Texas leaders discussed the opportunity for nuclear energy. Photo via htxenergytransition.org

The University of Texas at Austin Cockrell School of Engineering hosted an event on August 16th called Advanced Nuclear Technology in Texas, where Dow and X-Energy CEOs joined Texas Governor Greg Abbott for a discussion about why the Texas Gulf Coast is quickly becoming the epicenter for nuclear with the recent announcement about Dow and X-Energy. Dow and X-energy are combining efforts to deploy the first advanced small modular nuclear reactor at industrial site under DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program

“Texas is the energy capital of the world, but more important is what we are doing with that energy and what it means for our future in the state of Texas,” said Abbott. “Very important to our state is how we use energy to generate power for our grid. For a state that continues to grow massively, we are at the height of our production during the day, and we generate more power than California and New York combined. But we need more dispatchable power generation. One thing we are looking at with a keen eye is the ability to expand our capabilities with regard to nuclear generated power.”

The Governor announced a directive to the Public Utilities Commission of Texas to formulate a workgroup that will make recommendations that aim to propel Texas as a national leader in advanced nuclear energy.

According to the directive, to maximize power grid reliability, the group will work to understand Texas’s role in deploying and using advanced reactors, consider potential financial incentives available, determine nuclear-specific changes needed in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) market, identify any federal or state regulatory hurdles to development, and analyze how Texas can streamline and speed up advanced reactor construction permitting.

Below are five key takeaways about the project and why energy experts are excited about advanced nuclear energy:

  • Advanced SMR Nuclear Project for Carbon-Free Energy: Dow, a global materials science leader, has partnered with X-energy to establish an advanced small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear project at its Seadrift Operations site in Texas. The project aims to provide safe, reliable, and zero carbon emissions power and steam to replace aging energy assets.
  • Decarbonization and Emission Reduction: This collaboration is set to significantly reduce the Seadrift site’s emissions by approximately 440,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year. By adopting advanced nuclear technology, Dow is making a notable contribution to decarbonizing its manufacturing processes and improving environmental sustainability.
  • Grid Stability and Reliability: The advanced nuclear technology offers enhanced power and steam reliability, ensuring a stable energy supply for Dow’s Seadrift site. This is crucial for maintaining uninterrupted manufacturing operations and contributing to overall electric grid stability.
  • Texas Gulf Coast Energy Hub: Texas, as the energy capital of the world, has been chosen as the location for this groundbreaking project. This selection underscores Texas’ exceptional business climate, innovation history, and commitment to leading the energy transition. The project builds upon Texas’ position as a global energy leader.
  • Economic Growth and Job Opportunities: The SMR nuclear project promises to bring economic growth to the Texas Gulf Coast. It is expected to create new jobs, provide economic opportunities, and strengthen the local economy. By embracing innovative and sustainable energy solutions, Dow and X-energy are driving both industrial advancement and community prosperity.

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 world has two complementary challenges: decarbonization to deal with climate change and ensuring that there is a steady, safe, and reliable supply of energy. Nuclear can help with both." Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Why we need to talk about nuclear power

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A magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated Japan’s Fukushima province in 2011 and flooded the nearby nuclear power plant. This damaged the reactor cores and released radiation. How many people died as a result of radiation exposure?

A. More than 10,000

B. More than 5,000

C. More than 1,000

D. More than 100

E. 1

The correct answer: E.

Yes, I was surprised, too.

No question: Fukushima was a tragedy. The earthquake and tsunami; about 18,000 people died. The evacuation of 150,000 people due to fears about possible radiation was traumatic and cost lives due to stress and interrupted medical care, particularly among the elderly. Fukushima a disaster — but it was a natural disaster, not a nuclear one.

In 2018, Japan confirmed the first death of a worker at the plant as a result of radiation exposure, and there has been none since. But surely, this is just a matter of time; there will be more cancers and premature deaths. Not so, according to the UN’s Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. In 2021, it found that “no adverse health effects among Fukushima residents have been documented that could be directly attributed to radiation exposure from the accident, nor are expected to be detectable in the future.” The World Health Organization came to a similar conclusion, as did the US Centers for Disease Control.

Fukushima is widely regarded as the second-worst nuclear-power accident in history (after Chernobyl which was much, much worse). As a result of it, Japan shut down or suspended all of its nuclear operations, which generated about 30 percent of its power at the time. Many have stayed shut. Germany pledged to phase out nuclear power by the end of 2022, and Spain, Belgium and Switzerland announced the same, but a bit more slowly.

And so, to my point: While I know there are difficulties, I think more countries, particularly in the West, need to get serious about nuclear. Even though people with impeccable green and/or progressive credentials like George Monbiot of The Guardian, James Hansen (sometimes known as the “father of global warming”), Stewart Brand (of Whole Earth Catalog fame), Steven Pinker, and yes, Sting believe that nuclear must play a bigger role in order to achieve deep and last decarbonization, I get the impression that the topic is often seen not fit for discussion in polite green society. It’s striking how few of the country submissions about meeting their climate goals under the Paris accords mention nuclear.

There are two major objections.

It’s dangerous. No, it’s not, and nuclear plants are not run by legions of Homer Simpsons. In fact, nuclear has proved incredibly safe over its 60-plus year history. Here is the OECD in 2010: “Even though nuclear power is perceived as a high risk, comparison with other energy sources shows far fewer fatalities.” Since releases of radioactivity were so rare — and none in OECD countries prior to Fukushima — the OECD noted that “reliance on statistics of events is not possible.” Instead, it had to do a theoretical exercise. An analysis of deaths per terawatt-hour (TWh) of electricity estimated nuclear’s toll at 0.03 per TWh. That figure includes Chernobyl as well as things like workplace accidents. That is less than wind (0.04), and a bit more than solar (0.02).

And of course, since we live in the real world, it’s important to remember that any particular source is part of a larger system. Nuclear power is markedly less dangerous than fossil fuels, which are deadlier in terms of production, and also carry risks in the form of respiratory disease and other problems related to air pollution. James Hansen estimated in 2013 that, by displacing fossil fuels, nuclear power has prevented an average of 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and 64 gigatons of GHG emissions.

It’s expensive. Upfront costs are high, and operating a plant isn’t cheap. By any measure, renewables, gas, and coal are all cheaper and that will probably be the case for the foreseeable future. In addition, renewables and gas can continue to innovate and their costs could continue to fall without the big capital expenditures that nuclear requires. It’s fair to say that under today’s conditions, the economics of nuclear are against it.

But, what if conditions change? For one thing, a big chunk of the expense comes in the form of time. In places where it takes a decade or more just to get through the regulations and litigation — and the United States is one — that drives up costs enormously. McKinsey has estimated that If nuclear costs could be lowered 20 to 40 percent, it would be competitive with other forms of generation. (It’s worth noting that in the years when renewables were very expensive, there were still many voices in support of them, for reasons of health, energy security, and diversity of supply. All these apply to nuclear.) To be clear: I am not against nuclear regulation: safety first and last. But it is possible to foster both safety and efficiency, and to drive down costs in the process.

Moreover, renewables are dependent on the weather; they cannot keep the lights on 24/7 without storage, which at the moment is both limited and expensive. The relative economics compared to nuclear change a lot if storage is added to the equation.

As for the positive case for nuclear, there are several elements. One has to do with innovation. A new generation of advanced water-cooled and small modular reactors (SMRs) are even safer than existing ones and generate less waste. (The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission certified NuScale’s SMR design in July.) These new designs might also change the economics. The capital and construction costs of SMRs are much less, although still big, an estimated $3 billion for NuScale, for example. The idea is that they could be mass-manufactured, generating economies of scale, then shipped to markets that could never afford the kind of massive plants that are the norm now. But that can only happen if it is allowed to happen, which is a kind of Catch-22. As an MIT study noted: “Policies that foreclose a role for nuclear energy discourage investment in nuclear technology.” And that guarantees that costs will stay high.

An important advantage of nuclear is that, acre for acre, it produces more power than solar or wind. Indeed, it’s not even close. The late British physicist and climate scientist David Mackay estimated that wind has a power density — power per unit of land area—of two watts per square meter (2W/m2); for solar farms, the figure is 10W/m2 — and for nuclear 1,000W/m2. To visualize what that means, to deliver the same amount of power, wind would require 500 acres, or almost three-fifths of New York’s Central Park, or all of Disneyland; nuclear would need less than a football field. And Earth is not growing massive amounts of new land.

Finally, it is hard to see how the world gets to deep decarbonization without it. Right now, nuclear provides more than half of all carbon-free US emissions and 30 percent globally. That cannot be replaced quickly or cost-effectively, particularly given that demand will continue to rise. It’s interesting, too, that to some extent, nuclear is assumed to be part of the climate solution. Indeed, in all three of the pathways it describes that limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (see page 28) the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sees substantial increases in nuclear power.

There are itty-bitty signs that the mood may be changing, even in democratic places with active anti-nuclear campaigns. With Europe’s energy system struggling, Germany is slowing down its nuclear phase-out, by extending the life of two of its reactors. Japan, which has to import almost all its energy, is considering investing in a new generation of nuclear power plants. Britain is building its first new plant in decades — although the process has been troubled with delays and cost overruns. France is accelerating deployment and President Macron has said the country could build as many as 14 more — a reversal of the country’s previous plan to reduce its reliance on nuclear, which generates more than two-thirds of its power.

Closer to home, in September, California decided to extend the life of its Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is the state’s largest single source of electricity (see image). The Biden Administration has allocated $2.5 billion for research into new nuclear technologies, and supported existing ones to stay open.

But the fact remains that the United States has just two plants under construction, both in Georgia, and costs are ballooning. Only one nuclear plant has started up since 1996, while almost a dozen have been retired. And it’s not just the US: there are only two under construction in the EU. Most new plants are rising in Asia, particularly China, India, and Korea.

Here’s the thing: I have been what passes for a nuclear optimist for decades — and been wrong for that long. I am tempted, yet again, to say that nuclear is having its moment. I won’t go that far, because in the West, I don’t think it is.

But I think that, just maybe, that moment is edging closer, out of necessity. The world has two complementary challenges: decarbonization to deal with climate change and ensuring that there is a steady, safe, and reliable supply of energy. Nuclear can help with both.


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.

Radioactive waste is an obstacle to nuclear energy adoption potential. This research team from the University of Houston has discovered a potential solution. Photo via uh.edu

Houston research team discovers new application for crystals in nuclear energy

cleaning up nuclear energy

Researchers at the University of Houston have unlocked a new way to use crystals to safely dispose of radioactive waste.

The team of UH researchers published a paper in Cell Reports Physical Science this month detailing their discovery of how to use molecular crystals to capture large quantities of iodine, one of the most common products of radioactive fission, which is used to create nuclear energy.

According to a statement from UH, these molecular crystals are based on cyclotetrabenzil hydrazones. Ognjen Miljanic, professor of chemistry and author of the paper, and his team have created the organic molecules containing only carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, which create ring-like crystals with eight smaller offshoots, earning them the nickname "The Octopus."

The discovery was made by Alexandra Robles, the first author of the study and a former doctoral student in Miljanic’s lab.

The crystals have an uptake capacity similar to that of porous metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs), which traditionally have been considered the “pinnacle of iodine capture materials," according to UH. They allow iodine to be moved from one area to another, are reusable and can be produced using commercially available chemicals for about $1 per gram in an academic lab.

“They are quite easy to make and can be produced at a large scale from relatively inexpensive materials without any special protective atmosphere,” Miljanic said in a statement.

The team also believes the crystals can be used to capture additional elements like carbon dioxide.

“This is a type of simple molecule that can do all sorts of different things depending on how we integrate it with the rest of any given system,” Miljanic continued. “So, we’re pursuing all those applications as well.”

Next up, Miljanic is looking to find a partner that will help the team explore practical applications and commercial aspects.

UH has been making net-zero news lately. A team of students from UH placed in the top three teams in a national competition for the Department of Energy earlier this summer. The college also shared details about its forthcoming innovation hub, which will house UH's Energy Transition Institute, as well as other centers and programs.

Joseph Powell, founding director of UH's Energy Transition Institute, sat down with EnergyCapitalHTX last week to talk about UH's vision for the organization.

Ognjen Miljanic is a University of Houston professor of chemistry and author of the paper. Photo via UH.edu

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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 | ExxonMobilyoutu.be

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

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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 htxenergytransition.org.