Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics secured finalists spots in XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions. Photo via Getty Images

Twenty promising climatetech companies were selected to advance to the final stage of a global competition backed by Elon Musk's foundation — and three of the finalists hail from Houston.

Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics secured finalists spots in XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions. XPRIZE Carbon Removal will offer $100 million to innovators who are creating solutions that removes carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or the oceans, and then sequester it sustainably.

"For the world to effectively address greenhouse gas emissions, carbon removal is an essential element of the path to Net Zero. There's no way to reverse humanity's impact on the climate without extracting carbon from our atmosphere and oceans," Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE, says in a news release. "We need a range of bold, innovative CDR solutions to manage the vast quantities of CO2 released into our environment and impacting our planet.

"The teams that have been competing for this Prize are all part of building a set of robust and effective solutions and our 20 teams advancing to the final stage of XPRIZE Carbon Removal will have an opportunity to demonstrate their potential to have a significant impact on the climate," Ansari continues.

The finalists — categorized into four sections: air, rocks, oceans, and land — were selected based upon their performance in three key areas: operations, sustainability, and cost. The full list of 20 finalists is available online.

Around 20 Houston-area companies were initially identified by the challenge. Here's a look at the three that are advancing to the finals:

  • Mati, in the Rocks category, durably removes carbon from the atmosphere using basalt based enhanced rock weathering (ERW) in smallholder rice paddy farms. This process, which is being demonstrated in India, removes atmospheric CO2 while adding key nutrients in the soil helping to restore degraded soils to benefit smallholder farmers.
  • Climate Robotics, in the Land category, enables broad-scale agriculture adoption of biochar which builds soil health and removes excess carbon from the atmosphere. The company's mobile technology converts crop residues into durable biochar on the fly and in the field, making the economics work for farmers and our ecosystems.
  • Vaulted Deep, also in the Land category, delivers scalable, permanent, carbon removal by geologically sequestering carbon-filled organic wastes. Their patented slurry sequestration, which involves the geological injection of minimally processed wastes for permanent (10,000+ year) carbon removal.

"This cohort of exceptional teams represents a diversity of innovations and solutions across a range of CDR pathways, and shows the significant progress the industry is making in a short period of time," Nikki Batchelor, executive director of XPRIZE Carbon Removal, says in the release. "Over the past three years, this competition has helped accelerate the pace of technology development for a whole new industry of high-potential solutions aimed at reversing climate change."

What can hospital systems do to combat climate change? A lot, according to a new report from the Center for Houston's Future. Photo via TMC.org

New report calls for Houston-area health care providers to take action amid climate change

call to action

A new report underscores an “urgent need” for health care systems in the Houston area to combat climate change and avoid an environmental “code blue.”

“By adopting collaborative strategies and leveraging technological innovations, health care providers can play a pivotal role in safeguarding the health of Houston’s residents against the backdrop of an evolving climate landscape,” says the report, published by the Center for Houston’s Future.

Among the report’s recommendations are:

  • Advocate for policies that promote decarbonization.
  • Create eco-friendly spaces at hospitals and in low-income communities, among other places.
  • Recruit “champions” among health leaders and physicians to help battle climate change.
  • Establish academic programs to educate health care professionals and students about climate health and decarbonization.
  • Bolster research surrounding climate change.
  • Benchmark, track, and publish statistics about greenhouse gas emissions “to foster accountability and reduce environmental impacts of the health care sector.” The report notes that the U.S. health care sector emits 8.5 percent of the country’s greenhouse gases.

“By embracing collaborative strategies, acting with urgency and implementing sustainable practices, our region’s health care providers can play a pivotal role in creating a healthier, more resilient Houston,” says Brett Perlman, outgoing president and CEO of the Center for Houston’s Future. “If we work together, given all the collective wisdom, resources and innovation concentrated in our medical community, we can tackle the challenges that are confronting us.”

The report highlights the threat of climate-driven disasters in the Houston area, such as extreme heat, floods, and hurricanes. These events are likely to aggravate health issues like heatstroke, respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, and insect-borne diseases, says the report.

St. Luke’s Health, a nonprofit health care system with 16 hospitals in the Houston area and East Texas, provided funding for the report.

The Sea Port Oil Terminal being developed off Freeport, Texas, will be able to load two supertankers at once, with an export capacity of 2 million barrels of crude oil per day. Photo via Getty Images

Houston company's $1.8B project off Texas coast gets Biden administration amid environmental protests

big oil

In a move that environmentalists called a betrayal, the Biden administration has approved the construction of a deepwater oil export terminal off the Texas coast that would be the largest of its kind in the United States.

The Sea Port Oil Terminal being developed off Freeport, Texas, will be able to load two supertankers at once, with an export capacity of 2 million barrels of crude oil per day. The $1.8 billion project by Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners received a deepwater port license from the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration this week, the final step in a five-year federal review.

Environmentalists denounced the license approval, saying it contradicted President Joe Biden's climate agenda and would lead to “disastrous” planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to nearly 90 coal-fired power plants. The action could jeopardize Biden's support from environmental allies and young voters already disenchanted by the Democratic administration's approval last year of the massive Willow oil project in Alaska.

“Nothing about this project is in alignment with President Biden’s climate and environmental justice goals,'' said Kelsey Crane, senior policy advocate at Earthworks, an environmental group that has long opposed the export terminal.

“The communities that will be impacted by (the oil terminal) have once again been ignored and will be forced to live with the threat of more oil spills, explosions and pollution,'' Crane said. "The best way to protect the public and the climate from the harms of oil is to keep it in the ground.”

In a statement after the license was approved, the Maritime Administration said the project meets a number of congressionally mandated requirements, including extensive environmental reviews and a federal determination that the port's operation is in the national interest.

“While the Biden-Harris administration is accelerating America’s transition to a clean energy future, action is also being taken to manage the transition in the near term,'' said the agency, which is nicknamed MARAD.

The administration's multiyear review included consultation with at least 20 federal, state and local agencies, MARAD said. The agency ultimately determined that the project would have no significant effect on the production or consumption of U.S. crude oil.

“Although the (greenhouse gas) emissions associated with the upstream production and downstream end use of the crude oil to be exported from the project may represent a significant amount of GHG emissions, these emissions largely already occur as part of the U.S. crude oil supply chain,'' the agency said in an email to The Associated Press. “Therefore, the project itself is likely to have minimal effect on the current GHG emissions associated with the overall U.S. crude oil supply chain.''

Environmental groups scoffed at that claim.

“The Biden administration must stop flip-flopping on fossil fuels,'' said Cassidy DiPaola of Fossil Free Media, a nonprofit group that opposes the use of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas.

“Approving the Sea Port Oil Terminal after pausing LNG exports is not just bad news for our climate, it’s incoherent politics,'' DiPaola said. Biden “can’t claim to be a climate leader one day and then turn around and grant a massive handout to the oil industry the next. It’s time for President Biden to listen to the overwhelming majority of voters who want to see a shift away from fossil fuels, not a doubling down on dirty and deadly energy projects.''

DiPaola was referring to the administration's January announcement that it is delaying consideration of new natural gas export terminals in the United States, even as gas shipments to Europe and Asia have soared since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The decision, announced at the start of the 2024 presidential election year, aligned the Democratic president with environmentalists who fear the huge increase in exports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is locking in potentially catastrophic planet-warming emissions even as Biden has pledged to cut climate pollution in half by 2030.

Industry groups and Republicans have condemned the pause, saying LNG exports stabilize global energy markets, support thousands of American jobs and reduce global greenhouse emissions by transitioning countries away from coal, a far dirtier fossil fuel.

Enterprise CEO Jim Teague hailed the oil project's approval. The terminal will provide “a more environmentally friendly, safe, efficient and cost-effective way to deliver crude oil to global markets,'' he said in a statement.

The project will include two pipelines to carry crude from shore to the deepwater port, reducing the need for ship-to-ship transfers of oil. The terminal is expected to begin operations by 2027.

Since the project was first submitted for federal review in 2019, “Enterprise has worked diligently with various federal, state and local authorities, and participated in multiple public meetings that have allowed individuals and stakeholder groups to learn about the project and provide their comments,'' including some studies that have been translated into Spanish and Vietnamese, the company said in a statement. More than half of Freeport's 10,600 residents are Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, hailed the license approval as “a major victory for Texas’s energy industry" and said the Biden administration had delayed the Sea Port terminal and other projects for years.

“After tireless work by my office and many others to secure this deepwater port license, I’m thrilled that we’re helping bring more jobs to Texas and greater energy security to America and our allies,'' Cruz said in a statement. “That this victory was delayed by years of needless bureaucratic dithering shows why we need broader permitting reform in this country.''

The oil export facility, one of several license applications under federal review, is located 30 miles offshore of Brazoria County, Texas, in the Gulf of Mexico.

The license approval followed a ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week dismissing claims by environmental groups that federal agencies had failed to uphold federal environmental laws in their review of the project.

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."

The data shows the biggest leaks are in the Permian basin of Texas and New Mexico. Photo via Getty Images

US energy industry methane emissions are triple what government thinks, study finds

by the numbers

American oil and natural gas wells, pipelines and compressors are spewing three times the amount of the potent heat-trapping gas methane as the government thinks, causing $9.3 billion in yearly climate damage, a new comprehensive study calculates.

But because more than half of these methane emissions are coming from a tiny number of oil and gas sites, 1% or less, this means the problem is both worse than the government thought but also fairly fixable, said the lead author of a study in Wednesday's journal Nature.

The same issue is happening globally. Large methane emissions events around the world detected by satellites grew 50% in 2023 compared to 2022 with more than 5 million metric tons spotted in major fossil fuel leaks, the International Energy Agency reported Wednesday in their Global Methane Tracker 2024. World methane emissions rose slightly in 2023 to 120 million metric tons, the report said.

“This is really an opportunity to cut emissions quite rapidly with targeted efforts at these highest emitting sites,” said lead author Evan Sherwin, an energy and policy analyst at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab who wrote the study while at Stanford University. “If we can get this roughly 1% of sites under control, then we're halfway there because that's about half of the emissions in most cases.”

Sherwin said the fugitive emissions come throughout the oil and gas production and delivery system, starting with gas flaring. That's when firms release natural gas to the air or burn it instead of capturing the gas that comes out of energy extraction. There's also substantial leaks throughout the rest of the system, including tanks, compressors and pipelines, he said.

“It's actually straightforward to fix,” Sherwin said.

In general about 3% of the U.S. gas produced goes wasted into the air, compared to the Environmental Protection Agency figures of 1%, the study found. Sherwin said that's a substantial amount, about 6.2 million tons per hour in leaks measured over the daytime. It could be lower at night, but they don't have those measurements.

The study gets that figure using one million anonymized measurements from airplanes that flew over 52% of American oil wells and 29% of gas production and delivery system sites over a decade. Sherwin said the 3% leak figure is the average for the six regions they looked at and they did not calculate a national average.

Methane over a two-decade period traps about 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide, but only lasts in the atmosphere for about a decade instead of hundreds of years like carbon dioxide, according to the EPA.

About 30% of the world's warming since pre-industrial times comes from methane emissions, said IEA energy supply unit head Christophe McGlade. The United States is the No. 1 oil and gas production methane emitter, with China polluting even more methane from coal, he said.

Last December, the Biden administration issued a new rule forcing the U.S. oil and natural gas industry to cut its methane emissions. At the same time at the United Nations climate negotiations in Dubai, 50 oil companies around the world pledged to reach near zero methane emissions and end routine flaring in operations by 2030. That Dubai agreement would trim about one-tenth of a degree Celsius, nearly two-tenths of a degree Fahrenheit, from future warming, a prominent climate scientist told The Associated Press.

Monitoring methane from above, instead of at the sites or relying on company estimates, is a growing trend. Earlier this month the market-based Environmental Defense Fund and others launched MethaneSAT into orbit. For energy companies, the lost methane is valuable with Sherwin's study estimate it is worth about $1 billion a year.

About 40% of the global methane emissions from oil, gas and coal could have been avoided at no extra cost, which is “a massive missed opportunity,” IEA's McGlade said. The IEA report said if countries do what they promised in Dubai they could cut half of the global methane pollution by 2030, but actions put in place so far only would trim 20% instead, “a very large gap between emissions and actions,” McGlade said.

“It is critical to reduce methane emissions if the world is to meet climate targets,” said Cornell University methane researcher Robert Horwath, who wasn't part of Sherwin's study.

“Their analysis makes sense and is the most comprehensive study by far out there on the topic,” said Howarth, who is updating figures in a forthcoming study to incorporate the new data.

The overflight data shows the biggest leaks are in the Permian basin of Texas and New Mexico.

“It's a region of rapid growth, primarily driven by oil production,” Sherwin said. “So when the drilling happens, both oil and gas comes out, but the main thing that the companies want to sell in most cases was the oil. And there wasn't enough pipeline capacity to take the gas away” so it spewed into the air instead.

Contrast that with tiny leak rates found in drilling in the Denver region and the Pennsylvania area. Denver leaks are so low because of local strictly enforced regulations and Pennsylvania is more gas-oriented, Sherwin said.

This shows a real problem with what National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association methane-monitoring scientist Gabrielle Petron calls “super-emitters."

“Reliably detecting and fixing super-emitters is a low hanging fruit to reduce real life greenhouse gas emissions,” Petron, who wasn't part of Sherwin's study, said. “This is very important because these super-emitter emissions are ignored by most ‘official’ accounting.”

Stanford University climate scientist Rob Jackson, who also wasn't part of the study, said, “a few facilities are poisoning the air for everyone.”

“For more than a decade, we’ve been showing that the industry emits far more methane than they or government agencies admit," Jackson said. “This study is capstone evidence. And yet nothing changes.”

Texas has a few LNG projects in the works, but it's unclear how the delay will affect them. Photo via Getty Images

Consideration for new LNG terminals delayed with climate risk in mind

decisions TBD

The Biden administration is delaying consideration of new natural gas export terminals in the United States, even as gas shipments to Europe and Asia have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The election year decision by President Joe Biden aligns with environmentalists who fear the huge increase in exports, in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is locking in potentially catastrophic planet-warming emissions when the Democratic president has pledged to cut climate pollution in half by 2030.

“While MAGA Republicans willfully deny the urgency of the climate crisis, condemning the American people to a dangerous future, my administration will not be complacent,'' Biden said in a statement Friday. “We will not cede to special interests. We will heed the calls of young people and frontline communities who are using their voices to demand action from those with the power to act.''

Texas has a few LNG projects in the works, but it's unclear how the delay will affect them.

The current economic and environmental analyses the Energy Department uses to evaluate LNG projects don't adequately account for potential cost hikes for American consumers and manufacturers or the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, the White House said.

Industry groups condemned the pause as a “win for Russia," while environmentalists cheered an action they have long been seeking as a way to counter Biden’s approval of the huge Willow oil project in Alaska last year.

“This decision is brave, because Donald Trump (the man who pulled us out of the Paris climate accords on the grounds that climate change is a hoax) will attack it mercilessly,'' environmental activist Bill McKibben wrote in an online post.

“But it’s also very, very savvy: Biden wants young people, who care about climate above all, in his corner. They were angry about his dumb approval of the Willow oil project,'' McKibben added.

A proposed LNG export terminal in Louisiana would produce about 20 times the greenhouse gas emissions of Willow, McKibben noted.

“And of course everyone understands that if Biden is not reelected this win means nothing. It will disappear on Day One when (Trump) begins his relentless campaign to ‘drill drill drill,'" he said.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the pause will not affect already authorized export projects and noted that U.S. gas exports reached record highs last year. The pause will not immediately affect U.S. supplies to Europe or Asia, Granholm said, since seven LNG terminals are currently in operation, with several more expected to come online in the next few years.

"We remain committed to ensuring our partners' medium-term energy needs are met,'' she told reporters at a White House briefing late Thursday. If necessary, the Energy Department can allow exceptions for national security needs, Granholm said.

She and other officials declined to say how long the permitting pause will last, but said a study of how proposed LNG projects will affect the environment, the economy and national security will take "some months.'' A public comment period after that will likely delay any decisions on pending LNG projects until after the 2024 presidential election.

U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas began less than a decade ago, but have grown rapidly in recent years to the point that the U.S. has become the world’s largest gas exporter. Exports rose sharply after Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and Biden and Granholm have celebrated the delivery of U.S. gas to Europe and Asia as a key geopolitical weapon against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The American Petroleum Institute, the largest lobbying group for the oil and gas industry, turned those comments against the Democratic administration as it condemned Biden's action.

“This is a win for Russia and a loss for American allies, U.S. jobs and global climate progress," said Mike Sommers, API's president and CEO.

"There is no review needed to understand the clear benefits of U.S. LNG (exports) for stabilizing global energy markets, supporting thousands of American jobs and reducing emissions around the world by transitioning countries toward cleaner fuels'' and away from coal, Sommers said in a statement.

Biden's action "is nothing more than a broken promise to U.S. allies, and it’s time for the administration to stop playing politics with global energy security,” he said.

Granholm, who has made it a point to work with oil and gas executives even as Biden has exchanged sometimes pointed barbs with them, said “a lot has happened” since LNG exports began about eight years ago.

“We need to have an even greater understanding of the (global energy) market need, the long-term supply and demand of energy resources and the environmental factors,'' she said. “So by updating the analysis process now, we will be better informed to avoid export authorizations that diminish our domestic energy availability, that weaken our security or that undermine our economy. ‘’

Granholm emphasized the delay “is not a retroactive review of already authorized exports,'' nor is it intended to punish the oil and gas industry.

“We are committed to strengthening energy security here in the U.S. and with our allies, and we’re committed to protecting Americans against climate change as we lead the world into a clean energy future,'' she said.

Jeremy Symons, an environmental consultant and former climate policy adviser at the Environmental Protection Agency, called Biden's decision a “game-changer” in the fight against climate change.

“The president is drawing a line in the sand to put the nation's interests first and listen to climate science,'' Symons said in an interview. ”The days of massive fossil fuel projects like the CP2 project escaping scrutiny from the federal government are over. We now have a president who cares about climate change.''

Symons and other activists have targeted the $10 billion Calcasieu Pass 2 project, or CP2, along Louisiana's Gulf Coast, noting it would be the nation's largest export terminal if built. The project in Cameron Parish would export up to 20 million tons (18.1 million metric tons) of chilled natural gas per year, creating more greenhouse gas emissions than even the Willow project, which environmentalists have decried as a "carbon bomb.''

Symons called the gas project "bad for our nation, bad for our health and bad for our economy.''

Shaylyn Hynes, spokeswoman for the project’s owner, Virginia-based Venture Global, said the Biden administration "continues to create uncertainty about whether our allies can rely on U.S. LNG for their energy security.''

A prolonged pause on LNG exports "would shock the global energy market ... and send a devastating signal to our allies that they can no longer rely on the United States,'' said Hynes, who served as an Energy Department spokeswoman in the Trump administration.

"The true irony is this policy would hurt the climate and lead to increased (greenhouse gas) emissions, as it would force the world to pivot to coal'' instead of natural gas, Hynes said.

Climate activists dispute that, calling LNG a leading contributor to climate change due to methane leaks and an energy-intensive process to liquefy gas.

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Houston company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

results are in

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

Barge hits bridge connecting Galveston and Pelican Island, causing partial collapse and oil spill

A barge slammed into a bridge pillar in Galveston, Texas, on Wednesday, spilling oil into waters near busy shipping channels and closing the only road to a small neighboring island. No injuries were reported.

The impact sent pieces of the bridge, which connects Galveston to Pelican Island, tumbling on top of the barge and shut down a stretch of waterway so crews could clean up the spill. The accident knocked one man off the vessel and into the water, but he was quickly recovered and was not injured, said Galveston County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Ray Nolen.

Ports along the Texas coast are hubs of international trade, but experts said the collision was unlikely to result in serious economic disruptions since it occurred in a lesser-used waterway. The island is on the opposite side of Galveston Island’s beaches that draw millions of tourists each year.

The accident happened shortly before 10 a.m. after a tugboat operator pushing two barges lost control of them, said David Flores, a bridge superintendent with the Galveston County Navigation District.

“The current was very bad, and the tide was high," Flores said. “He lost it.”

Pelican Island is only a few miles wide and is home to Texas A&M University at Galveston, a large shipyard and industrial facilities. Fewer than 200 people were on the campus when the collision happened, and all were eventually allowed to drive on the bridge to leave. The marine and maritime research institute said it plans to remain closed until at least Friday. Students who live on campus were allowed to remain there, but university officials warned those who live on campus and leave “should be prepared to remain off campus for an unknown period of time.”

The accident came weeks after a cargo ship crashed into a support column of the Francis Key Bridge in Baltimore on March 26, killing six construction workers.

The tugboat in Texas was pushing bunker barges, which are fuel barges for ships, Flores said. The barge, which is owned by Martin Petroleum, has a 30,000-gallon capacity, but it's not clear how much leaked into the bay, said Galveston County spokesperson Spencer Lewis. He said about 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) of the waterway were shut down because of the spill.

The affected area is miles away from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which sees frequent barge traffic, and the Houston Ship Channel, a large shipping channel for ocean-going vessels. Aside from the environmental impact of the spill, the region is unlikely to see large economic disruption as a result of the accident, said Marcia Burns, a maritime transportation expert at the University of Houston

“Because Pelican Island is a smaller location, which is not in the heart of commercial events, then the impact is not as devastating," Burns said. “It’s a relatively smaller impact.”

At the bridge, a large piece of broken concrete and debris from the railroad hung over the side and on top of the barge that rammed into the passageway. Flores said the rail line only serves as protection for the structure and has never been used.

Opened in 1960, the Pelican Island Causeway Bridge was rated as “Poor” according to the Federal Highway Administration’s 2023 National Bridge Inventory released last June.

The overall rating of a bridge is based on whether the condition of any of its individual components — the deck, superstructure, substructure or culvert, if present — is rated poor or below.

In the case of the Pelican Island Causeway Bridge, inspectors rated the deck in “Satisfactory Condition,” the substructure in “Fair Condition” and the superstructure — or the component that absorbs the live traffic load — in “Poor Condition.”

The Texas Department of Transportation had been scheduled in the summer of 2025 to begin construction on a project to replace the bridge with a new one. The project was estimated to cost $194 million. In documents provided during a virtual public meeting last year, the department said the bridge has “reached the end of its design lifespan, and needs to be replaced.” The agency said it has spent over $12 million performing maintenance and repairs on the bridge in the past decade.

The bridge has one main steel span that measures 164 feet (50 meters), and federal data shows it was last inspected in December 2021. It’s unclear from the data if a state inspection took place after the Federal Highway Administration compiled the data.

The bridge had an average daily traffic figure of about 9,100 cars and trucks, according to a 2011 estimate.

___

Lozano reported from Houston. Associated Press reporters Christopher L. Keller in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen, Texas; Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas; and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.