Asking ChatGPT what all was made from petroleum produced surprising results - the answer: everything. Photo by Sanket Mishra/Unsplash

I sat down to have a conversation with ChatGPT from OpenAI about energy by-products; specifically, everyday items we use that contain some form of petrochemicals. My first prompt was rather broad, so I wasn’t surprised to get back a rather broad answer highlighting product categories instead of specific examples. Plastics, synthetic fibers, cleaning products, personal care products, medicines, paints & coatings, and adhesives were all succinctly summarized, but I wanted to dive deeper.

Given that AI has an almost limitless reach, I asked for a comprehensive list of all the products we use in everyday life that are made from petrochemicals. Turns out, ChatGPT has some healthy boundaries, so it pushed back, only offering a slightly more detailed list of the categories produced from the first prompt.

Not to be deterred, I asked for additional examples. I didn’t want to continue getting spoon-fed 10 items at a time, so I asked for 200. Less than comprehensive, more than the crumbs I was getting.

In entertaining fashion, ChatGPT told me compiling a list of 200 items might be challenging, but that it could offer up 100. The brazen negotiation made me smile.

I complimented the list and nudged a bit, encouraging ChatGPT it could come up with another 100 items if it tried. Much like a teenager wishes to stave off further questioning from a nosy parent, ChatGPT proffered up a second response of 100 items–almost half of which were simply things before which it added the qualifier “synthetic.” Salty.

As my intention is not to bore you, but rather enhance the knowledge of our readers by understanding how pervasive petrochemical products are in our everyday life, I settled on a more direct inquiry with a capped demand prompt: “What would you say are the 10 most surprising things in common everyday use that contain petrochemical products?”

Most of the answers featured wax-based products, like lotions, crayons, and lipstick–not necessarily earth-shattering realizations given my familiarity with cosmetics as petroleum by-products. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that chewing gum, with its synthetic rubber base enabling theoretically endless chewing, is derived from petroleum. I was also surprised to learn that many artificial sweeteners, like saccharin and aspartame, are made from petrochemicals. Huh.

There was one item on the list, however, that helped me see how truly pervasive the energy industry is, and not just for petrochemicals. Tucked in nonchalantly at #6 was Deodorant. My brain jumped immediately to the waxy base of a solid sweat deterrent, but my eyes got a curveball. ChatGPT writes, “Many deodorants contain aluminum, which is often derived from bauxite, a mineral that is usually mined from the earth using petroleum-powered machinery.” Now that was an answer I wasn’t expecting.

While my initial inference stood true – the smooth glide of a buttery solid antiperspirant is without a doubt derived from petrochemicals (not to mention the plastic packaging surrounding it), I wasn’t expecting ChatGPT to rope in the oft petroleum-fueled tools used to make said product. If that’s true, then nearly every item on the planet is derived from petroleum. Or at the very least, some source of energy. Regardless of whether the machinery used runs on gasoline, electricity, or wind power, literally almost everything that is produced on this earth is related to the energy industry.

Even if it’s hand-made, it’s technically still energy-adjacent, assuming we all bathe regularly with soap, yet another on the list of commonly used items derived from petroleum by-products. It’s certainly directly powering some manual activities, for those busting stress and bad breath with gum, or drinking a diet soda to power through. No pun intended.

I share this amusing tale simply to clarify the ubiquitous nature of energy in all parts of the modern world. As we look toward the #futureofenergy, we must be cognizant of its universal reach. It’s not necessarily realistic to switch from one source of energy to another overnight, but we do have a responsibility to seek cleaner, healthier, more efficient sources of energy while sustaining the life to which we have all grown accustomed.

Much like ChatGPT thought she couldn’t come up with 200 items derived from petroleum products, many think Houston will be unable to drive the Energy Transition, given our extensive petroleum focus. But like so many fellow Houstonians before us, we love a good challenge.

Just keep prompting us, and we’ll eventually unlock infinite potential for the #futureofenergy. It’s a limitless time to be in Houston, absorbing wisdom the city so willingly wants to share with the growing ecosystem of innovators. Just ask the growing number of almost 5,000 Energy-related firms in Houston. We’re just getting started.

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Lindsey Ferrell is a contributing writer to EnergyCapitalHTX and founder of Guerrella & Co.

Energy sources are often categorized as renewable or not, but perhaps a more accurate classification focuses on the type of reaction that converts energy into useful matter. Photo by simpson33/Getty Images

How is energy produced?

ENERGY 101

Many think of the Energy Industry as a dichotomy–old vs. new, renewable vs. nonrenewable, good vs. bad. But like most things, energy comes from an array of sources, and each kind has its own unique benefits and challenges. Understanding the multi-faceted identity of currently available energy sources creates an environment in which new ideas for cleaner and more sustainable energy sourcing can proliferate.

At a high level, energy can be broadly categorized by the process of extracting and converting it into a useful form.

Energy Produced from Chemical Reaction

Energy derived from coal, crude oil, natural gas, and biomass is primarily produced as a result of bonds breaking during a chemical reaction. When heated, burned, or fermented, organic matter releases energy, which is converted into mechanical or electrical energy.

These sources can be stored, distributed, and shared relatively easily and do not have to be converted immediately for power consumption. However, the resulting chemical reaction produces environmentally harmful waste products.

Though the processes to extract these organic sources of energy have been refined for many years to achieve reliable and cheap energy, they can be risky and are perceived as invasive to mother nature.

According to the 2022 bp Statistical Review of World Energy, approximately 50% of the world’s energy consumption comes from petroleum and natural gas; another 25% from coal. Though there was a small decline in demand for oil from 2019 to 2021, the overall demand for fossil fuels remained unchanged during the same time frame, mostly due to the increase in natural gas and coal consumption.

Energy Produced from Mechanical Reaction

Energy captured from the earth’s heat or the movement of wind and water results from the mechanical processes enabled by the turning of turbines in source-rich environments. These turbines spin to produce electricity inside a generator.

Solar energy does not require the use of a generator but produces electricity due to the release of electrons from the semiconducting materials found on a solar panel. The electricity produced by geothermal, wind, solar, and hydropower is then converted from direct current to alternating current electricity.

Electricity is most useful for immediate consumption, as storage requires the use of batteries–a process that turns electrical energy into chemical energy that can then be accessed in much the same way that coal, crude oil, natural gas, and biomass produce energy.

Energy Produced from a Combination of Reactions

Hydrogen energy comes from a unique blend of both electrical and chemical energy processes. Despite hydrogen being the most abundant element on earth, it is rarely found on its own, requiring a two-step process to extract and convert energy into a usable form. Hydrogen is primarily produced as a by-product of fossil fuels, with its own set of emissions challenges related to separating the hydrogen from the hydrocarbons.

Many use electrolysis to separate hydrogen from other elements before performing a chemical reaction to create electrical energy inside of a contained fuel cell. The electrolysis process is certainly a more environmentally-friendly solution, but there are still great risks with hydrogen energy–it is highly flammable, and its general energy output is less than that of other electricity-generating methods.

Energy Produced from Nuclear Reaction

Finally, energy originating from the splitting of an atom’s nucleus, mostly through nuclear fission, is yet another way to produce energy. A large volume of heat is released when an atom is bombarded by neutrons in a nuclear power plant, which is then converted to electrical energy.

This process also produces a particularly sensitive by-product known as radiation, and with it, radioactive waste. The proper handling of radiation and radioactive waste is of utmost concern, as its effects can be incredibly damaging to the environment surrounding a nuclear power plant.

Nuclear fission produces minimal carbon, so nuclear energy is oft considered environmentally safe–as long as strict protocols are followed to ensure proper storage and disposal of radiation and radioactive waste.

Nuclear to Mechanical to Chemical?

Interestingly enough, the Earth’s heat comes from the decay of radioactive materials in the Earth’s core, loosely linking nuclear power production back to geothermal energy production.

It’s also clear the conversion of energy into electricity is the cleanest option for the environment, yet adequate infrastructure remains limited in supply and accessibility. If not consumed immediately as electricity, energy is thus converted into a chemical form for the convenience of storage and distribution it provides.

Perhaps the expertise and talent of Houstonians serving the flourishing academic and industrial sectors of energy development will soon resolve many of our current energy challenges by exploring further the circular dynamic of the energy environment. Be sure to check out our Events Page to find the networking event that best serves your interest in the Energy Transition.


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Lindsey Ferrell is a contributing writer to EnergyCapitalHTX and founder of Guerrella & Co.

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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.”