 Rice Business Plan Competition, is focused on securing its first big contract and fundraising for its seed round.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Houston-based Quidnet Energy has again secured funding from the DOE. Image via quidnetenergy.com

Houston energy storage company secures another $2M in federal funding

hydropower

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy announced another $13 million in funding to seven projects that are developing hydropower as a clean energy source. A Houston startup made the list of recipients.

“For more than a century, Americans have harnessed the power of water to electrify our communities, and it’s a critical renewable energy source that will help us reach our climate goals,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm says in a news release. “President Biden’s Investing in America agenda will help to expand the use of hydropower, increasing access to affordable, clean power and creating good-paying jobs.”

Houston-based Quidnet Energy Inc. received a little over $2 million for its project, entitled "Energy Storage Systems for Overpressure Environments," which is taking place in East Texas. The company, founded in 2013, is using water storage to power carbon-free electric grid approach to energy. As the DOE notes, the "low-cost form of long-duration electricity storage uses existing wellbores, which offers an opportunity to repurpose legacy oil and gas assets," per the release.

It's not the first Quidnet has secured funding from the DOE. Last fall, the company earned a $10 million grant from the organization's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, program. Quidnet is also venture backed, with its most recent raise, a $10 million series B round, closing in 2020 and including participation from Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Canada-based Evok Innovations.

The DOE's other PSH, or pumped storage hydropower, grants were announced as follows.

  • The Electric Power Research Institute, based in Palo Alto, California, secured $2.3 million to test "a turbine/generator system designed to add power-generating infrastructure to non-powered dams" in Iowa, per the release.
  • Atlanta-based Emrgy received $1.6 million to "develop a turbine to generate hydropower at non-powered dams where the water drop is less than 30 feet or in low-flow conduits, such as existing irrigation canals," in Washington.
  • Another Atlanta company, Georgia Power Co. is getting just under $2.9 million to develop and deploy PSH facilities across the country with its utility-scale solution to retrofit traditional hydropower facilities to serve as PSH facilities. The site the company will demonstrate it's tech is in Salem, Alabama.
  • RCAM Technologies, based in Boulder, Colorado, will work on offshore PSH technology in San Pedro, California, with its $4 million grant.
  • Drops for Watts received $243,540 to "develop a low-impact, modular system to generate hydropower from existing irrigation infrastructure" in Sagle, Idaho.
  • In Atlanta, Turbine Logic will use its nearly $200,000 in funding to utilize digital twin technology "to better predict common maintenance needs in hydropower turbines."
ERCOT will close 2023 with nearly 3.3 gigawatts of battery storage capacity and almost 10.7 gigawatts by the end of 2024. That would represent a one-year jump of 225 percent. Photo via Getty Images

Texas sees major increase in battery storage capacity, according to a new report

by the numbers

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas — which runs the power grid serving about 90 percent of the state — is energizing the rise of U.S. battery storage capacity.

A new report from data provider S&P Global Commodity Insights forecasts that ERCOT will close 2023 with nearly 3.3 gigawatts of battery storage capacity and almost 10.7 gigawatts by the end of 2024. That would represent a one-year jump of 225 percent.

Austin-based ERCOT is expected to add nearly 400 megawatts of battery storage capacity during the third quarter after adding no capacity in the second quarter, according to S&P Global.

In terms of bulking up battery storage capacity, ERCOT had a momentous first quarter. The nonprofit organization added 498.6 megawatts of battery storage capacity during the first three months of 2023, accounting for 70.2 percent of all new capacity in the U.S., says S&P Global.

One gigawatt, which equals one billion watts, can provide enough power for about 750,000 homes.

ERCOT’s battery storage capacity has contributed to a lack of power outages during this year’s scorching summer heat in Texas. However, it’s worth noting that this summer’s wave of triple-digit temperatures is straining the ERCOT grid, prompting a series of pleas for Texans to conserve energy.

ERCOT set a new September peak demand record of 78,459 megawatts September 4, surpassing the previous September peak of 72,370 megawatts set on September 1, 2021. The current all-time peak demand, 85,435 megawatts, was set August 10.

As of September 5, ERCOT has set 10 records this year for peak demand. In 2022, ERCOT set 11 peak demand records, surpassing 80 gigawatts for the first time.

“Based on expected weather conditions, ERCOT anticipates there will be sufficient generation to meet customer demand this summer,” ERCOT said in its forecast for summertime power demand.

ERCOT’s combined solar and wind share of overall power generation is projected to reach 43 percent by 2035, according to S&P Global.

“Firing on all green energy cylinders, despite a long-surpassed renewable portfolio standard,” says S&P Global, “Texas leads the U.S. in operating and planned wind energy as well as solar and battery storage capacity in development … .”

Houston is playing a pivotal role in Texas’ adoption of battery storage of wind and solar power, with companies like Broad Reach Power and Key Capture Energy among the leaders.

“Known for its strong ties with oil and gas, Texas and Houston in particular are changing the narrative on their relationships with energy, with new innovations and initiatives being created to combat the effects of climate change and to create better, more efficient energy systems for years to come,” says the Greater Houston Partnership.

More than three-fourths of the 20.8 gigawatts of utility-scale battery storage capacity on track to be installed from 2022 to 2025 will be in Texas (7.9 gigawatts) and California (7.6 gigawatts), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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3 Houston sustainability startups score prizes at Rice University pitch competition

seeing green

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

ExxonMobil's $60B acquisition gets FTC clearance — with one condition

M&A moves

ExxonMobil's $60 billion deal to buy Pioneer Natural Resources on Thursday received clearance from the Federal Trade Commission, but the former CEO of Pioneer was barred from joining the new company's board of directors.

The FTC said Thursday that Scott Sheffield, who founded Pioneer in 1997, colluded with OPEC and OPEC+ to potentially raise crude oil prices. Sheffield retired from the company in 2016, but he returned as president and CEO in 2019, served as CEO from 2021 to 2023, and continues to serve on the board. Since Jan. 1, he has served as special adviser to the company’s chief executive.

“Through public statements, text messages, in-person meetings, WhatsApp conversations and other communications while at Pioneer, Sheffield sought to align oil production across the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico with OPEC+,” according to the FTC. It proposed a consent order that Exxon won't appoint any Pioneer employee, with a few exceptions, to its board.

Dallas-based Pioneer said in a statement it disagreed with the allegations but would not impede closing of the merger, which was announced in October 2023.

“Sheffield and Pioneer believe that the FTC’s complaint reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. and global oil markets and misreads the nature and intent of Mr. Sheffield’s actions,” the company said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was “disappointing that FTC is making the same mistake they made 25 years ago when I warned about the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1999.”

Schumer and 22 other Democratic senators had urged the FTC to investigate the deal and a separate merger between Chevron and Hess, saying they could lead to higher prices, hurt competition and force families to pay more at the pump.

The deal with Pioneer vastly expands Exxon’s presence in the Permian Basin, a huge oilfield that straddles the border between Texas and New Mexico. Pioneer’s more than 850,000 net acres in the Midland Basin will be combined with Exxon’s 570,000 net acres in the Delaware and Midland Basin, nearly contiguous fields that will allow the combined company to trim costs.