Woodside Energy has committed $12.5 million to a new partnership with Rice University. Photo via Instagram/WoodsideEnergy

A global Australian energy company with its international operations in Houston has backed a new climatetech accelerator in partnership with Rice University.

Woodside Energy, headquartered in Australia with its global operations in Houston following its 2022 acquisition of BHP Group, has committed $12.5 million over the next five years to create the Woodside Rice Decarbonization Accelerator.

"The goal of the accelerator is to fast track the commercialization of innovative decarbonization technologies created in Rice labs," Rice University President Reginald DesRoches says to a crowd at the Ion at the initiative's announcement. "These technologies have the potential to make better batteries, transitistors, and other critical materials for energy technologies. In addition, the accelerator will work on manufacturing these high-value products from captured and converted carbon dioxide and methane."

"The Woodside Rice Decarbonization Accelerator will build on the work that Rice has been doing in advanced materials, energy, energy transition, and climate for many years. More than 20 percent of our faculty do some related work to energy and climate," he continues. "Harnessing their efforts alongside an esteemed partner like Woodside Energy is an exciting step that will undoubtedly have an impact far and wide."

Rice University announced the new climate tech initiative backed by Woodside Energy this week. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Woodside, which has over 800 employees based in Houston, has been a partner at the Ion since last spring. Daniel Kalms, Woodside Energy's CTO and executive vice president, explains that the new initiative falls in line with the three goals of Woodside's climate strategy, which includes keeping up with global energy demand, creating value, and conducting its business sustainably. The company has committed a total of $5 billion to new energy by 2030, Kalms says.

"We know that the world needs energy that is more affordable, sustainable, and secure to support the energy transition — and we want to provide that energy. Energy that is affordable, sustainable, and secure requires innovation and the application of new technology. That's what this is about," he says.

"Of course collaboration will be the key," Kalms continues. "By working with researchers, entrepreneurs, leading experts and parallel industries, we can combine our capability to solve collective challenges and create shared opportunities. That's why we are excited to be partnering with Rice."

The accelerator will be run by Paul Cherukuri, vice president of innovation at Rice University, and Aditya Mohite, associate professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Materials Science and Nanoengineering. Additional Rice professors will be involved as well, Cherukuri says.

"Success for us will not be papers, it will be products," Cherukuri says of what Woodside wants from the partnership. "We picked faculty at Rice in particular who were interested in taking on this charge, and they were all faculty who created companies."

Last fall, Rice announced a grant and venture initiative to accelerate innovation from Rice in the biotech space.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

At a recent SXSW panel, four Houston energy experts discussed the importance of research, commercialization, and more in Houston to drive the energy transition. Photo via Getty Images

Experts address Houston's energy transition role — from research to commercialization

HOUSTON @ SXSW

Every part of the energy industry is going to have a role in the energy transition — from the universities where the research and development is happening to the startups and the incumbent industry leaders, as a recent SXSW panel discussed.

“We are well known in Houston for being the energy capital of the world," Jane Stricker, executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, says as moderator of the panel. "The industry typically comes together with stakeholders to think about the solutions and how to solve this dual challenge of continuing to provide more energy to the world but doing it in a way that significantly reduces emissions at the same time.”

The panel, entitled "Ground Zero: Creating Pathways from Research to Scale Deployment," was put on by HETI, an organization under the Greater Houston Partnership, and took place Sunday, March 12, in Austin at SXSW.

“I often say that I believe Houston is ground zero for the transition because we have this unique combination of assets, infrastructure, innovation, research at universities, and a collective understanding of the importance of energy to people’s lives that allows us to tackle this problem in new ways," she continues.

Sticker was joined by Paul Cherukuri, vice president for innovation at Rice University; Juliana Garaizar, chief development and investment officer at Greentown Labs; and Tara Karimi, co-founder and CTO of Cemvita Factory. The panel highlighted the challenges facing Houston as it promises to lead the energy transition.

For Cherukuri, whose innovation-focused position was newly created when he was appointed to it last August, it's a pivotal moment for research institutions.

"It's really an exciting time in Houston because universities are changing," says Cherukuri. "Rice University itself is changing in dramatic ways, and it's a great opportunity to really plug into the energy transition inside of Houston."

The role he plays, as he explains, is to connect Rice innovators to the rest of the city and the world.

"We have to partner through the accelerators as well as with with companies who can catch what we've made and take it to scale," he continues. "That's uniquely something that we can do in Houston. It's not something that a lot of cities can do."

Representing the scaling efforts is Greentown Labs, and Garaizar explains how the Massachusetts-based organization, which has its second outpost in Houston, connects its member companies to corporate partners that can become funders, pilot partners, customers, and more. But scaling can only be accomplished with the right technologies and the proper funding behind them.

"Sixty percent of the technologies that are going to be used to decarbonize the world haven't yet been invented," she says on the panel. "So, there's a huge pull for technology right now. And we see people who are only on the private equity space now finally invested in a lot of earlier series like series A, but there's still some road to to be made there."

Houston-based Cemvita Factory is in the scale phase, and Karimi explains how she's actively working with companies to apply the company's unique biotechnology to convert CO2 to natural resources to accommodate each customer's needs. Cemvita is on the front lines of interacting with incumbent energy businesses that play a major role in the future of energy.

"The way we communicate with energy companies, we tell them that us to be the innovation arm for you and we work together," Karimi says. "I think it's everybody needs to understand it's a transition. There is no way to just change the way that chemicals are produced just immediately and replace it with something new. It's a transition that needs both aspects."

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Things to know: $17.5B oil acquisition, new accelerator focuses on sustainability, and more in Houston energy

take note

Editor's note: Dive headfirst into the new week with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: a podcast episode with a biotech leader, a very big oil and gas deal, and events not to miss.


Big deal: ConocoPhillips to buy Marathon Oil for $17.B in all-stock deal

ConocoPhillips is buying Marathon Oil in an all-stock deal valued at approximately $17.1 billion as energy prices rise and big oil companies reap massive profits.

The deal to combine the two Houston-headquartered companies is valued at $22.5 billion when including $5.4 billion in debt.

Crude prices have jumped more than 12% this year and the cost for a barrel rose above $80 this week. Oil majors put up record profits after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and while those numbers have slipped, there has been a surge in mergers between energy companies flush with cash. Continue reading.

Podcast to stream: Carlos Estrada, head of Venture Acceleration at BioWell, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast

Bioindustrial technologies have a high potential for impacting sustainability — but they tend to need a little bit more help navigating the startup valley of death. That's where the BioWell comes in.

Carlos Estrada, head of Venture Acceleration at BioWell, says the idea for the accelerator was came to First Bight Ventures, a Houston-based biomanufacturing investment firm, as it began building its portfolio of promising companies.

"While we were looking at various companies, we found ourselves finding different needs that these startups have," Estrada says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's how the opportunity for the BioWell came about." Continue reading.

Events not to miss

Put these Houston-area energy-related events on your calendar.

  • The Energy Drone & Robotics Summit is coming to Houston June 10 to 12. Join for the ultimate event in the world for UAVs, Robotics & Data/AI, 3D Reality Capture, Geospatial and Digital Twins focused on the business and technology in energy & industrial operations, inspections, maintenance, surveying & mapping. Register now.
  • Argus Clean Ammonia North America Conference will take place on June 12 to 14 at the Hyatt Regency Houston. Over the three days of the conference, explore the big questions many producers are facing around where demand is coming from, expect to hear perspectives from key domestic consumers as well as international demand centres for clean ammonia. Register now.
  • Join the over 150 senior energy and utilities leaders from June 17 to 18 in Houston for AI in Energy to unlock the potential of AI within your enterprise and delve into key areas for its development.Register now.
  • Energy Underground (June) is a group of professionals in the Greater Houston area that are accelerating the Energy Transition that connect monthly at The Cannon - West Houston. Register now.

Houston's energy industry deemed both a strength and weakness on global cities report

mixed reviews

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

New collaboration to build data center microgrid in Houston

coming soon

Two companies are teaming up to build a natural gas microgrid in Houston that will reduce emissions by 98 percent.

Provider of prime and backup power solutions RPower has teamed up with Houston’s ViVaVerse Solutions to build a 17-megawatt (MW) microgrid at the ViVa Center campus in Houston, which is expected to be commissioned by the end of the year.

The microgrid plans to employ ultra-low emissions and natural gas generators to deliver Resiliency-as-a-Service (RaaS), and this will connect to ViVaVerse's colocation data center operations during utility outages.

RPower will also deploy the microgrid across different ERCOT market programs, which will contribute to assist with essential capacity and ancillary services for the local grid. ERCOT has increased its use of renewable energy in recent years, but still has faced criticism for unstable conditions. The microgrids can potentially assist ERCOT, and also help cut back on emissions.

“RPower's pioneering microgrid will not only deliver essential N+1 resiliency to our data center operations but will also contribute to the local community by supplying necessary capacity during peak demand periods when the electric grid is strained,” Eduardo Morales, CEO of ViVaVerse Solutions and Morales Capital Group, says in a news release.

ViVaVerse Solutions will be converting the former Compaq Computer/HPE headquarters Campus into an innovative technology hub called the ViVa Center, which will host the High-Performance Computing Data Center, and spaces dedicated to mission critical infrastructure and technical facilities . The hub will host 200 data labs.

“We are thrilled to partner with ViVaVerse to deploy this `first of its kind' microgrid solution in the data center space,” Jeff Starcher, CEO of RPower, adds. “Our natural gas backup generation system delivers the same reliability and performance as traditional diesel systems, but with a 98 percent reduction in emissions. Further, the RPower system provides critical grid services and will respond to the volatility of renewable generation, further enabling the energy transition to a carbon free future.”