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. Photo via Getty Images

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."

It's the first time the company has used EVs in any of its upstream sites, including the Permian Basin. Photo via exxonmobil.com

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 | ExxonMobilyoutu.be

By understanding the barriers they encounter, leaders, managers, and recruiters can implement targeted strategies to create more inclusive and diverse work environments. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert analyzes women's role, challenges in the energy industry

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The Women in Energy Global Study is an annual guide that delivers insights on how to retain female talent in a challenging world. It’s a critical roadmap for business leaders, managers, recruiters, and diversity and inclusion professionals to what women want, need, and can offer in the global energy workplace.

The report dives into the data to reveal the nature and aspirations of the female energy workforce. It explores the kids of jobs women are doing and the level of seniority that they are reaching, the career issues they face, what motivates them to contribute their skills to the energy transition and what they need to truly thrive.

The energy transition was a strong thread running through this year’s global survey with a commitment to Net Zero being the stand-out factor that attracts women to a company. Respondents came from an even greater variety of sectors and roles both within and outside the energy industry, reflecting the growing richness and complexity of energy today and the exciting new opportunities it offers.

This year's results showed that oil and gas is the largest employer of women, followed by renewables, and most respondents have reached middle-management level in their career. However, there are still more women than men at the bottom and more men at the top. Women are more likely to be in project management, while men are more likely to be in engineering, and only 6 percent of field services roles are held by women.

Work-life interface and flexibility

Employers appear to be rolling back some of the flexible working policies introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic yet offering options for where and when work is an important value proposition for any company wanting to attract and retain talent.

The good news is that most men and women feel they now have a good work life balance, a positive shift from last year when most said they didn't. Women said that better flexible working would make the most difference to work-life balance.

Attracting and developing diverse talent and helping women thrive

Companies’ commitment to DEI appears to be declining, a reversal in trend from previous years. If this is more than just lack of visibility of what has become "business as usual," then organizations need to remember that better DEI leads to better business performance and it is critical to communicate efforts in this area.

Key things women want from their employer are better professional development, sponsorship and mentoring, flexible working and the opportunity for job-share or part-time working, but there appears to be delivery gap between availability of policies and their uptake.

The demand for good paternity leave is huge among men – more than half said they wanted to see it introduced or improved – and this could be a gamechanger for both sexes. Additionally, a strong commitment to net zero still makes a company more attractive to both women and men. Other key factors for women when choosing their employer are an inclusive workplace culture, benefits and a commitment to DEI.

Time to pave the way

When we amplify the voices of women in the global energy market, we not only bring attention to the challenges they face but also highlight the vast potential they hold. By understanding the barriers they encounter, leaders, managers, and recruiters can implement targeted strategies to create more inclusive and diverse work environments. This not only benefits women in the industry but also fosters innovation and drives growth in our ever-evolving energy sector. As we pave the way for more opportunities and empowerment for women in energy, we are shaping a brighter and more sustainable future for all.

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Jayne Stewart is vice president of oil, gas and chemicals across the Gulf Coast region in the U.S. for NES Fircroft. She is based in Houston.

The new supercomputer is expected to be one of the world’s most powerful owned by an enterprise. Photo courtesy of HPE

Houston tech co. to build powerful supercomputer for global energy business to help reach net-zero goals

getting upgraded

A Houston tech company is building a next-generation supercomputer for one of the world’s largest energy providers.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise announced its plans to build HPC6 for Italian energy company Eni. Eni will use the system to advance scientific discovery and engineering toward accelerating innovation in energy transition to help aid its goal in getting to net zero. HPC6 is expected to be one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers owned by an enterprise.

HPC6 will be built with the same innovations that power the world’s fastest supercomputer to support data and image-intensive workloads across artificial intelligence, modeling, and simulation. According to a news release from HPE, the system will “augment Eni’s existing research that is focused on studying and identifying new energy sources, including renewable energy.”

Eni’s HPC6 will be installed in the company’s energy Green Data Center in Italy. The center will be upgraded to support HPE’s direct liquid-cooling (DLC) capabilities.

"Businesses are finding themselves balancing the huge business opportunities enabled by their AI investments with the responsibility of mitigating the environmental impact of these powerful systems," Antonio Neri, president and CEO of HPE, says in a news release.

"As the leader in developing energy efficient AI and supercomputing solutions, HPE is uniquely positioned to help organizations minimize power consumption while maximizing business outcomes," he continues. "We are excited to play a role in Eni’s commitment to decarbonization supported by digitalization and innovation."

Originally announced in 2020, HPE moved its headquarters to Houston in 2022.

Scott Nyquist on what the path to net-zero will look like. Graphic via mckinsey.com

Column: Houston expert on what the path to net-zero will look like

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The $275 trillion question: What does the road to net-zero look like?

That’s a good question, and McKinsey took a serious stab at providing an answer in a 2022 report, it considers the net-zero scenario described by the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), a consortium of 105 central banks and financial institutions. McKinsey then describes the costs, benefits, and social and economic changes that would likely be required for the world to start, stay on, and finish the pathway described by the NGFS.

Here is what the report isn’t, and what it doesn’t do. It isn’t a roadmap to net zero, and it does not make predictions. Rather, it offers estimates related to one specific scenario. It does not say who should pay. It does not address adaptation. It doesn’t even assume that restricting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050 is achievable. It doesn’t assert that this is the best or only way to of. Indeed, it notes that “it is likely that real outcomes will diverge from these estimates.”

What the report does do is more interesting: with rigor and thoughtfulness, it thinks through what a genuine, global effort to get to net zero would take. Here are a few insights from the report I found particularly noteworthy.

It won’t come cheap. Capital spending by 2050 under the NGFS scenario would add up to $275 trillion, or $9.2 trillion per year on average. That is about $3.5 trillion a year more than is being spent today, or the equivalent of about half of global corporate profits in 2020. In addition, about $1 trillion of current spending would need to shift from high- to low-emissions assets. In short, it’s a lot of money. Of course, some of these costs are also investments that will deliver returns, and indeed the share that do so will probably rise over the decades. Upfront spending now could also reduce operating costs down the line, through greater efficiency and lower maintenance costs. And it’s important to keep in mind the considerable benefit of a healthier planet and a stable climate, with cleaner air and richer land. But the authors do not shy away from the larger point: “Reaching net-zero emissions will thus require a transformation of the global economy.”

Some countries are going to be hit harder than others. It’s hardly surprising to read that countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Venezuela, which rely heavily on oil and gas resources, are going to have a more difficult time adjusting. The same is true for many developing economies. To some extent their residents can leapfrog to cleaner, greener technologies, just as they skipped the landline in favor of cellphones. But other factors weigh in. For example, developing countries are more likely to have high-emissions manufacturing as a major share of the economy; services are generally lower emission. In addition, poorer countries still have to build much of their infrastructure, which is costly. All this adds up. The report estimates that India and sub-Saharan Africa would need to spend almost 11 percent of its GDP on physical assets related to energy and land to get to net zero; in other Asian countries and Latin America, it is more than 9 percent. For Europe and the United States, by contrast, the figure is about 6 percent.

Now is better than later. An orderly, gradual transition would likely be both gentler and cheaper than a hasty, disorderly one. The report sees spending as “frontloaded,” meaning that there is more of it in the next decade to 15 years, and then it declines. That is because of the need for substantial capital investment. But why does this matter? There is timing, for one thing. If low emissions sources do not increase as fast (or preferably faster) than high-emissions ones are retired, there will be shortages or price rises. Both would be unpleasant, and could also cut into public support for change. And then there is the matter of money. If a coal plant is built today—as many are—and then has to be shut down, abruptly and well before its useful life over, a lot of money that was invested in it will never be recouped. The report estimates that as much as $2.1 trillion assets in the power sector alone could be stranded by 2050. Many of these assets are capitalized on the balance sheets of listed companies; shutting them down prematurely could bring bankruptcies and credit defaults, and that could affect the global financial system.

The world would look very different. Under the NGFS scenario, oil and gas production volumes in 2050 would be 55 percent and 70 percent lower, respectively, and coal would just about vanish. The market share for battery or fuel cell-electric vehicles would be close to 100 percent. Many existing jobs would disappear, and because these assets tend to be geographically concentrated, the effects on local communities would be harsh. For example, more than 10 percent of jobs in 44 US counties are in the coal, oil and gas, fossil fuel power, and automotive sectors. On the whole, McKinsey estimates that the transition could mean the loss of 187 million jobs—but the creation of 202 million new ones. Reaching net zero would also make demands on individuals, such as switching to electric vehicles, making their homes more energy efficient, and eating less meat like beef and lamb (cows and sheep are ruminants, emitting methane, a greenhouse gas).

There’s a lot else worth thinking about in the report, which goes into some detail about forestry and agriculture, for example, as well as the role of climate finance and what can be done to fill technology gaps. And its closing sentence is worth pondering: “The key issue is whether the world can muster the requisite boldness and resolve to broaden its response during the next decade or so, which will in all likelihood decide the nature of the transition.”

So, is something like this going to happen? I don’t know. There is certainly momentum. As of January 27, 2022, 136 countries accounting for almost 90 percent of both emissions and GDP, have signed up to the idea. But these pledges are not cast in stone, or indeed in legislation, in many places, and as a rule policy is running far short of the promise. “Moving to action,” the report notes dryly, “has not proven easy or straightforward.”

And while some things can be done from the top down, others cannot—such as the considerable shift in human diets away from high-emissions (and delicious) beef and lamb and more toward poultry and legumes. Moreover, inertia and vested interests are powerful forces. “Government and business would need to act together with singular unity, resolve, and ingenuity, and extend their planning and investment horizons even as they take immediate actions to manage risks and capture opportunities,” the report concludes. That’s a big ask.

So, like McKinsey, I am not going to make predictions. But for an analysis of what it would take, this is a valuable effort.

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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 on January 28, 2022.

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Houston company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

results are in

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

Barge hits bridge connecting Galveston and Pelican Island, causing partial collapse and oil spill

A barge slammed into a bridge pillar in Galveston, Texas, on Wednesday, spilling oil into waters near busy shipping channels and closing the only road to a small neighboring island. No injuries were reported.

The impact sent pieces of the bridge, which connects Galveston to Pelican Island, tumbling on top of the barge and shut down a stretch of waterway so crews could clean up the spill. The accident knocked one man off the vessel and into the water, but he was quickly recovered and was not injured, said Galveston County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Ray Nolen.

Ports along the Texas coast are hubs of international trade, but experts said the collision was unlikely to result in serious economic disruptions since it occurred in a lesser-used waterway. The island is on the opposite side of Galveston Island’s beaches that draw millions of tourists each year.

The accident happened shortly before 10 a.m. after a tugboat operator pushing two barges lost control of them, said David Flores, a bridge superintendent with the Galveston County Navigation District.

“The current was very bad, and the tide was high," Flores said. “He lost it.”

Pelican Island is only a few miles wide and is home to Texas A&M University at Galveston, a large shipyard and industrial facilities. Fewer than 200 people were on the campus when the collision happened, and all were eventually allowed to drive on the bridge to leave. The marine and maritime research institute said it plans to remain closed until at least Friday. Students who live on campus were allowed to remain there, but university officials warned those who live on campus and leave “should be prepared to remain off campus for an unknown period of time.”

The accident came weeks after a cargo ship crashed into a support column of the Francis Key Bridge in Baltimore on March 26, killing six construction workers.

The tugboat in Texas was pushing bunker barges, which are fuel barges for ships, Flores said. The barge, which is owned by Martin Petroleum, has a 30,000-gallon capacity, but it's not clear how much leaked into the bay, said Galveston County spokesperson Spencer Lewis. He said about 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) of the waterway were shut down because of the spill.

The affected area is miles away from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which sees frequent barge traffic, and the Houston Ship Channel, a large shipping channel for ocean-going vessels. Aside from the environmental impact of the spill, the region is unlikely to see large economic disruption as a result of the accident, said Marcia Burns, a maritime transportation expert at the University of Houston

“Because Pelican Island is a smaller location, which is not in the heart of commercial events, then the impact is not as devastating," Burns said. “It’s a relatively smaller impact.”

At the bridge, a large piece of broken concrete and debris from the railroad hung over the side and on top of the barge that rammed into the passageway. Flores said the rail line only serves as protection for the structure and has never been used.

Opened in 1960, the Pelican Island Causeway Bridge was rated as “Poor” according to the Federal Highway Administration’s 2023 National Bridge Inventory released last June.

The overall rating of a bridge is based on whether the condition of any of its individual components — the deck, superstructure, substructure or culvert, if present — is rated poor or below.

In the case of the Pelican Island Causeway Bridge, inspectors rated the deck in “Satisfactory Condition,” the substructure in “Fair Condition” and the superstructure — or the component that absorbs the live traffic load — in “Poor Condition.”

The Texas Department of Transportation had been scheduled in the summer of 2025 to begin construction on a project to replace the bridge with a new one. The project was estimated to cost $194 million. In documents provided during a virtual public meeting last year, the department said the bridge has “reached the end of its design lifespan, and needs to be replaced.” The agency said it has spent over $12 million performing maintenance and repairs on the bridge in the past decade.

The bridge has one main steel span that measures 164 feet (50 meters), and federal data shows it was last inspected in December 2021. It’s unclear from the data if a state inspection took place after the Federal Highway Administration compiled the data.

The bridge had an average daily traffic figure of about 9,100 cars and trucks, according to a 2011 estimate.

___

Lozano reported from Houston. Associated Press reporters Christopher L. Keller in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen, Texas; Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas; and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

ExxonMobil, Intel eye sustainable solutions within data center innovation

the view from heti

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.