The first phase of the Pelican Gulf Coast Carbon Removal project recently received nearly $4.9 million in grants. Photo via Getty Images

The University of Houston is spilling details about its role in a potential direct air capture, or DAC, hub in Louisiana.

The first phase of the Pelican Gulf Coast Carbon Removal project recently received nearly $4.9 million in grants, including almost $3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. Led by Louisiana State University, the Pelican consortium includes UH and Shell, whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston.

The funding will go toward studying the feasibility of a DAC hub that would pull carbon dioxide from the air and either store it in deep geological formations or use it to manufacture various products, such as concrete.

“This support of development and deployment of direct air capture technologies is a vital part of carbon management and allows us to explore sustainable technological and commercial opportunities,” Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president for energy and innovation at UH, says in a news release.

Chemical engineer Joseph Powell, founding executive director of the university’s Energy Transition Institute, will be the primary leader of UH’s work on the Pelican project.

“DAC can be an important technology for addressing difficult-to-decarbonize sectors such as aviation and marine transport as well as chemicals, or to achieve negative emissions goals,” Powell says.

Powell, a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, was Shell’s first-ever chief scientist for chemical engineering from 2006 until his retirement in 2020. He joined Shell in 1988.

Shell is the Pelican project’s “technical delivery partner.”

“Advancing carbon management technologies is a critical part of the energy transition, and effectively scaling this technology will require continued collaboration, discipline, and innovation,” says Adam Prince, general manager of carbon capture storage strategy and growth at Shell.

The University of Houston has received a grant from the Baker Hughes Foundation. Photo via

University's energy transition hub scores $100,000 grant from energy corporation

just gifted

A Houston school is cashing in a major gift from a local energy company in order to support the industry's future workforce, research, and more.

The University of Houston Energy Transition Institute received a $100,000 grant from the Baker Hughes Foundation this week, which will work towards the ETI’s goals to support workforce development programs, and environmental justice research.

The program addresses the impact of energy transition solutions in geographical areas most-affected by environmental impacts.

“We are proud to support the University of Houston in its environmental justice research and workforce development programs; at Baker Hughes, we strive to take energy forward, and are committed to a fair and just energy transition,” says Chief Sustainability Officer Allyson Book in a news release. “Novel educational approaches centered around social, climate and environmental justice are crucial to creating a sustainable future for generations to come.”

The grant aims to help ETI in analyzing environmental footprints of energy use processes, energy use processes, impact on health, and emissions, as well as support the university’s Energy Scholars Program, which focuses on research programs on carbon management, hydrogen, and circular plastics for undergraduate students.The donation also supports Baker Hughes’ work with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that work to ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education for all.”

“We look forward to working with the Baker Hughes Foundation to address grand challenges in energy and chemicals and create a sustainable and equitable future for all,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at UH.

ETI launched a year ago through a $10 million grant from Shell USA Inc. and Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc., and is led by Joe Powell, who opted to take the helm of the program over retiring, telling EnergyCapital that it was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

UH has announced a central campus innovation hub that will house UH's programs for STEM, social sciences, business and arts. Slated to open in 2025, the 70,000 square foot hub will house a makerspace, the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, the Energy Transition Institute, innovation programs, and Presidential Frontier Faculty labs and offices.

“The University of Houston aims to transform lives and communities through education, research, innovation and service in a real-world setting," Krishnamoorti says in a news release. “I am confident that working together we will make a greater impact.”

Joseph Powell, founding director of UH Energy Transition Institute, discusses the institute's role in the clean energy landscape and their corporate partnerships. Photo via

University of Houston's energy transition exec unpacks future of institute, partnerships, and more


Joseph Powell is about six months into his role as the founding director of the University of Houston’s Shell-backed Energy Transition Institute but already is eyeing how the Institute can aid generations to come through clean energy.

The Energy Transition Institute, which launched a year ago through a $10 million grant from Shell USA Inc. and Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc., is focused on three core areas of clean energy: hydrogen, carbon management, and circular plastics. Powell previously served as chief scientist for Shell as a chemical engineer and has co-invented 60 granted patents.

Powell discussed with EnergyCapital the projects ETI is excited for, opportunities for students to get involved, and their partnership with corporations.

EnergyCapitalHTX: To get started with a little bit of background, the University of Houston Energy Transition Institute was established in March 2020 with a $10 million commitment from Shell. So why did the university decide now is the time for an institute like this to be formed?

Joseph Powell: Houston is the energy capital, and the energy transition has been on everyone's mind, and so certainly now is the right time for an offering to industry to look at how to coordinate activities in that space. We reached out to Shell, which has really made strong commitments in terms of making the pivot from being an oil and gas company to being an energy company and really embracing the energy transition and everything that goes along with that. There was a strong relationship between University of Houston and Shell on the recruitment side, so a number of the Shell staff and employees. UH has been one of the principal suppliers of talent to Shell as an organization, also on the research side in terms of research around hydrogen chemical reaction engineering, and other aspects on the social and community benefits side of what happens with energy. So, there's been quite a bit of overlap. I think Shell saw it as really important to be partnering in the energy capital of the world, to be providing that pipeline of talent for what's going to be needed for the energy transition.

EC: You decided to come to UH to lead the Energy Transition Institute over retiring. What inspired you to take on this role? What’s your vision for the organization?

JP: It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. I had worked 36 years in the industry, for Exxon and 32 years with Shell. The elements of the Energy Transition Institute were something that I was very passionate about working on with Shell, since I've been promoted to chief scientist of chemical engineering for the growth global group in 2006. I was involved in helping Shell set its strategy to become a full energy company and chemicals, not just oil and gas. I was involved in the elements of that transition, and then I also had a very strong interest in sustainability in terms of how to manage not only the greenhouse gas footprints of the company, but also elements on the chemical side that go with sustainability.

Shell wanted to combine those two into an energy transition Institute, circular plastics and chemicals were a major focus of that, along with hydrogen as a clean vector for future energy. I was involved with Shell and helped to put together some of their moonshots for how hydrogen can be used in the future economy. The Biden administration has now termed moonshots as Earthshots for the US to be able to use hydrogen as that clean vector to deliver renewable and other forms of energy going forward, as well as carbon management, so I was heavily involved Shell’s planning for how to deal with CO2, whether to capture it and put it underground, or capture it and use it. I'm on the National Academy study team right now, looking at what is the potential to be using some of that CO2 into products as opposed to storing it underground. All of those elements were important and in line with things that I care about and have been heavily involved with, throughout my career. So, why retire when one can be engaged with all of those types of things and now help the next generation come up to speed and take that over and drive it into 2050 and beyond what needs to be done?

EC: How is UH engaging with corporate partners? Why is a collaboration of this nature important?

JP: This collaboration is important for several reasons. One is that we are that bridge to the students and workforce of the future. It's very important for this generation to be as excited about careers and energy as I was, coming up during the energy crisis of the last century and we thought we were absolutely out of energy. We had rationing of gasoline and other things going on, back when I was in high school. Now we have many sources of energy, in a certain sense an energy abundance, but we really need to be looking at the environmental footprint, impact on the climate and then what forms of energy we want to be using. Then you add to that the issue with the impact of plastics on the environment, and how to drive to a more circular economy where we're recycling those and having less of that escape into the environment; those are all strong drivers of what needs to be done going forward.

It takes a lot of energy to process chemicals, plastics, and materials in a circular manner. Developing that workforce of the future means we need the students who want to engage in these efforts and making sure that those opportunities are available across the board to people of all different economic backgrounds in terms of participating in what is going to be just a tremendous growth engine for the future in terms of jobs and opportunities. You're looking at trillions of dollars of annual investment that's needed to manage the energy transition, so it's a really exciting opportunity for those who want to be going into those careers. It's not just science and engineering, but also jobs in law, policy, and communications, because there's a tremendous need for knowledge and background in the energy transition in order to be effective in that going forward. We want to have all the good talent that can be attracted to that arena as a way to address the problem. It's a grand challenge.

We want to make sure that in addition to the research opportunities, since UH is a Tier 1 research institute, we focus on working very closely with industry; there's a number of multinational and local chemical and energy companies that have their research centers and home offices in the Houston area. We can develop those close relationships between the researchers and business interests involved with the students at the university, because we're right here and co-located and can really develop some very strong working teams in that space. It's been exciting to be responding to the federal grant opportunities, which have been abundant in the last year and a half and putting together proposals, to be engaging the industry investigators along with the university students to work on some of those problems. It's a good win-win for both.

We also get to be a trusted voice in the overall equation because there's a lot to know and understand about energy and circular chemicals. They’re more nuanced and complex than what may appear in the news headlines in terms of understanding the trade-offs that have to be worked out, in order to optimize for everyone who's involved. The university can bring in that broad set of stakeholders and have a conversation and make sure that all those co-benefits are understood and the issues that come with energy infrastructure are also worked through for people impacted by the infrastructure but also the benefits of clean air, cleaner environment, and reduced risk of climate change.

EC: Are there any particular technologies the institute is focusing on or excited about at the moment?

JP: I'm really big on hydrogen as an energy vector for the future. Currently, we use hydrogen primarily in refining petroleum into gasoline and diesel and also making fertilizer which is very important for mankind. There was a Nobel Prize on that, you know, more than 100 years ago, and the importance of being able to grow food at rates the planet’s population requires.

Hydrogen now is being looked at, beyond those applications as essentially the diesel or gasoline of the future and also the liquefied natural gas of the future. It can be a clean vector, because you can put it into a fuel cell and generate energy cleanly where water is the only product of that reaction. That can be used to drive quite a number of energy related processes that are currently using combustion of fossil fuels that contain carbon. One of the interesting things is that hydrogen can be supplied to trucks and buses, agricultural tractors, and such. Most of the goods that you're buying today are produced in warehouses where the forklifts are running on hydrogen fuel cells rather than batteries because they refuel so quickly. It's cleaner than emissions. So then there's good air quality in the warehouses. There are more than 60,000 hydrogen-fueled forklifts now in the US, because of that value proposition. We see that for this heavy duty transportation, hydrogen is that very clean vector, you can make it by taking renewable energy and splitting water into hydrogen so it can be very clean. It can also be made from the abundant natural gas we have in Texas and storing the CO2 underground and then using the clean hydrogen for that fuel. That's one of the very exciting new value propositions that go with the Institute.

The second one is carbon management. The Energy Transition Institute will sit within UH Energy, which was founded a number of years ago and so it's looking at the transition part of energy, but UH Energy has its Center for Carbon Management in Energy, which has been focusing capturing and storing CO2 underground off of the existing facilities that we have up and running. They're run by Chuck McConnell but what we will do with ETI is extend that more onto the research side for some of the new things coming along in terms of capturing and utilizing CO2. I'm on a national academy study looking at where and how we want to be turning that CO2 into usable products, using energy and hydrogen, to make a number of those projects. That synergizes with hydrogen as part of the Institute.

Capturing and converting CO2 into usable products is certainly one of the exciting opportunities and then also to reuse those products we've already been making. There are also so many nice things you can do with hydrogen in terms of energy storage, and also helping to upgrade some of the carbon dioxide into usable products, but then also bio feedstock, you can take crop residues or trees and other energy type materials and use hydrogen to upgrade those into those types of plastic materials as well. That's another place where hydrogen is combined with managing a carbon resource to make a more sustainable plastic or polymer.

EC: With UH’s strong emphasis on research and entrepreneurship, is the Institute playing to these strengths within its programming and opportunities to further this trend and if so how?

JP: The money that's been funded by Shell into the launch of the Institute, and then that's been leveraged up to the $52 million point through various donors matching funds. With that, we will be hiring additional faculty to work in this space so that we can further expand the research that's being done. Each new faculty member becomes the opportunity for three things: more coursework in the area around energy, which impacts the student education; the hiring of graduate students who will be doing research; and then that also translates into undergraduate opportunities to be working in the labs and learning. We're also going to be building a new innovation hub in the center of campus here. It will be right across from the MD Anderson library where the old College of Technology building had been located.

On the first floor, there will be a makerspace where the students with ideas and people from the community will be able to come in and have access to 3D printers and other types of materials to put their widgets and prototypes together. On the second floor, then will be the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, which has the top undergraduate program in terms of entrepreneurship so they will hold mentorships, present there, in classroom-like settings, getting people involved with launching an idea and taking it forth into the commercial marketplace. The Energy Transition Institute will be on the third floor because so much of that innovation will be involved in the space of energy transition, which is really the main growth engine for expanding research at the university. Then we'll have on the top floor some laboratories, not only on chemistry and materials, but also on data science. And so we have a Data Science Institute, set up by HPE here at UH, looking at for example how artificial intelligence, machine learning and all those kinds of things help you innovate in the energy materials and processes.

Having a hub that combines all of that together really is an attraction to get all those players together on campus and will be really a key to making all this happen. It's a really exciting place to get involved and if you're a student, having all that in front of you, in terms of opportunity, we think it'd be a great attraction.


This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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ExxonMobil revs up EV pilot in Permian Basin

seeing green

ExxonMobil has upgraded its Permian Basin fleet of trucks with sustainability in mind.

The Houston-headquartered company announced a new pilot program last week, rolling out 10 new all-electric pickup trucks at its Cowboy Central Delivery Point in southeast New Mexico. It's the first time the company has used EVs in any of its upstream sites, including the Permian Basin.

“We expect these EV trucks will require less maintenance, which will help reduce cost, while also contributing to our plan to achieve net zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions in our Permian operations by 2030," Kartik Garg, ExxonMobil's New Mexico production manager, says in a news release.

ExxonMobil has already deployed EV trucks at its facilities in Baytown, Beaumont, and Baton Rouge, but the Permian Basin, which accounts for about half of ExxonMobil's total U.S. oil production, is a larger site. The company reports that "a typical vehicle there can log 30,000 miles a year."

The EV rollout comes after the company announced last year that it plans to be a major supplier of lithium for EV battery technology.

At the end of last year, ExxonMobil increased its financial commitment to implementing more sustainable solutions. The company reported that it is pursuing more than $20 billion of lower-emissions opportunities through 2027.

Cowboys and the EVs of the Permian Basin |

Energy industry veteran named CEO of Houston hydrogen co.


Cleantech startup Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based energy biotech company Cemvita, has named oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as its CEO.

Sekhon previously held roles at companies such as NextEra Energy Resources and Hess. Most recently, he was a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team.

Gold H2 uses microbes to convert oil and gas in old, uneconomical wells into clean hydrogen. The approach to generating clean hydrogen is part of a multibillion-dollar market.

Gold H2 spun out of Cemvita last year with Moji Karimi, co-founder of Cemvita, leading the transition. Gold H2 spun out after successfully piloting its microbial hydrogen technology, producing hydrogen below 80 cents per kilogram.

The Gold H2 venture had been a business unit within Cemvita.

“I was drawn to Gold H2 because of its innovative mission to support the U.S. economy in this historical energy transition,” Sekhon says in a news release. “Over the last few years, my team [at NextEra] was heavily focused on the commercialization of clean hydrogen. When I came across Gold H2, it was clear that it was superior to each of its counterparts in both cost and [carbon intensity].”

Gold H2 explains that oil and gas companies have wrestled for decades with what to do with exhausted oil fields. With Gold H2’s first-of-its-kind biotechnology, these companies can find productive uses for oil wells by producing clean hydrogen at a low cost, the startup says.

“There is so much opportunity ahead of Gold H2 as the first company to use microbes in the subsurface to create a clean energy source,” Sekhon says. “Driving this dynamic industry change to empower clean hydrogen fuel production will be extremely rewarding.”


This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Q&A: CEO of bp-acquired RNG producer on energy sustainability, stability

the view from heti

bp’s Archaea Energy is the largest renewable natural gas (RNG) producer in the U.S., with an industry leading RNG platform and expertise in developing, constructing and operating RNG facilities to capture waste emissions and convert them into low carbon fuel.

Archaea partners with landfill owners, farmers and other facilities to help them transform their feedstock sources into RNG and convert these facilities into renewable energy centers.

Starlee Sykes, Archaea Energy’s CEO, shared more about bp’s acquisition of the company and their vision for the future.

HETI: bp completed its acquisition of Archaea in December 2022. What is the significance of this acquisition for bp, and how does it bolster Archaea’s mission to create sustainability and stability for future generations?  

Starlee Sykes: The acquisition was an important move to accelerate and grow our plans for bp’s bioenergy transition growth engine, one of five strategic transition growth engines. Archaea will not only play a pivotal role in bp’s transition and ambition to reach net zero by 2050 or sooner but is a key part of bp’s plan to increase biogas supply volumes.

HETI: Tell us more about how renewable natural gas is used and why it’s an important component of the energy transition?  

SS: Renewable natural gas (RNG) is a type of biogas generated by decomposing organic material at landfill sites, anaerobic digesters and other waste facilities – and demand for it is growing. Our facilities convert waste emissions into renewable natural gas. RNG is a lower carbon fuel, which according to the EPA can help reduce emissions, improve local air quality, and provide fuel for homes, businesses and transportation. Our process creates a productive use for methane which would otherwise be burned or vented to the atmosphere. And in doing so, we displace traditional fossil fuels from the energy system.

HETI: Archaea recently brought online a first-of-its-kind RNG plant in Medora, Indiana. Can you tell us more about the launch and why it’s such a significant milestone for the company?  

SS:Archaea’s Medora plant came online in October 2023 – it was the first Archaea RNG plant to come online since bp’s acquisition. At Medora, we deployed the Archaea Modular Design (AMD) which streamlines and accelerates the time it takes to build our plants. Traditionally, RNG plants have been custom-built, but AMD allows plants to be built on skids with interchangeable components for faster builds.

HETI: Now that the Medora plant is online, what does the future hold? What are some of Archaea’s priorities over the next 12 months and beyond?  

SS: We plan to bring online around 15 RNG plants in each of 2024 and 2025. Archaea has a development pipeline of more than 80 projects that underpin the potential for around five-fold growth in RNG production by 2030.

We will continue to operate around 50 sites across the US – including RNG plants, digesters and landfill gas-to-electric facilities.

And we are looking to the future. For example, at our Assai plant in Pennsylvania, the largest RNG plant in the US, we are in the planning stages to drill a carbon capture sequestration (CCS) appraisal well to determine if carbon dioxide sequestration could be feasible at this site, really demonstrating our commitment to decarbonization and the optionality in value we have across our portfolio.

HETI: bp has had an office in Washington, DC for many years. Can you tell us more about the role that legislation has to play in the energy transition? 

SS: Policy can play a critical role in advancing the energy transition, providing the necessary support to accelerate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. We actively advocate for such policies through direct lobbying, formal comments and testimony, communications activities and advertising. We also advocate with regulators to help inform their rulemakings, as with the US Environmental Protection Agency to support the finalization of a well-designed electric Renewable Identification Number (eRIN) program.

HETI: Science and innovation are key drivers of the energy transition. In your view, what are some of most exciting innovations supporting the goal to reach net-zero emissions?  

SS: We don’t just talk about innovation in bp, we do it – and have been for many years. This track record gives us confidence in continuing to transform, change and innovate at pace and scale. The Archaea Modular Design is a great example of the type of innovation that bp supports which enables us to pursue our goal of net-zero emissions.

Beyond Archaea, we have engineers and scientists across bp who are working on innovative solutions with the goal of lowering emissions. We believe that we need to invest in lower carbon energy to meet the world’s climate objectives, but we also need to invest in today’s energy system, which is primarily hydrocarbon focused. It’s an ‘and’ not ‘or’ approach, and we need both to be successful.

Learn more about Archaea and the work they are doing in energy transition.


This article originally ran on the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative blog. HETI exists to support Houston's future as an energy leader. For more information about the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, EnergyCapitalHTX's presenting sponsor, visit