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.
Houston's HyVelocity Hub has joined in on a joint letter with the other six H2Hubs asking for revised guidelines. Photo via Getty Images

Houston's clean hydrogen hub joins request to revise federal tax credit guidance

edits needed

The group of regional hubs tapped by the United States government to receive funding to develop clean hydrogen projects have banded together to request a revision of the U.S. Department of Treasury's proposed hydrogen production tax credit (45V) guidance.

Houston's HyVelocity Hub, which was selected to receive up to $1.2 billion from the government's initiative, has joined in on a joint letter with the other six H2Hubs asking for revised requirements. HyVelocity also submitted its own letter to the Treasury.

HyVelocity's letter asks for flexibility and certainty the implementation of the “three pillars” for electricity, which include temporality, incrementality, and deliverability.

"It is imperative that to enable the desired environmental, economic, and equity goals of the IRA, private investment in hydrogen production must advance at scale and at an accelerated pace. Hydrogen production project investments require stable market projections and assurance of regulatory stability to ensure the economics of the long-term projects. To support this investment environment, we recommend that projects be granted a 'grandfathered exemption' such that for the project's life, they can use the regulations in place at the time when construction begins," reads the letter from HyVelocity.

HyVelocity, representing the Gulf Coast region, plans to create up to 35,000 construction jobs and 10,000 permanent jobs across nine proposed core projects with a collective investment of more than $10 billion in private capital to bring low-carbon hydrogen to the market.

The Houston-area initiative is backed by industry partners AES Corporation, Air Liquide, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Mitsubishi Power Americas, Ørsted, and Sempra Infrastructure and The spearheaded by GTI Energy and other organizing participants, including the University of Texas at Austin, The Center for Houston’s Future, Houston Advanced Research Center, and around 90 other supporting partners from academia, industry, government, and beyond.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo via sagegeosystems.com

Chesapeake Energy backs Houston geothermal tech co. in $17M series A

fresh funding

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

The venture is joined by technology investor Arch Meredith, Helium-3 Ventures and will include support from existing investors Virya, LLC, Nabors Industries Ltd., and Ignis Energy Inc.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says in a news release. “The success of our GGS technologies is not only critical to Sage Geosystems becoming post-revenue, but it is an essential step in accelerating the development of this proprietary geothermal baseload approach. This progress would not be possible without the ongoing support from our existing investors, and we look forward to continuing this work with our new investors.”

The 3-megawatt commercial facility will be called EarthStore and will use Sage’s technology that harvests energy from pressurized water from underground. The facility will be able to store energy — for short and long periods of time — and can be paired with intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar. It will also be able to provide baseload, dispatchable power, and inertia to the electric grid.

In 2023, Sage Geosystems debuted the EarthStore system in a full-scale commercial pilot project in Texas. The pilot produced 200 kilowatt for more than 18 hours, 1 megawatt for 30 minutes, and generated electricity with Pelton turbines. The system had a water loss of less than 2 percent and a round-trip efficiency (RTE) of 70-75.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Houston-based Welligence Energy Analytics specializes in data and intelligence for the oil and gas markets, greenhouse gas emissions sector, and CCUS projects. Photo via Getty Images

Houston energy analytics company garners $41M in growth capital

money moves

A group of investors has chipped in $41 million to purchase a minority stake in Houston-based Welligence Energy Analytics, a provider of energy data and intelligence.

Boston-based venture capital firm Elephant Partners led the series B round, with participation from Veriten, a Houston-based, energy-focused research, investing, and strategy firm, and EDG, a Metairie, Louisiana-based energy consulting firm. Several executives from the energy, information services, and software sectors also contributed to the round.

Founded in 2016, Welligence specializes in data and intelligence for the oil and gas markets, greenhouse gas emissions sector, and carbon capture, storage, and utilization (CCUS) projects. Clients include major oil and gas companies, as well as large investment banks.

“Our team is proud of the growth we’ve achieved over the last six years. The foundation of Welligence has now been built. We have a world-class team, a robust database and platform, and a brand recognized globally in our industry,” Welligence co-founder and CEO Ross Lubetkin says in a news release. “Raising significant capital from some of the market’s most sophisticated investors with a proven track record is a pivotal step towards realizing the Welligence vision — to solidify our presence as a leading global energy research house.”

Welligence says it will use the funding to beef up its product offerings, expand its geographic data capabilities, and enter new energy research verticals. The company has employees and clients in North America, Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, and it plans to open more global offices.

“We have been extremely impressed by the Welligence team and product and are excited by the scalability of the platform. Through the company’s use of new technology, ideas, and methodologies, Welligence continues to take market share in a space traditionally monopolized by a few legacy players,” says Christopher De Souza, a partner at Elephant. “Welligence’s global energy database positions it well for expansion into new frontiers.”

Baker Hughes has made two grants to nonprofits looking to support a diverse workforce. Photo via bakerhughes.com

Houston-based Baker Hughes pledges $175,000 to nonprofits with diversity-focused initiatives

funds granted

The nonprofit arm of a Houston-based energy company has made two grants into organizations focused on supplier diversity.

Earlier this week, the Baker Hughes Foundation revealed details on a $75,000 grant to Houston Minority Supplier Development Council, or HMSDC, and a $100,000 grant to Washington, D.C.-based WEConnect International. HMSDC supports economic growth of minority-owned businesses, and WEConnect International is focused on women-owned companies.

“At Baker Hughes, supplier diversity is integral to our success, and it is our duty to support organizations that fuel building a more inclusive supply base and take the steps necessary to ensure business practices mirror our diverse landscape,” Lynn Buckley, Supplier Diversity and Business Development Sourcing leader, says in a news release.

HMSDC's grant will go toward creating a training program for minority entrepreneurs.

“We believe to close the equity gap in communities of color, we must ensure that diverse businesses understand and meet the business sustainability requirements of today’s corporate and government supply chains,” Ingrid M. Robinson, president of HMSDC, says in the release. “This grant allows us to share sustainability best practices with minority-owned businesses and help them develop and integrate sustainability focused policies and processes that will allow them to grow their businesses.”

Meanwhile, the funding for WEConnect International will be used on nationwide marketing campaigns and learnings systems to help grow the WEConnect network.

“We are thrilled to receive this generous grant from the Baker Hughes Foundation, which will enable us to expand our network of women-owned businesses and promote gender-inclusive procurement practices globally," Elizabeth A. Vazquez, CEO and co-founder of WEConnect International, says in the release. "We share Baker Hughes’ vision of advancing sustainable economic growth and reducing inequality, and we look forward to working together to create more opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the energy sector and beyond."

The Baker Hughes Foundation has made other contributions recently, including a grant towards One Tree Planted and a $100,000 grant to the University of Houston's Energy Transition Institute.

The Department of Energy has doled out funding to four Houston companies. Photo via Getty Images

4 Houston companies snag DOE funding for carbon advancement

freshly granted

Four Houston companies have captured more than $45 million in federal funding to promote the capture, transportation, use, and storage of tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The U.S. Department of Energy on May 17 announced funding for these four Houston companies:

  • BP Corporation North America Inc. — $33,411,193. The money will be earmarked for two commercial-scale storage sites along the Texas Gulf Coast. The sites will be able to ultimately store up to 15 million metric tons of CO2 per year.
  • Timberlands Sequestration LLC — $23,779,020. The funding will go toward a biomass carbon removal and storage project for the Alabama River Cellulose pulp and paper mill in Monroe County, Alabama. Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific LLC owns the mill.
  • Magnolia Sequestration Hub LLC — $21,570,784. The money will help finance the Magnolia Sequestration Hub in Allen Parish, Louisiana, with an estimated 300 million metric tons of total CO2 storage capacity. Magnolia is a subsidiary of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corp.
  • Bluebonnet Sequestration Hub LLC — $16,480,117. The funding will be spent on development of the Bluebonnet Sequestration Hub along the Texas Gulf Coast, with the potential for more than 350 million metric tons of CO2 storage capacity. Bluebonnet is a subsidiary of Occidental.

Another Texas company received $3 million in Department of Energy (DOE) funding. Howard Midstream Energy Partners LLC of San Antonio will perform a study for a system capable of moving up to 250 million metric tons of CO2 per year from numerous sources to storage sites on the Gulf Coast — from the Port of Corpus Christi to the Mississippi River.

In all, the Department of Energy announced $251 million in funding for 12 projects in seven states aimed at bolstering the U.S. carbon management capabilities. The money comes from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was enacted in 2021.

“Thanks to historic clean energy investments, DOE is building out the infrastructure needed to slash harmful carbon pollution from industry and the power sector, revitalize local economies, and unlock enormous public health benefits,” U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm says in a news release.

DOE says carbon dioxide emissions are fueling global warming, which has heightened the threat of droughts, severe fires, rising sea levels, floods, catastrophic storms, and declining biodiversity.

Precedence Research estimates the value of the global market for carbon capture and storage was $4.91 billion in 2022, and it expects the market value to reach $35.7 billion by 2032.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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ExxonMobil revs up EV pilot in Permian Basin

seeing green

ExxonMobil has upgraded its Permian Basin fleet of trucks with sustainability in mind.

The Houston-headquartered company announced a new pilot program last week, rolling out 10 new all-electric pickup trucks at its Cowboy Central Delivery Point in southeast New Mexico. It's the first time the company has used EVs in any of its upstream sites, including the Permian Basin.

“We expect these EV trucks will require less maintenance, which will help reduce cost, while also contributing to our plan to achieve net zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions in our Permian operations by 2030," Kartik Garg, ExxonMobil's New Mexico production manager, says in a news release.

ExxonMobil has already deployed EV trucks at its facilities in Baytown, Beaumont, and Baton Rouge, but the Permian Basin, which accounts for about half of ExxonMobil's total U.S. oil production, is a larger site. The company reports that "a typical vehicle there can log 30,000 miles a year."

The EV rollout comes after the company announced last year that it plans to be a major supplier of lithium for EV battery technology.

At the end of last year, ExxonMobil increased its financial commitment to implementing more sustainable solutions. The company reported that it is pursuing more than $20 billion of lower-emissions opportunities through 2027.

Cowboys and the EVs of the Permian Basin | ExxonMobilyoutu.be

Energy industry veteran named CEO of Houston hydrogen co.

GOOD AS GOLD

Cleantech startup Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based energy biotech company Cemvita, has named oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as its CEO.

Sekhon previously held roles at companies such as NextEra Energy Resources and Hess. Most recently, he was a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team.

Gold H2 uses microbes to convert oil and gas in old, uneconomical wells into clean hydrogen. The approach to generating clean hydrogen is part of a multibillion-dollar market.

Gold H2 spun out of Cemvita last year with Moji Karimi, co-founder of Cemvita, leading the transition. Gold H2 spun out after successfully piloting its microbial hydrogen technology, producing hydrogen below 80 cents per kilogram.

The Gold H2 venture had been a business unit within Cemvita.

“I was drawn to Gold H2 because of its innovative mission to support the U.S. economy in this historical energy transition,” Sekhon says in a news release. “Over the last few years, my team [at NextEra] was heavily focused on the commercialization of clean hydrogen. When I came across Gold H2, it was clear that it was superior to each of its counterparts in both cost and [carbon intensity].”

Gold H2 explains that oil and gas companies have wrestled for decades with what to do with exhausted oil fields. With Gold H2’s first-of-its-kind biotechnology, these companies can find productive uses for oil wells by producing clean hydrogen at a low cost, the startup says.

“There is so much opportunity ahead of Gold H2 as the first company to use microbes in the subsurface to create a clean energy source,” Sekhon says. “Driving this dynamic industry change to empower clean hydrogen fuel production will be extremely rewarding.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Q&A: CEO of bp-acquired RNG producer on energy sustainability, stability

the view from heti

bp’s Archaea Energy is the largest renewable natural gas (RNG) producer in the U.S., with an industry leading RNG platform and expertise in developing, constructing and operating RNG facilities to capture waste emissions and convert them into low carbon fuel.

Archaea partners with landfill owners, farmers and other facilities to help them transform their feedstock sources into RNG and convert these facilities into renewable energy centers.

Starlee Sykes, Archaea Energy’s CEO, shared more about bp’s acquisition of the company and their vision for the future.

HETI: bp completed its acquisition of Archaea in December 2022. What is the significance of this acquisition for bp, and how does it bolster Archaea’s mission to create sustainability and stability for future generations?  

Starlee Sykes: The acquisition was an important move to accelerate and grow our plans for bp’s bioenergy transition growth engine, one of five strategic transition growth engines. Archaea will not only play a pivotal role in bp’s transition and ambition to reach net zero by 2050 or sooner but is a key part of bp’s plan to increase biogas supply volumes.

HETI: Tell us more about how renewable natural gas is used and why it’s an important component of the energy transition?  

SS: Renewable natural gas (RNG) is a type of biogas generated by decomposing organic material at landfill sites, anaerobic digesters and other waste facilities – and demand for it is growing. Our facilities convert waste emissions into renewable natural gas. RNG is a lower carbon fuel, which according to the EPA can help reduce emissions, improve local air quality, and provide fuel for homes, businesses and transportation. Our process creates a productive use for methane which would otherwise be burned or vented to the atmosphere. And in doing so, we displace traditional fossil fuels from the energy system.

HETI: Archaea recently brought online a first-of-its-kind RNG plant in Medora, Indiana. Can you tell us more about the launch and why it’s such a significant milestone for the company?  

SS:Archaea’s Medora plant came online in October 2023 – it was the first Archaea RNG plant to come online since bp’s acquisition. At Medora, we deployed the Archaea Modular Design (AMD) which streamlines and accelerates the time it takes to build our plants. Traditionally, RNG plants have been custom-built, but AMD allows plants to be built on skids with interchangeable components for faster builds.

HETI: Now that the Medora plant is online, what does the future hold? What are some of Archaea’s priorities over the next 12 months and beyond?  

SS: We plan to bring online around 15 RNG plants in each of 2024 and 2025. Archaea has a development pipeline of more than 80 projects that underpin the potential for around five-fold growth in RNG production by 2030.

We will continue to operate around 50 sites across the US – including RNG plants, digesters and landfill gas-to-electric facilities.

And we are looking to the future. For example, at our Assai plant in Pennsylvania, the largest RNG plant in the US, we are in the planning stages to drill a carbon capture sequestration (CCS) appraisal well to determine if carbon dioxide sequestration could be feasible at this site, really demonstrating our commitment to decarbonization and the optionality in value we have across our portfolio.

HETI: bp has had an office in Washington, DC for many years. Can you tell us more about the role that legislation has to play in the energy transition? 

SS: Policy can play a critical role in advancing the energy transition, providing the necessary support to accelerate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. We actively advocate for such policies through direct lobbying, formal comments and testimony, communications activities and advertising. We also advocate with regulators to help inform their rulemakings, as with the US Environmental Protection Agency to support the finalization of a well-designed electric Renewable Identification Number (eRIN) program.

HETI: Science and innovation are key drivers of the energy transition. In your view, what are some of most exciting innovations supporting the goal to reach net-zero emissions?  

SS: We don’t just talk about innovation in bp, we do it – and have been for many years. This track record gives us confidence in continuing to transform, change and innovate at pace and scale. The Archaea Modular Design is a great example of the type of innovation that bp supports which enables us to pursue our goal of net-zero emissions.

Beyond Archaea, we have engineers and scientists across bp who are working on innovative solutions with the goal of lowering emissions. We believe that we need to invest in lower carbon energy to meet the world’s climate objectives, but we also need to invest in today’s energy system, which is primarily hydrocarbon focused. It’s an ‘and’ not ‘or’ approach, and we need both to be successful.

Learn more about Archaea and the work they are doing in energy transition.

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This article originally ran on the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative blog. HETI exists to support Houston's future as an energy leader. For more information about the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, EnergyCapitalHTX's presenting sponsor, visit htxenergytransition.org.