"Companies and stakeholders across the energy spectrum need to act together and act fast." Photo via Getty Images

Houston is home to some of the nation's largest oil and gas exploration and production firms, making it one of the world’s most important energy capitals. Growing regional support for pioneering clean tech, such as carbon capture, will help achieve the crucial transition to net zero whilst maintaining economic stability, boosting local industries and creating jobs.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), North America and Asia Pacific are expected to hold the largest share in carbon capture capacity. North America’s world-leading carbon capture potential comes as no surprise given the nation’s dominance in oil and gas, and ideal geology for sequestration.

The IEA’s recently published World Energy Outlook 2023 depicts a global market that is in transition. With more companies, world leaders and governments recognizing that a shift towards sustainable energy is both inevitable and transformative, the question is no longer whether we switch to clean energy, but rather how soon the transition can happen.

For every $1 in investment spending on fossil fuels globally, $1.8 is now being spent to develop clean energy, according to the IEA. Although the clean energy market has almost doubled in the past five years to reach an estimated $2.8 trillion in 2023, investment needs to hit $4.2 trillion per year by 2030 to achieve the universally shared goal of net zero. The IEA believes around 1 Gigaton of CO2 must be captured in 2030, rising to 6 Gigatons by 2050 to achieve the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario (termed NZE Scenario). This presents a tremendous opportunity for government stakeholders and the business community in Houston to turbocharge the economy and protect the planet from the impact of climate change.

While volatility around the energy market lingers, sustainable technologies remain one of the most dynamic areas of global energy investment. An essential ingredient to its success is bringing on board innovators, entrepreneurs, corporations, and financiers to ensure technology innovation is front and center in facilitating the clean energy transition.

Carbon capture technology is critical, but energy leaders and hard-to-abate industries are under pressure to move faster. To do that, the carbon capture industry must scale up its deployment and increase adoption if hard-to-abate sectors are to address the 30 percent of global CO2 emissions for which they are responsible. Governments have a pivotal role to play in providing financial, regulatory and policy incentives, facilitating a collaborative environment between financiers, hard-to-abate operators, and clean tech companies. While we are moving in the right direction, there is no room for complacency or procrastination given the short timescales for meaningful action.

Over the past several years, Carbon Clean, a global company that is revolutionizing carbon capture, has enjoyed significant expansion in North America. Following the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August 2022, we saw huge interest in our modular industrial carbon capture technology almost overnight, resulting in a 64 percent increase in inquiries from the U.S. To meet this booming demand, we have opened a U.S. headquarters in Houston, and have plans to double our U.S. headcount to meet industry requirements for our scalable and cost-effective technology, CycloneCC. In short, the United States is poised to become our biggest market. Given our latest lead investor and partner is Houston-based Chevron New Energies, there is no better place than Houston to drive innovation in the country’s energy sector.

The IRA did more than just bring in new inquiries for our breakthrough technology – it also signaled to the energy sector that the federal government is getting serious about bringing emissions down. The impact of the IRA cannot be overstated, especially for the point-source carbon capture technology pioneered by Carbon Clean. While the IRA involves billions of dollars of public investment, it is set up in such a way that companies must make substantial investments first, acting as a down payment on fostering jobs and ensuring the business community is delivering ambitious climate action. The benefits are being felt locally as well – cities like Houston are at the forefront of what the IRA has to offer, taking advantage of these investments and reducing emissions.

Companies and stakeholders across the energy spectrum need to act together and act fast. With the dramatic growth required for carbon capture to have full effect, it will be essential for government, industry, and innovators to join together to concentrate on a number of projects and clusters. We are confident that with new cutting-edge technology and broad collaboration we can rapidly get the world on the right path to net zero.

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Prateek Bumb is CTO and co-founder of Carbon Clean and the principal innovator of Carbon Clean’s industrial carbon capture technologies.

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3 Houston sustainability startups score prizes at Rice University pitch competition

seeing green

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

ExxonMobil's $60B acquisition gets FTC clearance — with one condition

M&A moves

ExxonMobil's $60 billion deal to buy Pioneer Natural Resources on Thursday received clearance from the Federal Trade Commission, but the former CEO of Pioneer was barred from joining the new company's board of directors.

The FTC said Thursday that Scott Sheffield, who founded Pioneer in 1997, colluded with OPEC and OPEC+ to potentially raise crude oil prices. Sheffield retired from the company in 2016, but he returned as president and CEO in 2019, served as CEO from 2021 to 2023, and continues to serve on the board. Since Jan. 1, he has served as special adviser to the company’s chief executive.

“Through public statements, text messages, in-person meetings, WhatsApp conversations and other communications while at Pioneer, Sheffield sought to align oil production across the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico with OPEC+,” according to the FTC. It proposed a consent order that Exxon won't appoint any Pioneer employee, with a few exceptions, to its board.

Dallas-based Pioneer said in a statement it disagreed with the allegations but would not impede closing of the merger, which was announced in October 2023.

“Sheffield and Pioneer believe that the FTC’s complaint reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. and global oil markets and misreads the nature and intent of Mr. Sheffield’s actions,” the company said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was “disappointing that FTC is making the same mistake they made 25 years ago when I warned about the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1999.”

Schumer and 22 other Democratic senators had urged the FTC to investigate the deal and a separate merger between Chevron and Hess, saying they could lead to higher prices, hurt competition and force families to pay more at the pump.

The deal with Pioneer vastly expands Exxon’s presence in the Permian Basin, a huge oilfield that straddles the border between Texas and New Mexico. Pioneer’s more than 850,000 net acres in the Midland Basin will be combined with Exxon’s 570,000 net acres in the Delaware and Midland Basin, nearly contiguous fields that will allow the combined company to trim costs.