Greentown Houston celebrated two new automation from its corporate partners. Photo via Greentown Labs/LinkedIn

Houston’s Greentown Labs announced new resources and equipment for its members thanks to two corporate partnerships.

Greentown Houston is now home to new tools from Emerson and Puffer to help members implement strong foundations for access to contextualized data.

Automation is the theme with the latest resources, as the process assists with a startup's journey to “standardization and scalability” according to a news release from Greentown Labs. Members will have access to these two units and platforms. The DeltaV Automation Platform is a data-driven decision-making resource that aims to improve operational performance while reducing risks, costs, and downtime. It integrates real-time analytics, advanced automation solutions, sophisticated control systems, and lifecycle services.

Puffer-Sweiven is a localized, single point of contact for sales, service, and applied engineering for Emerson Automation Solutions in the Texas Gulf Coast and Central Texas area with the capabilities to combine with other members in North America to leverage global reach and technologies. Puffer is an Emerson Impact Partner.

Greentown Labs members will have access to the two new automation tools. Photo via Greentown Labs/LinkedIn

With access to the two units, Greentown Labs member companies can further explore easy-to-use, integrated-by-design DeltaV Distributed Control System. With the system, companies and members can better scale new technologies into pilot scale, optimize processes for high quality products, and implement a smart foundation for access to contextualized data. Global ROC is one company that is already utilizing the new resources at Greentown Labs.

“Our member Global ROC, which is developing a solution for cooling tower systems that reduces chemical consumption, saves water, and reduces energy costs, plans to use the system in two ways,” Global ROC CEO Ely Trujillo said to Greentown Labs via LinkedIn.

The startup will be able to create a control method that can be applied to future projects by using and comparing Global ROC’s products with the Delta V’s advanced function blocks. Trujilloalso plans to train team members to set up a Proportional Integral Derivative (PID) controller. The PID involves building a lab test box that connects to the DeltaV’s CHARM modules to control a process to a temperature by varying amperage through the DeltaV’s PID controller.

As part of the 3-year kickoff of the Texas Exchange for Energy and Climate Entrepreneurship (TEX-E), Greentown Labs also celebrated 87 Texas students from The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, University of Houston, Rice University, Prairie View A&M University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been accepted into this year's Fellowship. The students will gain access to hands-on experiences including internships, pitch competitions, entrepreneurship bootcamps, courses, and conferences geared to help the climate and energy-transition innovation field.

In March, Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space were named the newest accelerator for the Advancing Climatetech and Clean Energy Leaders Program, or ACCEL. The seven selected startups will have a year-long curated curriculum, incubation at Greentown's two locations, and a non-dilutive $25,000 grant.
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New rule to require railroads in Texas, beyond to provide hazardous cargo details upon derailment

in case of emergency

A new federal rule finalized Monday aims to ensure first responders can find out what hazardous chemicals are on a train almost immediately after a derailment so they can respond appropriately. Texas, a major hub for chemical development, will be affected by the ruling.

Too often in past disasters like last year's fiery Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, firefighters risked their lives trying to extinguish a blaze without knowing the right way to respond. The local fire chief in charge of the response said it took him 45 minutes to learn exactly what was in the 11 burning tank cars on the train, but some firefighters from neighboring departments that came to help said they didn't know what they were dealing with until two hours after the February 3, 2023, crash.

First responders need to know exactly which hazardous materials are on a train so they can look it up in the government's official guidebook and make sure they have the right protective gear and firefighting tools, said Tristan Brown, deputy administrator of the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration agency that proposed the rule.

Knowing what chemical is involved and how much of it is aboard also affects how big of an evacuation zone might be required to protect the public.

“There are so many different types of hazardous materials being transported across the country on any given day — one in 10 goods that move across the United States — and each one, poses unique risks and hazards, certainly to the folks who are running towards a fire,” Brown said. “But certainly as well for anybody who may be living or working in that vicinity.”

The rule was published just one day ahead of the National Transportation Safety Board's final hearing on the East Palestine derailment, where they will discuss exactly what caused that crash and recommend steps to prevent similar disasters.

Train crews have long carried lists of their cargo in the cabs of their locomotives, but in the middle of the chaos after a derailment those engineers and conductors, who might have moved their locomotives miles down the track, can't always be found right away.

That's part of why the largest freight railroads developed an app called AskRail roughly a decade ago that enables firefighters to quickly look up the details of what each train carries. But not every firefighter had the app, and cell phones don't always have a signal strong enough to work in a disaster.

Regulators want the railroads to continue expanding access to that app, including to 911 centers, so information reaches first responders sooner. The railroads have been expanding access over the past year. The Association of American Railroads trade group estimates some 2.3 million first responders now have access to that information as a result of the effort to expand into dispatch centers.

The six biggest railroads also make train cargo information immediately available through the chemical industry's hazardous materials hotlines in the U.S. and Canada known as the CHEMTREC and CANUTEC, emergency call centers.

Norfolk Southern said that in addition to AskRail it is working with a different program called RapidSOS that will allow the railroad to directly send information about its trains to first responders after a derailment — instead of forcing them to look up the details in AskRail. The railroad said its work fits well with the new rule.

But the new federal rule also applies to the hundreds of smaller railroads that aren't involved in AskRail. Even railroads that only have one or two employees now must have a plan to get the crucial details of their cargo to the local fire department quickly, even if its as simple as having the fire chief's cell phone number at the ready. Railroads also must test their plan at least once a year.

“In a hazmat incident, firefighters and first responders arriving on scene need to know what kind of hazardous materials are present so they can protect themselves and their communities,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.

It's not clear how this rule might have changed the outcome in East Palestine, but more information could have helped responding firefighters.

The derailment prompted a nationwide reckoning over railroad safety and prompted Congress to propose changes and regulators like Buttigieg to urge railroads to do more to prevent derailments.

The Federal Railroad Administration has issued various advisories about different aspects of railroad operations, but the reforms in Congress have stalled because Republicans wanted to wait for the final NTSB report and regulators have had only limited success making changes.

From virtual to reality: This Houston extended reality CEO weighs in on energy transition applications

Q&A

Founded in 2023, MadXR is a Houston-based Extended Reality startup. The innovative company specializes in safety training experiences for the energy sector and beyond. From pre-built virtual reality training modules to custom developed, end-to-end XR solutions, MadXR creates interactive, lifelike virtual reality and augmented reality experiences that allow trainees to practice safety procedures in a controlled environment.

Houston Energy Transition Initiative recently connected with Miranda Palmisano, CEO of MadXR, to discuss the applications and benefits of XR—and how it can help energy companies reduce HSE risk and carbon intensity like never before.

HETI: You were at Chevron for nearly 10 years before MadXR. How did your experiences at Chevron shape your approach to starting and running your own company?

Miranda Palmisano: Prior to founding MadXR, I held many different roles at Chevron across upstream and downstream. As the Connected Worker Product Manager, I drove digital acceleration for our global field and maintenance teams in refineries, terminals, and manufacturing sites, elevating efficiency and safety. During that time, I began exploring the value case of VR across Chevron.

I formed the Extended Reality Team and shortly became the Extended Reality Product Manager. Our team began using VR to conduct safety training within a virtual environment. It allowed us to train Chevron’s workforce safer and more efficiently by providing hands-on experience without the risk of real-world errors.

HETI: What inspired you to start your own company?

MP: Extended reality is an exciting new technology, and I quickly discovered the growing need for flexible, cost-effective XR content development in relation to life-saving-action training, such as confined-space entry, lockout/tagout procedures, and working from heights. I believe that affordable and high-quality XR experiences should be accessible to all companies, regardless of budget. That’s why MadXR has transparent pricing options that range from pre-built VR training modules to turnkey teams—and we empower our customers to take full ownership of their content and assets.

HETI: How has being based in Houston helped MadXR?

MP: The network in Houston is unmatched. In the energy capital of the world, it’s much easier to access the companies we’re targeting and hire the talent we need to grow. Innovation hubs like Houston’s Ion District have given us the resources and opportunities to connect with a vast number of forward-thinking businesses.

HETI: Do you believe XR will be instrumental in helping companies reach low carbon or net zero goals?

MP: XR is poised to revolutionize the energy industry, offering unprecedented opportunities for efficiency, engagement, and environmental sustainability. Imagine donning a headset and virtually navigating a facility halfway across the globe in real-time, or preparing your entire team with comprehensive virtual training before they physically enter a site. These scenarios highlight XR’s potential to enhance operational efficiency and employee engagement significantly. Beyond the immediate benefits, XR also plays a crucial role in reducing carbon emissions by eliminating the need for unnecessary travel. This technology isn’t just about improving current processes; it’s about reimagining the future of energy industry operations in a more sustainable, efficient, and engaging way.

HETI: MadXR will be celebrating its first anniversary in April. Can you tell us more about your vision for the future and what you’re focused on in 2024?

MP: In 2023, we were focused on ramping up and generating awareness. This year, we’re dedicated to expanding our reach and impact. We plan to incorporate AI into our learning modules and XR development to make them even more informational and interactive.

While our primary focus is on energy, we’re exploring how we can extend XR training to other industries, including automotive, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals.

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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.

To learn more about MadXR’s mission and XR training modules, visit MadXR.

Houston energy company celebrates new innovation center in Belgium

now open

A Houston-based global leader of innovative chemistries strengthened its research and development capabilities by opening a new international innovation center.

Huntsman Corp. celebrated the opening of the new R&D center in Tienen, Belgium, on June 13.

The 11,000-square-meter facility is a world-scale analytical laboratory; two machine halls; and fully equipped and automated product testing facilities. According to the company, the facility will assist with the “journey from the formulation of initial ideas at lab scale through to the manufacture of novel systems and samples ready for customers to trial.”

The innovation center will house more than 100 scientists from the company's polyurethanes and performance products. In key markets, which include adhesives, coatings and sealants; automotive; elastomers; energy; furniture and bedding, and insulation, will support the application of Huntsman technologies. The polyurethanes division is a global leader in MDI-based polyurethanes, which serves more than 3,000 customers in over 90 countries worldwide.

The inauguration event on June 13 was attended by more than 100 customers, suppliers, the mayor of Tienen and business partners. The event also included presentations from Huntsman's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Peter Huntsman, and Tony Hankins, President of Huntsman's polyurethane business.

"Today marks a significant milestone as we officially open the doors to our new European innovation center, a facility dedicated to creativity, collaboration and progress," Huntsman says in a news release. "We already have a rich legacy of innovation in Belgium. This center reflects our continuing commitment to exploring new ideas and turning imaginative concepts into practical solutions that can make a positive impact in the world."