Two Houston companies have partnered up to explore gold hydrogen technology. Photo via cemvita.com

Two Houston-area companies have announced a strategic partnership to test a unique hydrogen production technology.

The Woodlands-based ChampionX Corporation (NASDAQ: CHX) and Gold H2 Inc. entered into the partnership on November 9. GH2, a subsidiary of Houston-based Cemvita, provides tailored subsurface microbiology solutions by harnessing the power of microorganisms to enable in-situ hydrogen production from depleted oil and gas wells.

Created with carbon neutrality, the gold hydrogen costs less to create and is more sustainable than its alternatives. Cemvita, a sustainability-focused biotech company, has already seen success from its technology. After successfully completing a pilot test of gold hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its Gold H2 spin-out.

ChampionX, a global equipment and services provider for the oil and gas industry, has a suite of services and chemical technologies for optimizing production for reservoirs.

"Could not have asked for a better partner than ChampionX, Victor Keasler and Deric Bryant to helps us bring the Gold H2 technology to life. They are the industry leader in oilfield chemistry and microbiology and we are beyond excited to have them as a collaborator," Cemvita Co-founder and CEO Moji Karimi writes in a LinkedIn post. "I talk about creating a natural resource company of the future and our work at Gold H2 is a perfect example. To learn from subsurface biology and effectively turn the reservoir into a natural bioreactor and proactively biomanufacture end products of interest, integrating upstream with downstream."

Cemvita has had a flurry of corporate partnership announcements this year. In September, the company announced a 20-year off-take agreement with United to provide up to 50 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel a year across 20 years.

Blue, green, gold — what do all the colors of hydrogen even mean? Photo via Getty Images

Hydrogen's many colors, Houston companies that are focused on it, and more

Guest column

Repeated association of specific colors in defined contexts deeply reinforces themes in the human brain. It’s why most students and alumni of Texas A&M University scoff at the sight of burnt orange, and you’d be hard-pressed to find the home of a Longhorn adorned in shades of crimson or maroon.

The color-coding of hydrogen energy production exemplifies one such ambiguous classification methodology, as the seemingly innocuous labeling of hydrogen as green (for hydrogen produced from renewable sources) and black (for hydrogen produced from coal) initially helped to quickly discern which sources of hydrogen are environmentally friendly or not.

But the coding system quickly became more complicated, as the realization that hydrogen extracted from natural gas (aka grey hydrogen) or coal (again, black hydrogen, or sometimes, brown hydrogen, depending on the carbon content and energy density of the source coal) could be extracted in a less harmful way, by introducing methods of carbon capture and storage.

These cleaner methods for hydrogen extraction earned the lofty color coding of blue, just one shade away from green in the rainbow spectrum and a safe distance from the less delightful and inspiring colors grey, brown, and black.

Then along came pyrolysis — a method for producing hydrogen through methane cracking, plainly, the decomposition of methane, CH4, into solid carbon and hydrogen gas, without the introduction of oxygen. This method results in significantly less (if any) creation of carbon dioxide as a by-product. Logic would lead one to categorize this process with a color that lies further away from black than exalted cousin, green hydrogen.

However, the solid carbon that remains after pyrolysis retains over one-third of the original energy available from methane and could tip the GHG scales negatively if not utilized in an environmentally responsible manner, so it’s not a clear-cut winner in the game of lower-carbon energy production. Thus, it is nestled between green and blue and often referred to as “turquoise hydrogen” production.

Other hydrogen production methods — pink, purple, and red — defy rainbow logic as they have all proven to result in higher GHG emissions than the original “clean” queen, green hydrogen, despite following a similar electrolysis process to separate hydrogen and oxygen from one another in its original composition as water. The source of electricity used in the electrolysis process determines the color-code here, as pink hydrogen is generated from nuclear power, red hydrogen is generated from nuclear thermal power, and purple hydrogen is generated from a combination of nuclear power and nuclear thermal power.

Yellow hydrogen seems to not yet have found a clear definition. Some argue it refers to green hydrogen produced exclusively from solar-powered electrolysis, while others claim it to be the child of mixed green/gray hydrogen. Artists should probably keep a far distance from this conversation, unless the energy produced from the steam coming out of their ears could perform electrolysis more cleanly than any of the green hydrogen solutions.

Finally, we have white hydrogen, the naturally occurring, zero-carbon emitting, plentiful element found in the earth’s crust – which is also the least understood of all the hydrogen extraction methodologies.

Remember, hydrogen is the first element in the periodic table, meaning it’s density is very low. Hydrogen knows no bounds, and once it escapes from its natural home, it either floats off into outer space or attaches itself to another element to form a more containable compound, like water.

Many believe white hydrogen to be the unquestionable solution to a lower-carbon energy future but there is still much to be understood. Capturing, storing, and transporting white hydrogen remain mostly theoretical, despite recent progress, which includes one recently announced Houston lab dedicated to hydrogen transport. Another Houston company, Syzygy has raised millions with its light-based catalyst for hydrogen production.

For example, Cemvita, a local Houston chemical manufacturing company, predicts a future powered by gold hydrogen: white hydrogen sourced from depleted oil and gas wells. Many wildcatters believe strongly in a new era of exploration for white hydrogen using techniques refined in oil and gas exploration, including reservoir analysis, drilling, and fracking.

Without a doubt, investigating further the various hydrogen extraction theories is surely a craveable new challenge for the sciences. But perhaps the current color-coding nomenclature for hydrogen needs refinement, as well.

Unless used in the scientific context of wavelength, color-based labels represent an ambiguous classification tool, as the psychology of color depends on modern societal norms. The association of colors with the various hydrogen production methodologies does very little to distinguish the climate impact each method produces. Additionally, the existing categorizations do not consider any further distribution or processing of the produced hydrogen — a simple fact that could easily negate any amount of cleanliness implied by the various production methods — and a topic for a future article.

For now, hydrogen represents one of the front-running sources for a lower-carbon energy future, but it’s up to you if that’s best represented by a blue ribbon, gold medal, white star, or cold-hard greenbacks.

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

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Oxy subsidiary secures Microsoft as largest-ever DAC carbon removal credit customer

major move

Occidental Petroleum’s Houston-based carbon capture, utilization and, sequestration (CCUS) subsidiary, 1PointFive, has inked a six-year deal to sell 500,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide removal credits to software giant Microsoft.

In a news release, 1Point5 says this agreement represents the largest-ever single purchase of carbon credits enabled by direct air capture (DAC). DAC technology pulls CO2 from the air at any location, not just where carbon dioxide is emitted.

Under the agreement, the carbon dioxide that underlies the credits will be stored in a below-the-surface saline aquifer and won’t be used to produce oil or gas.

“A commitment of this magnitude further demonstrates how one of the world’s largest corporations is integrating scalable [DAC] into its net-zero strategy,” says Michael Avery, president and general manager of 1PointFive. “Energy demand across the technology industry is increasing, and we believe [DAC] is uniquely suited to remove residual emissions and further climate goals.”

Brian Marrs, senior director for carbon removal and energy at Microsoft, says DAC plays a key role in Microsoft’s effort to become carbon-negative by 2030.

The carbon dioxide will be stored at 1PointFive’s first industrial-scale DAC plant, being built near Odessa. The $1.3 billion Stratos project, which 1Point5 is developing through a joint venture with investment manager BlackRock, is designed to capture up to 500,000 metric tons of CO2 per year.

The facility is scheduled to open in mid-2025.

Aside from Microsoft, organizations that have agreed to buy carbon removal credits from 1Point5 include Amazon, Airbus, All Nippon Airways, the Houston Astros, the Houston Texans, and TD Bank.

Occidental says 1PointFive plans to set up more than 100 DAC facilities worldwide by 2035.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott demands answers from Houston power company following Beryl

investigation incoming

With around 270,000 homes and businesses still without power in the Houston area almost a week after Hurricane Beryl hit Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday said he's demanding an investigation into the response of the utility that serves the area as well as answers about its preparations for upcoming storms.

“Power companies along the Gulf Coast must be prepared to deal with hurricanes, to state the obvious,” Abbott said at his first news conference about Beryl since returning to the state from an economic development trip to Asia.

While CenterPoint Energy has restored power to about 2 million customers since the storm hit on July 8, the slow pace of recovery has put the utility, which provides electricity to the nation’s fourth-largest city, under mounting scrutiny over whether it was sufficiently prepared for the storm that left people without air conditioning in the searing summer heat.

Abbott said he was sending a letter to the Public Utility Commission of Texas requiring it to investigate why restoration has taken so long and what must be done to fix it. In the Houston area, Beryl toppled transmission lines, uprooted trees and snapped branches that crashed into power lines.

With months of hurricane season left, Abbott said he's giving CenterPoint until the end of the month to specify what it'll be doing to reduce or eliminate power outages in the event of another storm. He said that will include the company providing detailed plans to remove vegetation that still threatens power lines.

Abbott also said that CenterPoint didn't have “an adequate number of workers pre-staged" before the storm hit.

Following Abbott's news conference, CenterPoint said its top priority was “power to the remaining impacted customers as safely and quickly as possible,” adding that on Monday, the utility expects to have restored power to 90% of its customers. CenterPoint said it was committed to working with state and local leaders and to doing a “thorough review of our response.”

CenterPoint also said Sunday that it’s been “investing for years” to strengthen the area’s resilience to such storms.

The utility has defended its preparation for the storm and said that it has brought in about 12,000 additional workers from outside Houston. It has said it would have been unsafe to preposition those workers inside the predicted storm impact area before Beryl made landfall.

Brad Tutunjian, vice president for regulatory policy for CenterPoint Energy, said last week that the extensive damage to trees and power poles hampered the ability to restore power quickly.

A post Sunday on CenterPoint's website from its president and CEO, Jason Wells, said that over 2,100 utility poles were damaged during the storm and over 18,600 trees had to be removed from power lines, which impacted over 75% of the utility's distribution circuits.

Things to know: Beryl in the rearview, Devon Energy's big deal, and events not to miss

taking notes

Editor's note: Dive headfirst into the new week with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition.

Hurricane Beryl's big impact

Hundreds of thousands of people in the Houston area likely won’t have power restored until this week, as the city swelters in the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl.

The storm slammed into Texas on July 8, knocking out power to nearly 2.7 million homes and businesses and leaving huge swaths of the region in the dark and without air conditioning in the searing summer heat.

Although repairs have restored power to nearly 1.4 million customers, the scale of the damage and slow pace of recovery has put CenterPoint Energy, which provides electricity to the nation's fourth-largest city, under mounting scrutiny over whether it was sufficiently prepared for the storm and is doing enough now to make things right.

Some frustrated residents have also questioned why a part of the country that is all too familiar with major storms has been hobbled by a Category 1 hurricane, which is the weakest kind. But a storm's wind speed, alone, doesn't determine how dangerous it can be. Click here to continue reading this article from the AP.

Big deal: Devon Energy to acquire Houston exploration, production biz in $5B deal

Devon Energy is buying Grayson Mill Energy's Williston Basin business in a cash-and-stock deal valued at $5 billion as consolidation in the oil and gas sector ramps up.

The transaction includes $3.25 billion in cash and $1.75 billion in stock.

Grayson Mill Energy, based in Houston, is an oil and gas exploration company that received an initial investment from private equity firm EnCap Investments in 2016.

The firm appears to be stepping back from energy sector as it sells off assets. Last month EnCap-backed XCL Resources sold its Uinta Basin oil and gas assets to SM Energy Co. and Northern Oil and Gas in a transaction totaling $2.55 billion. EnCap had another deal in June as well, selling some assets to Matador Resources for nearly $2 billion. Click here to continue reading.

Events not to miss

Put these Houston-area energy-related events on your calendar.

  • 2024 Young Leaders Institute: Renewable Energy and Climate Solutions is taking place July 15 to July 19 at Asia Society of Texas. Register now.
  • CCS/Decarbonization Project Development, Finance and Investment, taking place July 23 to 25, is the deepest dive into the economic and regulatory factors driving the success of the CCS/CCUS project development landscape. Register now.
  • The 5th Texas Energy Forum 2024, organized by U.S. Energy Stream, will take place on August 21 and 22 at the Petroleum Club of Houston. Register now.