Nabors executive Subodh Saxena challenged leaders to think more like Generation Z at OTC2023. Photo courtesy of nabors.com

Gone are the days of people, process, and technology. Welcome to purpose, partnering, and governance.

In the early morning hours of the third day of OTC2023, Subodh Saxena, senior vice president at Nabors Industries, succinctly summarized both the challenges and opportunities faced by an industry in the middle of an identity crisis.

The upstream energy industry focused the better part of the last two decades on physical safety, division and clarity of responsibilities, and technology adoption and adaptation. Rightfully so, given the Macondo incident of 2010, the Enron collapse in 2002, and the general wildfire growth of technology in the workplace over the same time frame.

But as leadership that came of age during these tragedies takes the reigns, a new set of challenges arises. Consistent lack of positive financial returns, a shrinking talent pool, and of course, the climate crisis, combine to form the perfect storm for an industry just trying to manage the rising and falling tides of unstable commodity pricing.

To avoid completely capsizing during this squall in which the industry finds itself, Saxena describes three opportunities for improvement.

  • Attracting new talent by creating psychological safety in our workplaces and improving the perception of technology adaptation in the industry
  • Embracing a collaborative approach to building new solutions to limit the amount of siloed rework that currently stymies rapid advancement
  • Improved financial discipline with greater honesty about ROI for the entire supply chain

“We have a mindset in the industry, that we have to build everything ourselves," Saxena laments. "We have to learn to partner because [if] every company invests in new technology to create transition, whether that's hydrogen or any other source of green energy, that return on invested capital is going to become negative. We need to learn to collaborate to ensure that we are all going to be successful.”

The requests made by Saxena represent a growing movement within the incumbent industry to think not of the energy transition as a shift from one energy source to another but as a transition in mindset. Collaboration is the name of the game now, as are mindfulness, responsibility, and above all else, sustainability.

Revisiting purpose, partnering, and governance to identify room for improvement will ultimately determine whether organizations will sink or sail.

Businesswoman, philanthropist, educator, and entertainer Revani “Rani” Puranik discusses the convergence of sustainability and work ethos as part of the Energy Transition. Photo courtesy of ranipuranik.com

Building a modern legacy of corporate and social responsibility

QUESTIONS + ANSWERS

With a mind for business and a passion for people, one woman leads the legacy her family trailblazed in corporate social responsibility.

Revani “Rani” Puranik, named successor for the CEO of Worldwide Oilfield Machine (“WOM”) and current Chair of the Puranik Foundation, continues the institutions her parents created with the same emphasis on mindfulness, sustainability, and opportunity for all.

In addition to extending the reach of WOM’s 3,000+ employees across 10 countries–and counting–Puranik shapes future leaders and innovators of energy through The Energy Project, a program launched in 2020 by the foundation to support young minds tackling environmental challenges for sustainable development across five sectors: Alternative Power Generation, Sustainable Consumption, Waste Management, Urban Design, and Water Sustainability.

In her upcoming book, Seven Letters to My Daughters, scheduled for release on May 24th, Puranik shares lessons in love, leadership, and legacy carved out of distinct seven-year periods of her life. And if inspiring the next generation and writing a book weren’t enough, Puranik has her eyes set on building a more holistic charter school in collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine.

With just a moment to spare before she launches a new initiative, Puranik met with EnergyCapitalHTX to discuss what Energy Transition looks like from her perspective.

EnergyCapitalHTX: You’ve had an interesting career, with one foot in something very altruistic, and the other in energy–which has a reputation for being… not so altruistic, let’s say. How did you get here?

Rani Puranik: First, I'll tell you that none of it, none of it, was planned.

The 1st 17 years of my life, I lived in Houston. I went to Lamar high school thinking I was going to be an engineer. But I was on a robust and dedicated journey singing and dancing, too. I was always very active and engaged in my heritage that way.

I went to India after I graduated from high school and stayed in my parents’ vacation home, which was next to a poverty-stricken area. All I thought was, “hey, how can I help?”

And that “how can I help?“ has always turned into larger projects than I ever imagined. Before long, I was running an after-school dance program for 60 kids. But it was more than dance. These girls needed a safe space to express themselves.

EC: How did you end up back in Houston?

RP: Well, life happens. I came to Houston on a one-way ticket with $200 in my pocket. My dad was still living here in Houston, running Worldwide Machine, so I volunteered in his company to keep busy.

Finally, in 2012, I realized I’m never going to be an engineer; I graduated from Rice with an MBA in finance in 2014. And then I just dedicated my entire life to WOM, my two girls, and the Puranik Foundation my mother started when I was in India.

EC: On one hand, you're encouraging innovation around building a sustainable environment with Puranik Foundation. And with WOM, you provide offshore equipment, services, and expertise. Do you see those concepts blending as part of the energy transition?

RP: One of the core principles of WOM is “stay curious.” We have something called the Idea Factory; sometimes we get ideas that are related to sustainability and alternative energies. The people that come up with these solutions and methods are deeply involved from start to finish as part of our research and development team.

We’ve currently got a patent on a frac valve that is so much healthier for the environment. There’s no disposal of grease, there’s much less use of water and chemicals injected because of the way our frac valve operates, and the pressures and temperatures it can sustain and withhold.

We’re also looking at design, revisiting processes and asking, “how can we make this more efficient?” How can we reduce not just the emissions, but the use of oils and liquids and fuels with process improvements and enhancements for the equipment that we're manufacturing?

EC: And for the foundation?

RP: What's important for me is to understand what energy is, why it's needed, and how we can tap into it from all sources.

If younger minds can think of things like some of the students in this year’s cohort of The Energy Project– things like using human movement to not just capture, but transform, energy–we're headed in the right direction.

EC: The energy transition is increasingly branded as a transition in mindset more than anything. Mindfulness is a core tenet of your foundation, is it a part of the nine core principles of WOM you mentioned?

RP: Absolutely. I've been called an empathetic leader because I listen. And I say the first part of listening is receiving. When you receive information, you're empowering yourself with knowledge and information being shared by someone else for you. And then you can offer a direction, a guide, or just a helping hand.

There's definitely a shift going on where people not just want to be heard, but there are leaders and organizations who understand the value and the importance of it. We can't do things on our own.

EC: You emphasize collaboration and human connectivity often, which are vital components of the sustainability economy. Can you elaborate on how your organizations embody these concepts?

RP: I made up the “earn to return” philosophy because I saw it in my own parents and I said, I've been given very valuable resources and I've been given a talent to connect people. And if together, that can create something beautiful to really enhance the abundance of resources and create stable pathways for people in their livelihoods, then that's my purpose and that's what I'm going to do.

And in the process, yeah, we make great sales, great profits. But then the profits have to be returned back to our local communities and our people and our kids so that they end up having stable livelihoods for their future. For me, that was always the driving force, and it still is.

But I'll tell you again, none of it was planned. None.

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Houston company plans to install the first commercial direct lithium extraction plant in the US

coming soon

Houston-based International Battery Metals, whose technology offers an eco-friendly way to extract lithium compounds from brine, is installing what it’s billing as the world’s first commercial modular direct-lithium extraction plant.

The mobile facility is located at US Magnesium’s operations outside Salt Lake City. The plant, expected to go online later this year, will process brine produced from lithium-containing waste-magnesium salts. The resulting lithium chloride product will provide feedstock for high-purity lithium carbonate generated by US Magnesium.

Under its agreement with US Magnesium, International Battery Metals (IBAT) will receive royalties on lithium sales, as well as payments for equipment operations based on lithium prices and performance.

IBAT says its patented technology is the only system that delivers a 97 percent extraction rate for lithium chloride from brine water, with up to 98 percent of water recycled and with minimal use of chemicals.

“Commercial operations will serve growing lithium demand from automakers for electric vehicle batteries, as well as energy storage batteries to support growing electricity demand and to balance the grid from increased renewable energy integration,” IBAT says in a news release.

Initially, the less than three-acre plant will annually produce 5,000 metric tons of lithium chloride. The modular plant was fabricated in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

“Our commercial operations with US Mag will advance a productive lithium extraction operation,” says Garry Flowers, CEO of IBAT. “Given current lithium demand, supply dependence on China, and permitting challenges, our expected commercial operations are coming at an ideal time to produce lithium at scale in the U.S.”

IBAT says the technology has been validated by independent reviewers and has been tested in Texas, California, Michigan, Ohio, and Oklahoma, as well as Argentina, Canada, Chile, and Germany.

IBAT says its modular concept positions the company to be a key supplier for rising U.S. lithium demand, providing an alternative to China and other global suppliers.

John Burba, founder, CTO and director of IBAT, says the modular extraction technology “will be the basis of future lithium extraction from brine resources around the world.”

Houston hospital system to launch all-electric fleet of delivery drones

looking up

A Houston hospital system has announced that it has plans to launch a drone delivery service that will replace traditional car deliveries in 2026.

Memorial Hermann Health System announced that it intends to be the first health care provider in Houston to roll out drone delivery services from San Francisco-based Zipline, a venture capital-backed tech company founded in 2014 that's completed 1 million drone deliveries.

"As a system, we are continuously seeking ways to improve the patient experience and bring greater health and value to the communities we serve. Zipline provides an innovative solution to helping our patients access the medications they need, quickly and conveniently, at no added cost to them," Alec King, executive vice president and CFO for Memorial Hermann, says in a news release.

Zipline boasts of achieving delivery times seven times faster than traditional car deliveries and can usually drop off packages at a rate of a mile a minute. The drones, called Zips, can navigate any weather conditions and complete their missions with zero emissions.

Per the release, the service will be used to deliver medical supplies and prescriptions to patients or supplies or samples between its locations.

"Completing more than one million commercial deliveries has shown us that when you improve health care logistics, you improve every level of the patient experience. It means people get better, faster, more convenient care, even from the comfort of their own home," adds Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, co-founder and CEO of Zipline. "Innovators like Memorial Hermann are leading the way to bring better care to the U.S., and it's going to happen much faster than you might expect."

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Know before you go: Offshore Technology Conference 2024

things to know

An annual conference that showcases technology for the offshore energy business is taking over Houston's NRG Park for the majority of the week.

Here's what you need to know before you go out to the event, which will take place Monday, May 6, to Thursday, May 9.

Attend the Distinguished Achievement Awards on Sunday, May 5

OTC's annual awards reception, the Distinguished Achievement Awards, will kick off the week on May 5. The three award honorees for OTC 2024 have been named and will be honored at the event. Click here to learn more about this year's honorees.

Visit the Energy Transition Pavilion 

The Energy Transition Pavilion will feature panels and presentations about the future of sustainability in the energy industry. The programming takes place Monday through Wednesday, and the exhibit is located at NRG Center in Hall C.

Zoom in on offshore wind

This year, OTC is featuring a dedicated thread to offshore wind technology. A mix of panels, keynotes, and technical presentations, the programming will take place over Monday through Wednesday.

Don't miss the exhibition hall

Over a thousand companies will be exhibiting at OTC this year, and the hall can be a bit overwhelming. Check the program or the map online to see who's exhibiting and where to find them.

Catch the three university showcases 

OTC's University R&D Showcase will feature three schools — the University of Houston, Texas A&M International University, and the University of São Paulo. You can find each university's booth open all four days of OTC.