Joe Powell has been named to a committee for the United States Department of Energy. Photo courtesy of UH

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm appointed a Houston leader to a prestigious committee.

Joe Powell, founding executive director of the Energy Transition Institute at the University of Houston, has been named to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Industrial Technology Innovation Advisory Committee (ITIAC), which consists of 18 members of “diverse stakeholders” according to a news release from the university.

“The collaborative work of the ITIAC aligns seamlessly with the mission of the Energy Transition Institute at the University of Houston," Powell says in a news release. “Together, we will endeavor to drive impactful change in the realm of industrial decarbonization and pave the way for a sustainable future.”

Powell brings 36 years of industry experience to the committee, as he is a distinguished member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and former chief scientist at Shell. He was recruited by the University of Houston in 2022 through a matching grant from the Texas Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI).

The Energy Transition Institute at UH focuses on hydrogen, carbon management, and circular plastics and collaborates closely with the University's Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute and researchers from various disciplines, and other partners in academia and various industries.

Also named to the committee is Chevron Technology Venture's general manager of strategy and technology, Akshay Sahni.

The committee’s mandate includes identifying potential investment opportunities and technical assistance programs. They also assist in helping to bring decarbonization technologies into the marketplace. Committee members will evaluate DOE’s department-wide decarbonization efforts, which includes initiatives that advance the two Energy Earthshots related to industrial decarbonization in the Clean Fuels & Products Shot and the Industrial Heat Shot.

The projects are among 16 other early-stage research projects at U.S. colleges and universities to receive a total of $17.4 million from the DOE's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

3 Houston energy projects land $17.4M in federal funding for early-stage research

grants granted

Three projects from the University of Houston have been awarded funds from the U.S. Department of Energy for research on decarbonization and emissions.

The projects are among 16 other early-stage research projects at U.S. colleges and universities to receive a total of $17.4 million from the DOE's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM).

“These three projects show the relevance and quality of the research at UH and our commitment to making a meaningful impact by addressing society’s needs and challenges by doing critical work that impacts the real world,” Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president for energy and innovation at UH, says in a statement. “The success of these project could attract investment, create jobs, produce clean energy, save costs, reduce carbon emissions, and benefit not only the greater Houston area, but the Gulf Coast and beyond.”

The projects were selected under FECM’s University Training and Research program, which aims to support "research and development opportunities for traditionally underrepresented communities and tap into the innovative and diverse thinking of student researchers," according to an announcement from the DOE.

Here are the projects from UH and their funding amounts:

A Comprehensive Roadmap for Repurposing Offshore Infrastructure for Clean Energy Projects in the Gulf of Mexico, $749,992 — Led by Ram Seetharam, UH Energy program officer, this project looks at ways to prolong the life of platforms, wells and pipelines in the Gulf Coast and will create a plan "covering technical, social, and regulatory aspects, as well as available resources," according to UH.

Houston Hydrogen Transportation Pilot, $750,000— Led by Christine Ehlig-Economides, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen, and managed by Joe Powell, this project will demonstrate the potential for a hydrogen refueling pilot in Houston. The first phase will create a system to optimize hydrogen and the second will create a workforce training network. The project is in collaboration with Prairie View A&M University.

Synergizing Minority-Serving Institution Partnerships for Carbon-Negative Geologic Hydrogen Production, $1.5 million — This project is in collaboration with Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability and Texas Tech. The project will create a visiting scholars program for students from UH and TTU, who will spend one month per year at Stanford for three years. While in the program, students will focus on creating carbon-negative hydrogen from rocks beneath the Earth's surface. Kyung Jae Lee, associate professor in the Department of Petroleum Engineering at UH, is working alongside colleagues at TTU and Stanford on this project.

Other projects in the group come from the University of Texas at El Paso, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Tennessee State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Duke University and more.

Last year the DOE also awarded $2 million to Harris and Montgomery counties for projects that improve energy efficiency and infrastructure in the region. Click here to read about those projects.

The DOE also granted more than $10 million in funding to four carbon capture projects with ties to Houston last summer.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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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.”