Houston-based energy technology company Baker Hughes is rolling out two new products — pressure sensors for the hydrogen sector.

Designed to provide long-term stability and withstand harsh conditions, the Druck pressure sensors are geared toward gas turbines, hydrogen production electrolysis, and hydrogen filling stations, the company says.

Gordon Docherty, general manager of the Druck product line, calls the new hydrogen technology “an exciting breakthrough in the world of pressure measurement.”

“Hydrogen plays a key role in the transition to a more sustainable, lower-emissions future but also poses challenges for infrastructure and equipment due to hydrogen embrittlement,” Docherty says in a news release.

Baker Hughes’ Druck hydrogen pressure sensors will be displayed September 27-28 at the Hydrogen Technology Expo Europe in Bremen, Germany.

The company’s other hydrogen products include compressors, valves, gas turbines, and pumps.

During its second-quarter earnings call in July, Baker Hughes reported that it’s boosting R&D spending for its “New Energy” strategy. This includes money earmarked for hydrogen technology. As of July, Baker Hughes had spent about $40 million this year on small-scale R&D projects.

The company has spent decades working on hydrogen innovations. It created the world’s first hydrogen compressor in 1962. And in 2008, it built the world’s first turbine running solely on hydrogen.

Baker Hughes’ advancements in hydrogen technology come as the market for clean hydrogen grows. A report published this year by professional services firm Deloitte predicts the global market for clean hydrogen will expand to $1.4 trillion per year by 2050, up from a projected $642 billion in 2030.

It's all about the money — or lack thereof. Photo by Natalie Harms/EnergyCapital

Panel: Experts weigh in on what's holding hydrogen development back​ in Houston and beyond

hiccups in hydrogen

Houston has a ton of potential to be a major hub for hydrogen — but who's to pick up the tab on the progress that is needed to advance the alternative energy source? A panel at a recent event sat down to talk it out.

The Hydrogen Technology Expo, a two-day conference at NRG Center last week, brought in dozens of companies and hundreds of attendees to Houston to discuss the most pressing topics of the energy transition. One panel — moderated by Brett Perlman, CEO of the Center for Houston's Future — looked specifically at the challenges for the hydrogen economy.

The biggest challenge: Money. Perlman starts the conversation asking panelists if Wall Street is showing up to back hydrogen projects.

"Everyone talks about investing in hydrogen, and very few people actually do it," says Sean Shafer, managing partner of Energy and Industrial Advisor Partners, "outside of the big strategics and some technology plays — electrolyzers, fuel cells, and stuff like that."

Timing is an issue, adds Brian Hodges, partner at Aurum Capital Connect. Hodges, who previously was at Bank of America, saw first hand the money that a bank was willing to put into clean energy and decarbonization. But, when presenting options to deploy this funding, Hodges hears a familiar refrain — it's too early, it's too small, the pieces aren't in place yet.

"There is a gigantic pool of capital out there — whether its traditional banks, financial institutions, sovereign wealth funds," he says. "Literally everyone and their dog is interested in the space. ... We're right on the cusp of this, but when you look at Europe, they're 10 years ahead of us."

And that decade of experience is what attracts more funding, Hodges says. And it's not just Europe when it comes to markets getting ahead. Texas can't compete with the likes of California, says Roxana Bekemohammadi, founder and executive director of US Hydrogen Alliance, especially when it comes to policy. The state has had legislation addressing zero-emission vehicles since 1989.

"California policies are unique beasts, and I like to explain this because it's really important when I talk to other state legislators," Bekemohammadi says, explaining that the state mandates action and has larger teams to put policy into place. "You're looking at such a mature industry, if you want to call it an industry, but it's really a policy institution."

The panelists agree on the obstacle of policy. Tanya Peacock, managing director of EcoEngineers, works directly with project developers looking for financing and investment funds and financiers looking for projects.

"Everybody is waiting for the guidance on the IRA 45V Production Tax Credit," she says. "I think that's really the game changer for the industry, but the uncertainty around how the credit is going to be implemented is what's holding back a lot of the investment at the moment."

Texas doesn't have state incentives, Shafer points out, but the work is easy to get done with the workforce in the region, so that's also a missed opportunity. Some other factors, he adds, include offtake and lack of debt providers. He says the demand hasn't been established yet to provide a good opportunity for offtake negotiations — it's a chicken and egg problem. Meanwhile, project finance tends to have a debt provider involved, but there aren't providers willing to underwrite debt hydrogen projects.

"One of the other big things is there seems to be a lack of middle capital to get smaller companies to get their projects more backed," Shafer continues his list. "People want to write the big checks. They don't want to write the small checks — and I think one of the reasons is they don't want to lose all their capital. There's no downside protection in this industry."

Perlman, who addressed the crowd in a presentation about Texas as a hydrogen hub earlier in the day, remains bullish on the city's future in the space. Last year, CHF and several other organizations worked together to create the plan for the HyVelocity Hub — and a pitch to receive U.S. Department of Energy Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub funding to make it a reality.

"What we want to do in Texas is jumpstart the market," Perlman says, adding that HyVelocity can help accomplish this goal. "This market can happen in Texas because we are the right place with the right resources. ... What we need to do as an industry is accelerate development."

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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.”