The company, based in Tomball, has developed a mobile, scalable energy source that can be used anywhere, anytime. Image via kaizencleanenergy.com

An innovative Houston-area company is on a mission to make using hydrogen energy easier and cheaper.

A recently announced partnership with investment firm, Balcor Companies, will help make this a reality as Kaizen Clean Energy looks to make hydrogen energy more accessible, reliable and affordable. Announced July 6, Balcor now has an ownership stake in Kaizen. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The company, based in Tomball, has developed a “micro grid” hydrogen power station — a mobile, scalable energy source that can be used anywhere, anytime.

Balcor Companies Founder and Director Chris Balat says his company is looking at their stake in KCE as an investment in shaping a more sustainable world.

“We are thrilled to make our first foray into the energy sector with Kaizen Energy as our trusted partner,” he says in a statement. "Our association with Kaizen is a testament to our commitment towards a sustainable future, driving positive change in the world while delivering value to our stakeholders.”

Kaizen's mission is to succeed where electric grids fail. One fallback source to help strained electric grids has typically been diesel generators. However, diesel generators increase local emissions which produce a significant amount of air pollution and health concerns. Kaizen’s hydrogen generators can be used to power buildings, homes, hospitals, data centers, events, and farm equipment. They are portable, which means it does not require any excessive infrastructure.

“Our system allows customers the ability to have renewable energy anywhere in the world in a very short time frame,” said Eric Smith, co-founder of KCE. “For EV charging, for power generation, to replace a diesel generator.”

Smith tells EnergyCapitalhtx the concept is very attractive to corporations who lease buildings as building out a permanent infrastructure could be costly and time consuming.

Robert Meaney, a Texas Tech engineering graduate, founded Kaizen Clean Energy in 2020, along with Eric Smith and Craig Klaasmeyer. Meaney designed the technology using a mixture of methanol and water to create hydrogen. A 330-gallon tank of the mixture produces about 150 kilograms of hydrogen — or 1.6 megawatt-hours of energy. The mixture lowers the risks of many of the drawbacks of hydrogen usage. For example, it can be stored for longer periods and transported long distances safely.

The microgrid fits into a small container and can be dropped on site at remote locations or in heavily congested grid areas. It also eliminates the cost of hydrogen transportation by generating hydrogen on-site with commonly available methanol, which can be both used for hydrogen fuel and converted to electricity for electric vehicle charging. This microgrid technology can both connect to the grid to supplement available power, or can be used during a power outage.

To put this energy source to use, KCE has partnered with Extreme E, an international off-road racing series that is part of Formula 1 and uses electric SUV’s to race in remote parts of the world. Kaizen’s units are also being used at a fleet-charging location in Los Angeles.

Oceanit's lab, H2XCEL — short for “Hydrogen Accelerator” — aims to integrate hydrogen into the current energy infrastructure, a serious cost-saver for companies looking to make the energy transition. Photo via Getty Images

New lab opens in Houston to help make pipelines safer for hydrogen transport

HOU-DRYGEN

An innovative Hawaii-based technology company is saying aloha to Houston with the opening of a unique test laboratory that aims to increase hydrogen pipeline safety. It is the latest sign that Houston is at the forefront of the movement to hydrogen energy.

The lab, H2XCEL — short for “Hydrogen Accelerator” — aims to integrate hydrogen into the current energy infrastructure, a serious cost-saver for companies looking to make the energy transition. Oceanit, a Honolulu-based technology company, is behind the lab.

H2XCEL will be the only lab in the U.S. capable of testing hydrogen and methane mixtures at high temperatures and pressures. Its aim is to protect pipelines from hydrogen embrittlement — when small hydrogen molecules penetrate pipe walls and damage the metal, potentially causing cracks, leaks, and failures.

The lab uses Oceanit’s HydroPel pipeline nanotechnology, developed with the support of the U.S. Department of Energy. Photo courtesy of Oceanit

“The launch of this testing facility is a major milestone. It is the only lab of its kind in the U.S. and the work underway at H2XCEL will accelerate the transition toward a hydrogen-driven economy,” Patrick Sullivan, the CEO and founder of Oceanit, says in a news release. “We see a toolset emerging that will enable the U.S. to accelerate toward a low-carbon future.”

Houston was the obvious choice to launch the new lab, says Oceanit’s Direct of Marketing James Andrews.

“Houston is the energy capital of the world," Andrews explains. "Oceanit knew that if we wanted to make inroads with decarbonization technologies, we needed to be physically present there.”

H2XCEL uses Oceanit’s HydroPel pipeline nanotechnology, developed with the support of the U.S. Department of Energy. It is a surface treatment that protects metals, eliminating the need to build new pipelines using expensive, hydrogen-resistant metals. The estimated cost of building new hydrogen pipelines is approximately $4.65 million per mile, according to a press release from the company. In contrast, HydroPel can be applied to existing pipelines to prevent damage, and the cost to refurbish one mile of existing steel pipeline is less than 10 percent of the cost per mile for new pipeline construction.

One of the main objectives of the new Houston lab will be to test hydrogen-methane blends under varying conditions to determine how to use HydroPel safely. By enabling the energy sector to reduce its climate impact while continuing to provide energy using existing infrastructure, methane-hydrogen blends capitalize on hydrogen’s carbon-free energy potential and its positive impact on climate change.

“We want to create a situation where we can speed up energy transition,” says Andrews. “By blending it into a safer environment, we can make it attractive to bigger players.”

Oceanit already has a Houston presence where the team is focused on several other technologies related to hydrogen, including HeatX, a water-based technology for heat transfer surfaces in refineries, power plants, and more, as well as their HALO system, which utilizes directed energy to produce clean hydrogen wastewater and other waste byproducts produced in industrial businesses.

A recent report issued by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy about the hydrogen economy

in Texas insists that the Lone Star State is an ideal hub for hydrogen as an energy source. The report explains that with the state’s existing oil and gas infrastructure, Texas is the best spot to affordably develop hydrogen while managing economic challenges. The Houston region already produces and consumes a third of the nation’s hydrogen, according to the report, and has more than 50 percent of the country’s dedicated hydrogen pipelines.

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.


------

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

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

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.”

———

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.”