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.”

GA Drilling opened its Houston office in 2013 to tap into the region’s oil and gas industry. Photo via Getty Images

Drilling tech co. with Houston HQ to partner on European geothermal power plant

growing abroad

GA Drilling, a provider of geothermal drilling technology whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston, is teaming up with a European energy company to develop a geothermal power plant in Germany.

GA Drilling and ZeroGeo Energy, a Swiss company specializing in renewable energy, say the 12-megawatt Hot Dry Rock Geothermal Power Plant (Project THERMO) is the first of several geothermal power and geothermal energy storage projects they’re planning in Europe. GA Drilling will supply technology for Hot Dry Rock, and ZeroGEO will operate the plant.

“The need for clean baseload power is real, and geothermal has the highest potential to deliver that safely and securely. We’re excited to be collaborating with ZeroGeo to help address the power needs in Europe,” Dusan Kocis, co-founder and chief operating officer of Slovakia-based GA Drilling, says in a news release.

GA Drilling opened its Houston office in 2013 to tap into the region’s oil and gas industry.

Last year, GA Drilling conducted the first public demonstration of its latest deep drilling tool, ANCHORBIT. GA Drilling says it developed the tool to cut the cost of deep geothermal drilling by doubling drilling speeds and extending the life of drill bits.

GA Drilling performed the ANCHORBIT test at Nabors Industries’ technology center in Houston. Nabors, a drilling contractor based in Houston, is using GA Drilling’s technology in its drilling operations.

In 2022, Nabors invested $8 million in GA Drilling.

“Given the expected sharp growth in global energy consumption over the next decades, the world will require an even sharper growth in sustainable energy supply. I am convinced that geothermal energy will be a key contributor to the necessary increase in clean energy generation,” Anthony Petrello, chairman, president, and CEO of Nabors, said in an announcement about the GA Drilling investment.

Fervo Energy says its drilling operations Utah’s Cape Station show a 70 percent reduction in drilling times, paving the way for advancement of its geothermal energy system. Photo via fervoenergy.com

Houston geothermal startup reports 'dramatic acceleration' of drilling operations at Utah project

optimization station

Early drilling results indicate a geothermal energy project operated in Utah by Houston-based startup Fervo Energy is performing better than expected.

Fervo says its drilling operations Utah’s Cape Station show a 70 percent reduction in drilling times, paving the way for advancement of its geothermal energy system. Fervo began construction last year on Cape Station, which is set to deliver clean power to the grid in 2026 and be fully operating by 2028.

The company recently published early drilling results from Cape Station that it says exceed the U.S. Department of Energy’s expectations for enhanced geothermal systems. Fervo says these results “substantiate the rapid learning underway in the geothermal industry and signal readiness for continued commercialization.”

Founded in 2017, Fervo provides carbon-free energy through development of next-generation geothermal power.

Fervo began drilling at Cape Station, a 400-megawatt project in southwest Utah, in June 2023. Over the past six months, the company has drilled one vertical well and six horizontal wells there. The company reports that costs for the first four horizontal wells at Cape Station fell from $9.4 million to $4.8 million per well.

“Since its inception, Fervo has looked to bring a manufacturing mentality to enhanced geothermal development, building a highly repeatable drilling process that allows for continuous improvement and, as a result, lower costs,” Tim Latimer, Fervo’s co-founder and CEO, says in a news release. “In just six months, we have proven that our technology solutions have led to a dramatic acceleration in forecasted drilling performance.”

Trey Lowe, chief technology officer of Oklahoma City-based oil and gas producer Devon Energy, likens Fervo’s drilling results to “the early days of the shale revolution.” Last year, Devon invested $10 million in Fervo.

“When you operate continually and understand the resource, you dramatically streamline operations. That’s the unique value of Fervo’s approach to enhanced geothermal,” says Lowe.

Last summer, Fervo reported the results of another one of its projects, Project Red, which is in northern Nevada and made possible through a 2021 partnership with Google. That site officially went online for the tech company in December.

Things are heating up in Utah for Fervo Energy. Photo via fervoenergy.com

Houston company breaks ground on 'world's largest' geothermal project with next-generation tech

coming soon

Houston-based cleantech startup Fervo Energy has broken ground on what it's describing as the "world’s largest next-gen geothermal project."

Fervo says the a 400-milliwatt geothermal energy project in Cape Station, Utah, will start delivering carbon-free power to the grid in 2026, with full-scale production beginning in 2028.

The project, in southwest Utah, is about 240 miles southwest of Salt Lake City and about 240 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Cape Station is adjacent to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) and near the Blundell geothermal power plant.

The company says Cape Station will generate about 6,600 construction jobs and 160 full-time jobs.

“Beaver County, Utah, is the perfect place to deploy our next-generation geothermal technology,” Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo, says in a news release. “The warmth and hospitality we have experienced from the communities of Milford and Beaver have allowed us to embark on a clean energy journey none of us could have imagined just a few years ago.”

In February, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management gave its blessing to the project, allowing Fervo to undertake exploration activities at the site.

“Geothermal innovations like those pioneered by Fervo will play a critical role in extending Utah’s energy leadership for generations to come,” says Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who attended the groundbreaking ceremony.

Since being founded in 2017, Fervo has raised more than $180 million in funding. Its highest-profile investors are billionaires Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Bill Gates. They’re backing Fervo through Breakthrough Energy Ventures, whose managing director sits on Fervo’s board of directors.

Other investors include the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPP Investments), DCVC, Devon Energy, Liberty Energy, Helmerich & Payne, Macquarie, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, Impact Science Ventures, and Prelude Ventures.

Fervo aims to generate more than one gigawatt of geothermal energy by 2030. On average, one gigawatt of power can provide electricity for 750,000 homes. Two coal-fired power plants can generate roughly the same amount of electricity.

Earlier this year, Fervo announced results of a test at Nevada’s Project Red site, which will supply power to Google data centers in the Las Vegas area. Fervo says the 30-day well test established Project Red as the “most productive enhanced geothermal system in history,” the company says. The test generated 3.5 megawatts of electricity.

In 2021, Fervo and Google signed the world’s first corporate agreement to produce geothermal power. Under the deal, Fervo will generate five megawatts of geothermal energy for Google through the Nevada project, which is set to go online later this year.

Onshore upstream meets greener pastures in the city where the earth meets the sky at URTeC 2023 in Denver. Photo via Shuttersock.

Can't miss: Unconventional Resources Technology Conference

ROAD TRIP

June 13-15 | Unconvetional Resources Technology Conference (URTeC)

Take a trip to higher ground and cooler temperatures next week at URTeC 2023 in Denver, Colorado. This technically focused event, hosted annually by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and Society of Exploration Geophysicists, features the best and brightest minds in onshore oil and gas sharing novel applications of science and technology in pursuit of a more sustainable upstream energy base.

The event kicks off with almost two hours of discussion amongst industry leaders like Clay Gaspar, executive vice president and COO of Devon Energy, Amy Henry, CEO of Eunike Ventures, Robert E. Fast, CTO of Hess Corporation, and Neil McMahon, managing partner of Kimmeridge. The plenary panel will address the role of unconventionals in a lower carbon energy world, from tackling emissions to making advances in CCUS.

Chevron puts safety in the spotlight with a two-part session devoted to cleaner, more efficient engineering methodologies deployed to support corporate objectives while safely delivering higher returns and lower carbon. Hear from Vice President of the Rockies business unit, Kim McHugh, Johannes Alvarez, EOR and CO2 advisor for the Mid-Continent business unit, Vanessa Ryan, methane reduction manager of strategy and sustainability, and more leaders across Chevron building a new future for upstream energy.

Before the event wraps, be sure to catch an engaging discussion late Thursday morning with Christine Ehlig-Economides, professor and Hugh Roy & Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished University Chair at the University of Houston, on decarbonizing tight oil and shale gas, re-use opportunities for wastewater, and repurposed operations through closed-loop geothermal.

Registration currently remains open, with one- and three-day event options, as well as an exhibit hall-only option. The event usually draws over 3,000 attendees, so don’t wait to sign up.

For a complete list of upcoming energy events, visit the Events tab right here on EnergyCapitalHTX.com.

Energy sources are often categorized as renewable or not, but perhaps a more accurate classification focuses on the type of reaction that converts energy into useful matter. Photo by simpson33/Getty Images

How is energy produced?

ENERGY 101

Many think of the Energy Industry as a dichotomy–old vs. new, renewable vs. nonrenewable, good vs. bad. But like most things, energy comes from an array of sources, and each kind has its own unique benefits and challenges. Understanding the multi-faceted identity of currently available energy sources creates an environment in which new ideas for cleaner and more sustainable energy sourcing can proliferate.

At a high level, energy can be broadly categorized by the process of extracting and converting it into a useful form.

Energy Produced from Chemical Reaction

Energy derived from coal, crude oil, natural gas, and biomass is primarily produced as a result of bonds breaking during a chemical reaction. When heated, burned, or fermented, organic matter releases energy, which is converted into mechanical or electrical energy.

These sources can be stored, distributed, and shared relatively easily and do not have to be converted immediately for power consumption. However, the resulting chemical reaction produces environmentally harmful waste products.

Though the processes to extract these organic sources of energy have been refined for many years to achieve reliable and cheap energy, they can be risky and are perceived as invasive to mother nature.

According to the 2022 bp Statistical Review of World Energy, approximately 50% of the world’s energy consumption comes from petroleum and natural gas; another 25% from coal. Though there was a small decline in demand for oil from 2019 to 2021, the overall demand for fossil fuels remained unchanged during the same time frame, mostly due to the increase in natural gas and coal consumption.

Energy Produced from Mechanical Reaction

Energy captured from the earth’s heat or the movement of wind and water results from the mechanical processes enabled by the turning of turbines in source-rich environments. These turbines spin to produce electricity inside a generator.

Solar energy does not require the use of a generator but produces electricity due to the release of electrons from the semiconducting materials found on a solar panel. The electricity produced by geothermal, wind, solar, and hydropower is then converted from direct current to alternating current electricity.

Electricity is most useful for immediate consumption, as storage requires the use of batteries–a process that turns electrical energy into chemical energy that can then be accessed in much the same way that coal, crude oil, natural gas, and biomass produce energy.

Energy Produced from a Combination of Reactions

Hydrogen energy comes from a unique blend of both electrical and chemical energy processes. Despite hydrogen being the most abundant element on earth, it is rarely found on its own, requiring a two-step process to extract and convert energy into a usable form. Hydrogen is primarily produced as a by-product of fossil fuels, with its own set of emissions challenges related to separating the hydrogen from the hydrocarbons.

Many use electrolysis to separate hydrogen from other elements before performing a chemical reaction to create electrical energy inside of a contained fuel cell. The electrolysis process is certainly a more environmentally-friendly solution, but there are still great risks with hydrogen energy–it is highly flammable, and its general energy output is less than that of other electricity-generating methods.

Energy Produced from Nuclear Reaction

Finally, energy originating from the splitting of an atom’s nucleus, mostly through nuclear fission, is yet another way to produce energy. A large volume of heat is released when an atom is bombarded by neutrons in a nuclear power plant, which is then converted to electrical energy.

This process also produces a particularly sensitive by-product known as radiation, and with it, radioactive waste. The proper handling of radiation and radioactive waste is of utmost concern, as its effects can be incredibly damaging to the environment surrounding a nuclear power plant.

Nuclear fission produces minimal carbon, so nuclear energy is oft considered environmentally safe–as long as strict protocols are followed to ensure proper storage and disposal of radiation and radioactive waste.

Nuclear to Mechanical to Chemical?

Interestingly enough, the Earth’s heat comes from the decay of radioactive materials in the Earth’s core, loosely linking nuclear power production back to geothermal energy production.

It’s also clear the conversion of energy into electricity is the cleanest option for the environment, yet adequate infrastructure remains limited in supply and accessibility. If not consumed immediately as electricity, energy is thus converted into a chemical form for the convenience of storage and distribution it provides.

Perhaps the expertise and talent of Houstonians serving the flourishing academic and industrial sectors of energy development will soon resolve many of our current energy challenges by exploring further the circular dynamic of the energy environment. Be sure to check out our Events Page to find the networking event that best serves your interest in the Energy Transition.


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Lindsey Ferrell is a contributing writer to EnergyCapitalHTX and founder of Guerrella & Co.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston's energy industry deemed both a strength and weakness on global cities report

mixed reviews

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

New collaboration to build data center microgrid in Houston

coming soon

Two companies are teaming up to build a natural gas microgrid in Houston that will reduce emissions by 98 percent.

Provider of prime and backup power solutions RPower has teamed up with Houston’s ViVaVerse Solutions to build a 17-megawatt (MW) microgrid at the ViVa Center campus in Houston, which is expected to be commissioned by the end of the year.

The microgrid plans to employ ultra-low emissions and natural gas generators to deliver Resiliency-as-a-Service (RaaS), and this will connect to ViVaVerse's colocation data center operations during utility outages.

RPower will also deploy the microgrid across different ERCOT market programs, which will contribute to assist with essential capacity and ancillary services for the local grid. ERCOT has increased its use of renewable energy in recent years, but still has faced criticism for unstable conditions. The microgrids can potentially assist ERCOT, and also help cut back on emissions.

“RPower's pioneering microgrid will not only deliver essential N+1 resiliency to our data center operations but will also contribute to the local community by supplying necessary capacity during peak demand periods when the electric grid is strained,” Eduardo Morales, CEO of ViVaVerse Solutions and Morales Capital Group, says in a news release.

ViVaVerse Solutions will be converting the former Compaq Computer/HPE headquarters Campus into an innovative technology hub called the ViVa Center, which will host the High-Performance Computing Data Center, and spaces dedicated to mission critical infrastructure and technical facilities . The hub will host 200 data labs.

“We are thrilled to partner with ViVaVerse to deploy this `first of its kind' microgrid solution in the data center space,” Jeff Starcher, CEO of RPower, adds. “Our natural gas backup generation system delivers the same reliability and performance as traditional diesel systems, but with a 98 percent reduction in emissions. Further, the RPower system provides critical grid services and will respond to the volatility of renewable generation, further enabling the energy transition to a carbon free future.”