ExxonMobil and Intel are working to design, test, research and develop new liquid cooling technologies to optimize data center performance and help customers meet their sustainability goals.

Two multinational corporations have announced a new collaboration to create energy-efficient and sustainable solutions for data centers as the market experiences significant growth.

ExxonMobil and Intel are working to design, test, research and develop new liquid cooling technologies to optimize data center performance and help customers meet their sustainability goals. Liquid cooling solutions serve as an alternative to traditional air-cooling methods in data centers.

“Our partnership with ExxonMobil to co-develop turnkey solutions for liquid cooling will enable significant energy and water savings for data center and network deployments,” said Jen Huffstetler, Chief Product Sustainability Officer, Intel.

According to consulting firm McKinsey, “a hyperscaler’s data center can use as much power as 80,000 households do,” and that demand is expected to keep surging. Power consumption by the U.S. data center market is forecasted “to reach 35 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, up from 17 GW in 2022,” according to a McKinsey analysis. Artificial intelligence and machine learning, and other advanced computing techniques are increasing computational workloads, and in return, increasing electricity demand. Therefore, companies are searching for solutions to support this growth.

ExxonMobil launched its full portfolio of data center immersion fluid products last year. The partnership with Intel will allow them to further advance their efforts in this market.

“By integrating ExxonMobil’s proven expertise in liquid cooling technologies with Intel’s long legacy of industry leadership in world-changing computing technologies, together we will further the industry’s adoption and acceptance as it transitions to liquid cooling technologies,” said Sarah Horne, Vice President, ExxonMobil.

Learn more about this collaboration here.

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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 htxenergytransition.org.

The UH team is developing ways to use machine learning to ensure that power systems can continue to run efficiently when pulling their energy from wind and solar sources. Photo via Getty Images

Houston researcher wins competitive NSF award for work tying machine learning to the power grid

grant funding

An associate professor at the University of Houston received the highly competitive National Science Foundation CAREER Award earlier this month for a proposal focused on integrating renewable resources to improve power grids.

The award grants more than $500,000 to Xingpeng Li, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and leader of the Renewable Power Grid Lab at UH, to continue his work on developing ways to use machine learning to ensure that power systems can continue to run efficiently when pulling their energy from wind and solar sources, according to a statement from UH. This work has applications in the events of large disturbances to the grid.

Li explains that currently, power grids run off of converted, stored kinetic energy during grid disturbances.

"For example, when the grid experiences sudden large generation losses or increased electrical loads, the stored kinetic energy immediately converted to electrical energy and addressed the temporary shortfall in generation,” Li said in a statement. “However, as the proportion of wind and solar power increases in the grid, we want to maximize their use since their marginal costs are zero and they provide clean energy. Since we reduce the use of those traditional generators, we also reduce the power system inertia (or stored kinetic energy) substantially.”

Li plans to use machine learning to create more streamlined models that can be implemented into day-ahead scheduling applications that grid operators currently use.

“With the proposed new modeling and computational approaches, we can better manage grids and ensure it can supply continuous quality power to all the consumers," he said.

In addition to supporting Li's research and model creations, the funds will also go toward Li and his team's creation of a free, open-source tool for students from kindergarten up through their graduate studies. They are also developing an “Applied Machine Learning in Power Systems” course. Li says the course will help meet workforce needs.

The CAREER Award recognizes early-career faculty members who “have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” according to the NSF. It's given to about 500 researchers each year.

Earlier this year, Rice assistant professor Amanda Marciel was also granted an NSF CAREER Award to continue her research in designing branch elastomers that return to their original shape after being stretched. The research has applications in stretchable electronics and biomimetic tissues.
The new course will provide participants with insights on how to use robotics to enhance efficiency in data collection, AI data analysis tools for industry, risk management with AI, and more. Photo courtesy of UH

Houston university launches latest micro-credential course focused on AI, robotics for the energy industry

coming soon

The University of Houston will launch its latest micro-credential course next month that focuses on how AI and robotics can be used in inspection processes for the energy industry.

Running from March 22 through April 22, the course is open to "engineers, technicians and industry professionals with advanced knowledge in the dynamic fields of robotics and AI," according to a statement from UH. It will combine weekly online lectures and in-person hands-on demonstrations and provide participants with insights on how to use robotics to enhance efficiency in data collection, AI data analysis tools for industry, risk management with AI, and more.

“By blending theoretical knowledge with practical applications and hands-on experience, the course aims to empower participants with the skills needed to evaluate and adopt these advanced technologies to address real-world challenges in asset management,” Vedhus Hoskere, assistant professor at the UH Cullen College of Engineering, said in a statement. “We hope that upskilling and knowledge gained from this course will help accelerate the adoption of AI and robotics and contribute to the advancement of safer and more resource-efficient energy infrastructure systems.”

Hoskere will teach the course module titled “Computer Vision and Deep Learning for Inspections.” He also recently received a $500,000 grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to look at how to use drones, cameras, sensors and AI to support Texas' bridge maintenance programs.

Other leaders of the UH Energy course will include:

  • Kimberley Hayes, founder of Valkim Technologies: Lead speaker who will provide an overview and introduction of AI applications, standards and certification
  • Gangbing Song, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UH: Machine learning hands-on exercises
  • Pete Peterson, head of product management and marketing with XaaS Lab: Computer vision technology in the oil and gas industry
  • Matthew Alberts, head of project management with Future Technologies Venture Venture LLC: Use cases, workflow and optimizing inspections with AI and drones
  • Suchet Bargoti, chief technology officer at Abyss Solutions: AI and robots for integrity management.

Registration accepted up to the first day of the course and can be completed online.

The world can't keep on with what it's doing and expect to reach its goals when it comes to climate change. Radical innovations are needed at this point, writes Scott Nyquist. Photo via Getty Images

Only radical innovation can get the world to its climate goals, says this Houston expert

guest column

Almost 3 years ago, McKinsey published a report arguing that limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels was “technically achievable,” but that the “math is daunting.” Indeed, when the 1.5°C figure was agreed to at the 2015 Paris climate conference, the assumption was that emissions would peak before 2025, and then fall 43 percent by 2030.

Given that 2022 saw the highest emissions ever—36.8 gigatons—the math is now more daunting still: cuts would need to be greater, and faster, than envisioned in Paris. Perhaps that is why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted March 20 (with “high confidence”) that it was “likely that warming will exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century.”

I agree with that gloomy assessment. Given the rate of progress so far, 1.5°C looks all but impossible. That puts me in the company of people like Bill Gates; the Economist; the Australian Academy of Science, and apparently many IPCC scientists. McKinsey has estimated that even if all countries deliver on their net zero commitments, temperatures will likely be 1.7°C higher in 2100.

In October, the UN Environment Program argued that there was “no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place” and called for “an urgent system-wide transformation” to change the trajectory. Among the changes it considers necessary: carbon taxes, land use reform, dietary changes in which individuals “consume food for environmental sustainability and carbon reduction,” investment of $4 trillion to $6 trillion a year; applying current technology to all new buildings; no new fossil fuel infrastructure. And so on.

Let’s assume that the UNEP is right. What are the chances of all this happening in the next few years? Or, indeed, any of it? President Obama’s former science adviser, Daniel Schrag, put it this way: “ Who believes that we can halve global emissions by 2030?... It’s so far from reality that it’s kind of absurd.”

Having a goal is useful, concentrating minds and organizing effort. And I think that has been the case with 1.5°C, or recent commitments to get to net zero. Targets create a sense of urgency that has led to real progress on decarbonization.

The 2020 McKinsey report set out how to get on the 1.5°C pathway, and was careful to note that this was not a description of probability or reality but “a picture of a world that could be.” Three years later, that “world that could be” looks even more remote.

Consider the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter. In 2021, 79 percent of primary energy demand (see chart) was met by fossil fuels, about the same as a decade before. Globally, the figures are similar, with renewables accounting for just 12.5 percent of consumption and low-emissions nuclear another 4 percent. Those numbers would have to basically reverse in the next decade or so to get on track. I don’t see how that can happen.

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Credit: Energy Information Administration

But even if 1.5°C is improbable in the short term, that doesn’t mean that missing the target won’t have consequences. And it certainly doesn’t mean giving up on addressing climate change. And in fact, there are some positive trends. Many companies are developing comprehensive plans for achieving net-zero emissions and are making those plans part of their long-term strategy. Moreover, while global emissions grew 0.9 percent in 2022, that was much less than GDP growth (3.2 percent). It’s worth noting, too, that much of the increase came from switching from gas to coal in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine; that is the kind of supply shock that can be reversed. The point is that growth and emissions no longer move in lockstep; rather the opposite. That is critical because poorer countries are never going to take serious climate action if they believe it threatens their future prosperity.

Another implication is that limiting emissions means addressing the use of fossil fuels. As noted, even with the substantial rise in the use of renewables, coal, gas, and oil are still the core of the global energy system. They cannot be wished away. Perhaps it is time to think differently—that is, making fossil fuels more emissions efficient, by using carbon capture or other technologies; cutting methane emissions; and electrifying oil and gas operations. This is not popular among many climate advocates, who would prefer to see fossil fuels “stay in the ground.” That just isn’t happening. The much likelier scenario is that they are gradually displaced. McKinsey projects peak oil demand later this decade, for example, and for gas, maybe sometime in the late 2030s. Even after the peak, though, oil and gas will still be important for decades.

Second, in the longer term, it may be possible to get back onto 1.5°C if, in addition to reducing emissions, we actually remove them from the atmosphere, in the form of “negative emissions,” such as direct air capture and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage in power and heavy industry. The IPCC itself assumed negative emissions would play a major role in reaching the 1.5°C target; in fact, because of cost and deployment problems, it’s been tiny.

Finally, as I have argued before, it’s hard to see how we limit warming even to 2°C without more nuclear power, which can provide low-emissions energy 24/7, and is the largest single source of such power right now.

None of these things is particularly popular; none get the publicity of things like a cool new electric truck or an offshore wind farm (of which two are operating now in the United States, generating enough power for about 20,000 homes; another 40 are in development). And we cannot assume fast development of offshore wind. NIMBY concerns have already derailed some high-profile projects, and are also emerging in regard to land-based wind farms.

Carbon capture, negative emissions, and nuclear will have to face NIMBY, too. But they all have the potential to move the needle on emissions. Think of the potential if fast-growing India and China, for example, were to develop an assembly line of small nuclear reactors. Of course, the economics have to make sense—something that is true for all climate-change technologies.

And as the UN points out, there needs to be progress on other issues, such as food, buildings, and finance. I don’t think we can assume that such progress will happen on a massive scale in the next few years; the actual record since Paris demonstrates the opposite. That is troubling: the IPCC notes that the risks of abrupt and damaging impacts, such as flooding and crop yields, rise “with every increment of global warming.” But it is the reality.

There is one way to get us to 1.5°C, although not in the Paris timeframe: a radical acceleration of innovation. The approaches being scaled now, such as wind, solar, and batteries, are the same ideas that were being discussed 30 years ago. We are benefiting from long-term, incremental improvements, not disruptive innovation. To move the ball down the field quickly, though, we need to complete a Hail Mary pass.

It’s a long shot. But we’re entering an era of accelerated innovation, driven by advanced computing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning that could narrow the odds. For example, could carbon nanotubes displace demand for high-emissions steel? Might it be possible to store carbon deep in the ocean? Could geo-engineering bend the curve?

I believe that, on the whole, the world is serious about climate change. I am certain that the energy transition is happening. But I don’t think we are anywhere near to being on track to hit the 1.5°C target. And I don’t see how doing more of the same will get us there.

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Scott Nyquist is a senior advisor at McKinsey & Company and vice chairman, Houston Energy Transition Initiative of the Greater Houston Partnership. The views expressed herein are Nyquist's own and not those of McKinsey & Company or of the Greater Houston Partnership. This article originally ran on LinkedIn.

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3 Houston clean energy startups advance in Elon Musk-backed cleantech competition

finalists

Twenty promising climatetech companies were selected to advance to the final stage of a global competition backed by Elon Musk's foundation — and three of the finalists hail from Houston.

Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics secured finalists spots in XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions. XPRIZE Carbon Removal will offer $100 million to innovators who are creating solutions that removes carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or the oceans, and then sequester it sustainably.

"For the world to effectively address greenhouse gas emissions, carbon removal is an essential element of the path to Net Zero. There's no way to reverse humanity's impact on the climate without extracting carbon from our atmosphere and oceans," Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE, says in a news release. "We need a range of bold, innovative CDR solutions to manage the vast quantities of CO2 released into our environment and impacting our planet.

"The teams that have been competing for this Prize are all part of building a set of robust and effective solutions and our 20 teams advancing to the final stage of XPRIZE Carbon Removal will have an opportunity to demonstrate their potential to have a significant impact on the climate," Ansari continues.

The finalists — categorized into four sections: air, rocks, oceans, and land — were selected based upon their performance in three key areas: operations, sustainability, and cost. The full list of 20 finalists is available online.

Around 20 Houston-area companies were initially identified by the challenge. Here's a look at the three that are advancing to the finals:

  • Mati, in the Rocks category, durably removes carbon from the atmosphere using basalt based enhanced rock weathering (ERW) in smallholder rice paddy farms. This process, which is being demonstrated in India, removes atmospheric CO2 while adding key nutrients in the soil helping to restore degraded soils to benefit smallholder farmers.
  • Climate Robotics, in the Land category, enables broad-scale agriculture adoption of biochar which builds soil health and removes excess carbon from the atmosphere. The company's mobile technology converts crop residues into durable biochar on the fly and in the field, making the economics work for farmers and our ecosystems.
  • Vaulted Deep, also in the Land category, delivers scalable, permanent, carbon removal by geologically sequestering carbon-filled organic wastes. Their patented slurry sequestration, which involves the geological injection of minimally processed wastes for permanent (10,000+ year) carbon removal.

"This cohort of exceptional teams represents a diversity of innovations and solutions across a range of CDR pathways, and shows the significant progress the industry is making in a short period of time," Nikki Batchelor, executive director of XPRIZE Carbon Removal, says in the release. "Over the past three years, this competition has helped accelerate the pace of technology development for a whole new industry of high-potential solutions aimed at reversing climate change."

ExxonMobil invests $17M with nonprofit to fund more STEM instruction, resources

future workforce

The ExxonMobil Foundation announced they are collaborating with the Khan Academy on the Open Doors Project, which aims to bring free math and science courses and teacher guides to Texas in a larger goal to inspire new STEM leaders.

The Open Doors Project will be the largest single curriculum project for Khan Academy, and will reach schools in Houston.

“Our main goal with this program is to meet the needs of Texas teachers and students,” Sal Khan, founder and CEO of Khan Academy, says in a news release. “We’re grateful for the ExxonMobil Foundation’s vision and support for developing courses and teacher guides that will deliver world-class math and science resources to students and teachers when and where they need it.”

The ExxonMobil Foundation is providing support for the creation of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)-aligned math and science courses for 3-12 grades through the Open Doors Project. These courses will make it easier to align with the non-profit Khan Academy’s vision of providing free “world-class education” in their classrooms.

The program will include structured lesson plans and instructional guidance that are adaptable for students' various learning styles to help reach “mastery” level of multiple STEM topics. The first round of courses will begin on June 30 with additional courses to come in 2025 and 2026.

The ExxonMobil Foundation has invested more than $17 million in the Open Doors Project, and offers additional support through the Khan Academy Districts to primary and secondary schools in areas where ExxonMobil operates, which includes Houston, Western Texas and the Gulf Coast. Khan Academy is available in large institutions like Kipp and Houston Independent School District, which uses the academy as part of its college readiness program.

“We’re committed to addressing the gap in STEM education,” Alvin Abraham, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation, says in a news release. “With Khan Academy’s help, we can empower teachers to work with students to master the STEM curriculum and take their knowledge into careers that can change the world.”

Houston university's compost program reaches major milestone

seeing green

Rice University and its campus community have officially diverted over 1 million pounds of food waste from landfills.

The university, which works with Houston-based Moonshot Compost, reported the milestone achievement this month. The program was originally launched in November 2020.

“The genesis of the current composting program was a partnership between Housing and Dining, the Office of Sustainability and an undergraduate student named Ashley Fitzpatrick,” says Richard Johnson, senior executive director for sustainability at Rice, in a news release.

“We spent quite a bit of time developing options for food waste composting at Rice with those efforts really ramping up in 2019. After a pilot project, further reflection and an interruption due to the pandemic, we found Moonshot Compost, and they proved to be the partner we needed.”

Fitzpatrick, the student who started it all went on to graduate and now works for Moonshot Compost. She did leave a legacy of student involvement in the program, and Isabelle Chang now serves as an undergraduate student intern in the Office of Sustainability. The role includes liaising with students and other major players on campus who have feedback for the program.

Rice previously had a composting program, but it never reached the same level of scale, per the news release.

“Many years ago — from the late 1990s to about 2007 — we had an on-campus composting device called the Earth Tub that provided food waste composting at one campus kitchen,” Johnson said. “However, the device failed, and frankly, the process of operating the device, getting the food waste into the device and maintaining it all proved onerous. Interest in composting remained after we decommissioned the Earth Tub, and for years we looked for alternatives [before finding Moonshot Compost].”

Launched in July 2020 by Chris Wood and Joe Villa, Moonshot operates with a team of drivers utilizing its data platform to quantify the environmental benefits of composting. The duo went on to team up with energy industry veteran Rene Ramirez to harness their compost into clean hydrogen power.

Last fall, Moonshot Hydrogen signed a memorandum of understanding with the Purdue Innovates Office of Technology Commercialization. The agreement includes facilitating the first operating commercial pilot that biologically turns food waste into hydrogen.