A new program at Rice University will educate recent graduates or returning learners on key opportunities within energy transition. Photo via Rice

A Houston university has committed to preparing the workforce for the future of energy with its newest program.

Rice University announced plans to launch the Master of Energy Transition and Sustainability, or METS, in the fall. The 31 credit-hour program, which is a joint initiative between Rice's George R. Brown School of Engineering and the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, "will train graduates to face emergent challenges in the energy sector and drive innovation in sustainability across a wide range of domains from technology to economics and policy," according to the university.

“We believe that METS graduates will emerge as leaders and innovators in the energy industry, equipped with the skills and knowledge to drive sustainable solutions,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches says in the release. “Together we can shape a brighter, more resilient and cleaner future for generations to come.”

Some of the focus points of the program will be geothermal, hydrogen, and critical minerals recovery. Additionally, there will be education around new technologies within traditional oil and gas industry, like carbon capture and sequestration and subsurface storage.

“We are excited to welcome the inaugural cohort of METS students in the fall of 2024,” Thomas Killian, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences and a professor of physics and astronomy, says in the release. “This program offers a unique opportunity for students to delve into cutting-edge research, tackle real-world challenges and make a meaningful impact on the future of energy.”

The new initiative is just the latest stage in Rice's relationship with the energy industry.

“This is an important initiative for Rice that is very much aligned with the university’s long-term commitment to tackle urgent generational challenges, not only in terms of research — we are well positioned to make significant contributions on that front — but also in terms of education,” says Michael Wong, the Tina and Sunit Patel Professor in Molecular Nanotechnology, chair and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and a professor of chemistry, materials science and nanotechnology and of civil and environmental engineering. “We want prospective students to know that they can confidently learn the concepts and tools they need to thrive as sustainability and energy transition experts and thought leaders.”

By understanding the barriers they encounter, leaders, managers, and recruiters can implement targeted strategies to create more inclusive and diverse work environments. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert analyzes women's role, challenges in the energy industry

guest column

The Women in Energy Global Study is an annual guide that delivers insights on how to retain female talent in a challenging world. It’s a critical roadmap for business leaders, managers, recruiters, and diversity and inclusion professionals to what women want, need, and can offer in the global energy workplace.

The report dives into the data to reveal the nature and aspirations of the female energy workforce. It explores the kids of jobs women are doing and the level of seniority that they are reaching, the career issues they face, what motivates them to contribute their skills to the energy transition and what they need to truly thrive.

The energy transition was a strong thread running through this year’s global survey with a commitment to Net Zero being the stand-out factor that attracts women to a company. Respondents came from an even greater variety of sectors and roles both within and outside the energy industry, reflecting the growing richness and complexity of energy today and the exciting new opportunities it offers.

This year's results showed that oil and gas is the largest employer of women, followed by renewables, and most respondents have reached middle-management level in their career. However, there are still more women than men at the bottom and more men at the top. Women are more likely to be in project management, while men are more likely to be in engineering, and only 6 percent of field services roles are held by women.

Work-life interface and flexibility

Employers appear to be rolling back some of the flexible working policies introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic yet offering options for where and when work is an important value proposition for any company wanting to attract and retain talent.

The good news is that most men and women feel they now have a good work life balance, a positive shift from last year when most said they didn't. Women said that better flexible working would make the most difference to work-life balance.

Attracting and developing diverse talent and helping women thrive

Companies’ commitment to DEI appears to be declining, a reversal in trend from previous years. If this is more than just lack of visibility of what has become "business as usual," then organizations need to remember that better DEI leads to better business performance and it is critical to communicate efforts in this area.

Key things women want from their employer are better professional development, sponsorship and mentoring, flexible working and the opportunity for job-share or part-time working, but there appears to be delivery gap between availability of policies and their uptake.

The demand for good paternity leave is huge among men – more than half said they wanted to see it introduced or improved – and this could be a gamechanger for both sexes. Additionally, a strong commitment to net zero still makes a company more attractive to both women and men. Other key factors for women when choosing their employer are an inclusive workplace culture, benefits and a commitment to DEI.

Time to pave the way

When we amplify the voices of women in the global energy market, we not only bring attention to the challenges they face but also highlight the vast potential they hold. By understanding the barriers they encounter, leaders, managers, and recruiters can implement targeted strategies to create more inclusive and diverse work environments. This not only benefits women in the industry but also fosters innovation and drives growth in our ever-evolving energy sector. As we pave the way for more opportunities and empowerment for women in energy, we are shaping a brighter and more sustainable future for all.

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Jayne Stewart is vice president of oil, gas and chemicals across the Gulf Coast region in the U.S. for NES Fircroft. She is based in Houston.

The study is part of First State Hydrogen's plan to provide clean energy to Delaware and the U.S. mid-Atlantic region. Photo via Getty Images

Houston engineering firm tapped as service partner for clean hydrogen production facility

seeing green

A Houston company has scored an engineering services contract on a clean hydrogen production facility in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region.

KBR announced that it has been awarded the contract by First State Hydrogen, which is building an electrolysis-powered green hydrogen production project. The study is part of First State Hydrogen's plan to provide clean energy to Delaware and the U.S. mid-Atlantic region.

"We are excited to be a part of this important project that will contribute toward a cleaner, more sustainable world," KBR Sustainable Technology Solutions President Jay Ibrahim says in a statement. "This award highlights KBR's extensive and innovative clean hydrogen expertise, in providing solutions that matter, and our strategic commitment to the energy transition."

Houston-headquartered KBR has lead the hydrogen market as a technology and service provider.

"This is an important step for First State Hydrogen as we start laying the groundwork for a clean hydrogen facility that will drive our mission to responsibly and safely advance the clean hydrogen economy and create a more sustainable future," Dora Cheatham, vice president of sales and commercialization at First State Hydrogen, says in the release. "We're excited to have the KBR team with us on this journey."

Amperon CEO Sean Kelly says that in a month, his company's tech will be live in 25 countries. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston data analytics company makes impact on energy transition, expands in European market

podcast

Sean Kelly says he didn't seek to start a clean tech company. He saw a need and opportunity for more accurate energy forecasting, and he built it.

But Amperon has made it on lists highlighting energy transition innovation on more than one occasion — and caught the eye of renewable energy giants.

"We don't brand ourselves as a clean tech company," Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast, "but we have four of the top six or eight wind providers who have all invested in Amperon. So, there's something there."

The technology that Amperon provides its customers — a comprehensive, AI-backed data analytics platform — is majorly key to the energy industry and the transition of the sector.

Amperon, which originally founded in 2018 before relocating to Houston a couple of years ago, is providing technology that helps customers move toward a lower carbon future.

"If you look at our customer base, Amperon is the heart of the energy transition. And Houston is the heart of the energy transition," he says.

Recently closing the company's $20 million series B round last fall led by Energize Capital, Amperon has tripled its team in the past 14 months.

With his growing team, Kelly also speaks to the importance of partnerships as the company scales. Earlier this month, Amperon announced that it is replatforming its AI-powered energy analytics technology onto Microsoft Azure. The partnership with the tech giant allows Amperon's energy sector clients to use Microsoft's analytics stack with Amperon data.

And there are more collaborations where that comes from.

"For Amperon, 2024 is the year of partnerships," Kelly says on the podcast. "I think you'll see partnership announcements here in the next couple of quarters."

Along with more partners, Amperon is entering an era of expansion, specifically in Europe, which Kelly says has taken place at a fast pace.

"Amperon will be live in a month in 25 countries," he says.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Grid United announced a new partnership with Hitachi Energy that it's entered into a collaboration to work on high-voltage direct current technology for Grid United transmission projects. Photo via hitachienergy.com

Houston company names new tech partner on projects aimed at increasing grid reliability

tapping into tech

A Houston company has tapped a new tech partner to work on projects that are expected to help boost transmission capacity across the U.S. amidst increased, continued demands for energy.

Houston-based electrical transmission developer Grid United and Hitachi Energy announced at CERAWeek that it's entered into a collaboration to work on high-voltage direct current technology for Grid United transmission projects. These projects will aim to interconnect the eastern and western regional power grids in the U.S. The Eastern Interconnection east of the Rocky Mountains, the Western Interconnection west of the Rockies and the Texas Interconnection run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, make up the three main power grids.

This technology and these projects play a key role in the U.S. government’s commitment to accelerating the energy transition, which includes the priorities of the U.S. Department of Energy. The collaboration is considered a capacity reservation agreement in which Hitachi Energy will provide HVDC technology to support the development of multiple Grid United HVDC interconnections. The interconnections aim to mitigate the impact of extreme events and accommodate demands for electricity.

“With industry leading HVDC technology and a global track record, Hitachi Energy is a needed collaborator for the development of a more resilient and reliable electric power grid,” Michael Skelly, CEO and co-founder of Grid United, says in a news release. “By working with companies like Hitachi Energy and partnering with incumbent utilities, we’re confident we can quicken the pace of modernizing and strengthening the U.S. electric grid to meet rapidly increasing electricity demand.”

The multi-contract framework is one of the first of new business models, which allows Hitachi Energy to plan in “advance to increase manufacturing capacity, expand and train the workforce, and maximize standardization to increase efficiency between successive projects” according to a news release.

We are proud to collaborate with Grid United to strengthen the U.S. power grid, making it more flexible, reliable, and secure,” Managing Director of Grid Integration Business Niklas Persson says in a news release. “By applying our innovative new business model which enables speed and scale in the supply chain, we are confident we can make important contributions to streamlining the development process to help accelerate the energy transition.”

In his conversation with S&P Global's Daniel Yergin, Bill Gates discussed AI, Texas as an energy transition hub, and more. Photo via CERAWeek

Bill Gates talks AI, future of energy at CERAWeek address in Houston

overheard

Bill Gates, renowned co-founder of Microsoft and founder of Breakthrough Energy, took the CERAWeek stage to a standing-room-only crowd to discuss his thoughts on the future of energy.

He was joined in conversation with Daniel Yergin, author and vice chairman of S&P Global, at the luncheon on Thursday, March 21. His remarks touched on three themes within the energy transition.

Texas as a hub for energy transition

Yergin started off the conversation inquiring about Gates and his recent tour around Texas, which included visiting energy companies' plants and facilities and their local communities. Though it might surprise people, given the history of oil and gas in the state, Texas has a strong presence in the energy transition, Gates says.

“There is some irony in the fact that so many of the capabilities to embrace (the energy transition) are here in Texas, whether it's the workforce or the permitting,” he says at the event.

Gates adds that while most of the portfolio companies at Breakthrough Energy were founded on the coasts, many turn to Texas when it comes time for their first commercial pilot.

He addressed a progress report on the energy transition as a whole.

“It’s really starting to move. There’s a lot of exciting technologies, and a lot of the big companies are coming in,” he says, specifically noting energy companies' presence at COP28.

“A heroic effort is beginning — I’m very excited about it. But we shouldn’t underestimate how difficult it will be,” he says. “There’s a lot of things that have to happen for these projects to go ahead. It’s far more difficult than anything I worked on at Microsoft.”

Steel and nuclear have big potential for disruption

Gates continued this thought but highlighting that some industries are less advanced than others.

“We’re just at the beginning of many things," he adds, noting that "the steel industry today is 99 percent the traditional process."

With that, steel has a lot of potential to be disrupted, and Breakthrough Energy has two companies working to make the industry greener, but it's an industry that's going to take time to evolve.

Nuclear is another sector Gates is excited about but is developing at a slower pace. Breakthrough Energy has five portfolio companies focused on Nuclear, including TerraPower, which Gates co-founded in 2006.

Despite nearly two decades of development, Gates says TerraPower is a "fast-moving" nuclear company in comparison to other companies out there.

AI's impact is still to be determined

The topic of artificial intelligence inevitably came up, and Gates explains that the technology has come a long way. Microsoft owns a portion of OpenAI, which created ChatGPT. Gates says he expected AI to evolve and to be able to be programmed to understand information to take longer to develop.

“We have achieved a threshold — an unusual threshold because we know how we’ve caused the knowledge represented, but we don’t understand how at a semantic level how that knowledge is being represented,” Gates says.

AI's current applications are within white collar activities, Gates explains, citing writing a regulatory permit or looking at evidence in a lawsuit. He explains that current AI capabilities could continually grow or remain stagnant for a while, he isn't sure.

"The thing that’s daunting is we don’t know how quickly it will improve," he adds.

Gates didn't comment on energy specific AI applications but noted that AI has advanced far past robotics, which would target blue collar roles.

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Energy data platform with Houston HQ raises over $50M series C to scale US presence

going beyond

Dublin-based GridBeyond raised its series C to support its growth in the the United States.

The company, which has its U.S. headquarters in Houston, reported closing the raise at €52 million, or around $55 million. The round was led by Alantra’s Energy Transition Fund, Klima, with participation from new investors Energy Impact Partners, Mirova, ABB, Constellation and Yokogawa Electric Corporation as well as investment from existing investor, Act Venture Capital.

Founded in 2010, GridBeyond's AI platform allows businesses to unlock the full potential of energy assets and prioritize sustainability, resilience, and affordability of energy.

"This funding, together with the support of our new partners, will enable us to expand our product offering and strengthen our leadership position in this space," Michael Phelan, co-founder and CEO of GridBeyond, says in a news release. “The newly completed financing round sets GridBeyond on the path to increase the reach of our intelligent energy platform and deliver world leading AI and powerful automation capabilities to smart grid and energy markets across the world."

Specifically, the company reportedly will use the funding to expand in the United States, as well as continuing its investment in research and development to facilitate the delivery of a global zero-carbon future.

GridBeyond opened its Houston office, which is located at 2101 CityWest Blvd, four years ago. Last year, the business acquired Denver, Colorado-founded Veritone Business Energy.

Houston-based KBR taps new partnership for global zero-emission lithium technology

teamwork

A Houston engineering solutions company has teamed up with a company to advance zero-emission lithium extraction technology.

KBR (NYSE: KBR) has signed an alliance agreement with France-based GeoLith SAS to offer its advanced Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) technology, Li-Capt, which allows for zero-emission lithium extraction from untapped sources like oil well brines and geothermal.

"We are excited to collaborate with GeoLith to pioneer advancements in accessing currently untapped sources of lithium to meet the world's increasing lithium-ion battery demand,” KBR President Jay Ibrahim says in a news release. “This alliance supports the global transition towards electrification and reinforces our commitment to a net-zero carbon future. As a world leader in evaporation and crystallization technologies, KBR is well positioned to provide end-to-end solutions essential to the development of sustainable mobility."

Per the agreement, KBR will serve as the exclusive global licensor of GeoLith's Li-Capt technology. The Li-Capt tech helps produce pure lithium concentrate and is adaptable to brine compositions and extraction sources. KBR already boasts an existing suite of battery material technologies like PureLiSM, which is a high purity lithium production technology. The combination of the two technologies aim to provide clients with solutions to produce battery-grade lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide monohydrate. Those are key components for advanced batteries in electric vehicles.

“The transition to electrification requires strong partnerships across the value chain, and we are proud to work with KBR to advance and commercialize our technology on a global scale," Jean-Philippe Gibaud, CEO of GeoLith SAS, says in the release. "Our Li-Capt technology ensures zero-emission lithium extraction, enabling the production of lithium concentrates from a process technology that achieves unparalleled levels of extraction efficiency and lithium selectivity."

KBR was recently awarded a contract by First State Hydrogen, which is building an electrolysis-powered green hydrogen production project. The study is part of First State Hydrogen's plan to provide clean energy to Delaware and the U.S. mid-Atlantic region. Additionally, KBR’s K-GreeN technology has been selected by a group of organizations — including Lotte Chemical, KNOC (Korea National Oil Corp), and Samsung Engineering — for the Sarawak, Malaysia-based H2biscus green ammonia project being developed by Lotte Chemical. The K-GreeN is a proprietary green ammonia development process. According to the company, KBR has licensed, engineered, or constructed over 250 ammonia plants since its founding in 1943.

European renewables co. expands into US with Houston-area solar panel manufacturing facility

new to hou

A European company opened a new 225,000-square-foot solar panel assembly facility in Waller County, and it has the capacity to manufacture 2,000 megawatts annually.

Turkish company Elin Energy opened it new space in Twinwood Business Park with the help from Houston real estate development company The Welcome Group and Houston construction company KDW. It's Elin Energy's first location in the United States.

The Waller facility aims to “catapult the company’s growth in the Western hemisphere and reinforce its commitment to sustainable energy production and innovation,” according to a news release. Elin’s panel designs boost the productivity of solar panels by requiring less space than traditional systems.

Photo courtesy of Elin Energy

“The facility [Elin has leased] was designed with generous bay spacing, clear height and upgraded power to accommodate and upgraded power to accommodate a variety of manufacturing needs,” Welcome Wilson Jr., president and CEO of the Welcome Group, says in the release. “Elin Energy’s state-of-the-art solar manufacturing equipment easily fit into the building footprint. The first equipment lines are installed, and the future equipment lines have been ordered.”

One of Europe's top producers of photovoltaic panels, Elin Energy's new facility features two solar panel manufacturing lines. The Waller County Economic Development Partnership and efforts from the state helped bring Elin to the area. Elin aims to bring around 100 jobs by the end of their first year of operations with an estimated 450 by the end of year seven.

KDW completed the build in under 6 months.

“The equipment delivery demanded an aggressive schedule which made it essential that all parties involved have a heightened level of coordination and cooperation,” KDW Construction Manager Bryan Harrison says in the release.

Photo courtesy of Elin Energy