Bruce Weisman's career has come full circle with a recent award. Photo via rice.edu

Rice University chemist Bruce Weisman has been awarded the Richard E. Smalley Research Award for his decades of nanocarbon research, according to a statement from the university.

The honor is a full circle moment for Wiseman, as the award is named after Weisman's long-time Rice colleague and friend, Rick Smalley, who Wiseman said helped shape his career.

“It changed my career,” Weisman said in a statement from Rice about his work with Smalley. “Everything I’ve done in the last 20 years has been an outgrowth, a consequence of that.”

Still, Weisman has earned many achievements of his own. He joined Rice's faculty in 1979 as a spectroscopist and first began working with Smalley in 1985 after Smalley's groundbreaking discovery of carbon 60, or buckyballs. The discovery proved that carbon could take on other forms and it won Smalley and his teammates the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Weisman and Smalley then collaborated on experiments to measure the electronic spectra of carbon 60 and carbon 70. In the early 2000s, they published two seminal nanotube studies in Science in which Weisman shared his new faster, simpler and cheaper spectrometric method of assaying nanotubes, according to Rice.

In 2004 Weisman founded a company, Applied NanoFluorescence, to commercialize the technology. The company still exists and continues to research the optical properties of carbon nanotubes.

He is also an elected fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the the Electrochemical Society (ECS) and former chair of the ECS Nanocarbons Division. The ECS will present Weisman with the 2024 Smalley Research Award in May. The award is given every two years to recognize “outstanding achievements in, or scientific contributions to, the science of fullerenes, nanotubes and carbon nanostructures.”

Earlier this month, another Rice professor won a highly competitive award. Assistant professor Amanda Marciel, the William Marsh Rice Trustee Chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering, was granted a National Science Foundation's CAREER Award that comes with $670,406 over five years to continue her research in designing branch elastomers.

The grant will also create opportunities in soft matter research for undergraduates and underrepresented scientists. Click here to learn more.

Meanwhile, another Houston-based chemist was also recently recognized for their work. Baylor College of Medicine's Livia Schiavinato Eberlin was named the 2024 recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research in December.

The award from the Houston-based Welch Foundation recognizes the accomplishments of chemical scientists in Texas who are early in their careers. Eberlin will be granted $100,000 for this honor.

David Pruner, executive director of TEX-E, joins the Houston Innovator Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Why this organization is focused on cultivating the future of energy transition innovation

Q&A

David Pruner is laser focused on the future workforce for the energy industry as executive director of the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E, a nonprofit housed out of Greentown Labs that was established to support energy transition innovation at Texas universities.

TEX-E launched in 2022 in collaboration with Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and five university partners — Rice University, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin.

Pruner was officially named to his role earlier this year, but he's been working behind the scenes for months now getting to know the organization and already expanding its opportunities from students across the state at the five institutions.

"Our mission is to create the next generation of energy transition climatetech entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs — they don’t all have to start companies," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Listen to the show below and read through a brief excerpt from the episode with Pruner.


EnergyCapital: Can you share a little bit about the origin of TEX-E?

David Puner: There were a variety of factories that led to its creation, but the seminal event was a piece of work that had been done for the Greater Houston Partnership by McKinsey on the future of Houston. It showed that if Houston isn't careful and doesn't make sure to go ahead and transition with this energy expansion we’re seeing, that they’re at risk of losing hundreds of thousands of jobs. If they catch the transition right and make the conversion to cleaner and low-carbon fuels, they can actually gain 1.4 million jobs.

It was this eye opener for everyone that we need to make sure that if the energy transition is going to happen, it needs to happen here so that Houston stays the energy capital of the world.

David Baldwin (partner at SCF Partners) literally at the meeting said, “listen I've got the beginning of the funnel — the universities, that’s where innovation comes from.” From that, TEX-E was born.

EC: How are you working with the five founding universities to connect the dots for collaboration?

DP: In the end, we have five different family members who need to be coordinated differently. The idea behind TEX-E is that there's plenty of bright students at each of these schools, and there's plenty of innovation going on, it's whether it can grow, prosper, and be sustainable.

Our main job is to look to connect everyone, so that an engineer at Texas A&M that has an idea that they want to pursue, but they don't know the business side, can meet that Rice MBA. Then, when they realize it's going to be a highly regulated product, we need a regulatory lawyer at UT — we can make all that happen and connect them.

At the same time, what we found is, no one school has the answer. But when you put them together, we do have most of the answer. Almost everything we need is within those five schools. And it's not just those five schools, it really is open to everyone.

EC: As you mentioned before, TEX-E started as a way for Houston to take the reins of its energy transition. What's the pulse on that progress?

DP: I spent the last decade building boards and hiring CEOs for all kinds of energy companies and there was the period I would say — pre-pandemic and a little bit into the pandemic — where not everybody was on board with climate change and the issue of carbon. The nice thing now is that’s fully in the rearview mirror. There’s not really a company of any size or a management team of any major entity that doesn’t fully believe they need to do something there.

The train has fully left the station — and picked up speed — on this whole issue of transition and climate. So, that’s been nice to see and create a lot of tailwinds.

The project will focus on testing 5G networks for "stability, interoperability, energy efficiency and communication performance." Photo via Getty Images

Rice-led project receives $1.9M in federal funding to test 5G energy efficiency, more

fresh support

A team of Rice University engineers has secured a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to develop a new way to test 5G networks.

The project will focus on testing 5G networks for software-centric architectures, according to a statement from Rice. The funds come from the NTIA's most recent round of grants, totaling about $80 million, as part of the $1.5 billion Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund. Other awards went to Virginia Tech, Northeastern University, DISH Wireless, and more.

The project at Rice will be led by Rahman Doost-Mohammady, an assistant research professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Ashutosh Sabharwal, the Ernest Dell Butcher Professor of Engineering and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Santiago Segarra, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and an expert in machine learning for wireless network design, is also a co-principal investigator on this project.

"Current testing methodologies for wireless products have predominantly focused on the communication dimension, evaluating aspects such as load testing and channel emulation,” said Doost-Mohammady said in a statement. “But with the escalating trend toward software-based wireless products, it’s imperative that we take a more holistic approach to testing."

The new framework will be used to "assess the stability, interoperability, energy efficiency and communication performance of software-based machine learning-enabled 5G radio access networks (RANs)," according to Rice, known as ETHOS.

Once created, the team of researchers will use the framework for extensive testing using novel machine learning algorithms for 5G RAN with California-based NVIDIA's Aerial Research Cloud (ARC) platform. The team also plans to partner with other industry contacts in the future, according to Rice.

“The broader impacts of this project are far-reaching, with the potential to revolutionize software-based and machine learning-enabled wireless product testing by making it more comprehensive and responsive to the complexities of real-world network environments,” Sabharwal said in the statement. “By providing the industry with advanced tools to evaluate and ensure the stability, energy efficiency and throughput of their products, our research is poised to contribute to the successful deployment of 5G and beyond wireless networks.”

Late last year, the Houston location of Greentown Labs also landed funds from the Department of Commerce. The climatetech startup incubator was named to of the Economic Development Administration's 10th cohort of its Build to Scale program and will receive $400,000 with a $400,000 local match confirmed.

Houston-based nonprofit accelerator, BioWell, also received funding from the Build to Scale program.


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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Teams from three Houston-area universities have been named to the DOE's annual competition. Photo via energy.gov

DOE taps 3 Houston-area schools for student competition

game on

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions selected 225 teams from 117 schools from 39 states — including three Houston-area universities — to participate in its annual startup competition.

University of Houston, Rice University, and Texas A&M University will compete in the EnergyTech University Prize, known as EnergyTech UP, in the 2024 Student Track. See the full list here.

The EnergyTech UP Student Track tasks collegiate teams to develop “actionable plans for business and commercialization opportunities around high-potential energy technologies.”

The competitors in the event, which is in its third year, will also receive free access to OTT’s Energy I-Corps curriculum. Finalists will receive mentorship from industry leaders on their proposals. Through three phases — Explore, Refine, and Pitch — with Bonus Prize winners also being selected along the way, the teams will compete for more than $400,000 in cash prizes.

Teams will present their proposals to a panel of judges in the hopes of being selected as a finalist in the first phase, the regional Explore Event.

Finalists will refine their ideas before pitching their complete plans at Zpryme’s 2024 Energy Thought Summit in April in Austin, Texas. The goal is for EnergyTech UP’s winning teams to have successfully identified promising energy technology, carefully assess its market potential, and create a business plan.

“We see immense value in supporting the next generation of clean energy leaders through EnergyTech UP” said DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of OTT, Dr. Vanessa Z. Chan in a news release. “These teams are working to develop attainable, equitable, scalable energy technologies and business opportunities. They have the potential to profoundly impact the cleantech industry, and we’re proud to provide resources that can help bolster their ideas.”

Other Texas universities selected this year include:

  • The University of Texas at Austin
  • The University of Texas at El Paso
  • Texas Tech University
David Pruner will lead the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E. Photo via LinkedIn

New leadership team named climate tech-focused organization for Texas college students

welcome aboard

A collaborative initiative between several colleges and Greentown Labs has named its inaugural executive director.

David Pruner will lead the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E, which is comprised of partners including Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and universities across Texas. Additionally, Julia Johansson was appointed chief of staff for TEX-E and will oversee operations and administration responsibilities.

“Dave is the ideal leader for TEX-E to build on the great work that’s been done to develop a robust entrepreneurial energy ecosystem across these five impressive universities in Texas and to directly inspire and support university students to pursue entrepreneurial careers that will power our clean energy future,” Greentown Labs CEO and President Kevin Knobloch says in a news release. “Dave’s expertise will have a tremendous impact on the strategy, evolution, and success of this ambitious and important program.”With over 30 years of experience within the energy, academic, and business worlds, Pruner will take the helm of the organization that launched in 2022 in collaboration with Rice University, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin as its founding institutions.

“I am very excited about helping Houston and the state of Texas navigate the energy transition,” Pruner says in the release. “We are at a crucial pivot point for the industry and it will be essential for us to help create the next generation of energy transition entrepreneurs.

"An ecosystem in this area has been building and it will be our mission to inspire, equip, connect and accelerate these individuals and teams working with the universities to make it robust," he continues. "If we succeed we will assure Texas’s role as the leader in energy globally.”

Before this new role, Pruner held leadership positions at business management consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles and Wood Mackenzie, as well as other energy firms and in financial services companies including Bridgewater Associates and Manufacturers Hanover Trust.

The two new hires are based out of Greentown Labs Houston. The next role TEX-E hopes to fill is director of university engagement, which will lead programming, recruitment, and partner management for TEX-E.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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

Woodside Energy backs $12.5M clean energy accelerator for new technologies

howdy, partner

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.

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CERAWeek 2024 returns to Houston to feature thought leadership on energy transition

coming soon

For the 42nd time, CERAWeek is convening energy leaders from around the world for a conference the week of March 18 — and the action will all take place in downtown Houston.

CERAWeek by S&P Global 2024, with its theme of "Multidimensional Energy Transition: Markets, climate, technology and geopolitics," will zero in on the world's journey to zero-carbon, specifically exploring "strategies for a multidimensional, multispeed and multifuel energy transition," according to a news release. The programming will reflect on the reality of the energy transition, including its progress in different regions and across industries, technologies, and politics.

This year, the event is chaired by Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of S&P Global and author of The New Map: Energy, Climate and the Clash of Nations.

“The increasing focus on energy transition following COP28 coincides with a growing realization of just how complex the road ahead will be,” Yergin says in the release. “Expectations of a linear path to Net-zero are giving way to recognition that this will be a multidimensional energy transition—one that is inclusive of different situations in different parts of the world and takes into account energy security and affordability.

"The reality of a multispeed transition presents both opportunities and challenges," he continues. "Meeting those challenges, and realizing the promise, of the new energy future will be the focus of the world’s energy leaders at CERAWeek 2024 in Houston.”

CERAWeek's key themes this year tackle everything from power markets and minerals to geopolitics and tech and innovation.

The CERAWeek Innovation Agora track, which is the program's deeper dive into technology and innovation will feature thought leadership "ranging across AI, decarbonization, low carbon fuels, cybersecurity, hydrogen, nuclear, mining and minerals, mobility, automation, and more," per the release.

Additionally, the “Agora Hubs,” which are dedicated areas focused on climate, hydrogen, and carbon, have returned to an expanded capacity.

The full list of CERAWeek 2024 speakers is available online, as is registration.

Houston swerves onto new list of U.S. cities with the worst drivers

transportation

Locals may think that Houston is one of the most traffic-ridden cities, but its drivers are actually much better than many other U.S. cities, according to a new study by Forbes Advisor.

In its report "Cities With The Worst Drivers, Ranked," published February 8, Forbes Advisor analyzed the 50 most populated U.S. cities across five metrics to determine which have the worst drivers in the country. Those metrics, calculated per 100,000 city residents using a five-year average from 2017-2021, were: total number of fatal car accidents, number of people killed in fatal crashes, and number of fatal car accidents involving a drunk, distracted, or speeding driver.

Houston ranked No. 23 overall, earning a score of 59.27 points out of a possible 100. That means the drivers here are solidly average — and that other Texas cities' drivers are, amazingly, even worse than ours.

The report found approximately 10.81 total fatal crashes occur for every 100,000 city residents in Houston, with less than 12 people (11.36) killed in fatal crashes per 100,000 residents.

Where drunk drivers are involved, Houston ranked No. 9 for the highest per-capita number of fatal crashes. Fewer than five fatal drunk driving crashes (4.44) occurred per 100,000 residents.

This troubling discovery isn't exclusive to Houston, the state of Texas as a whole still struggles with drunk drivers. More than five people are killed in car crashes involving a drunk driver for every 100,000 Texans, according to a 2023 Forbes report.

Here's how Houston fared in the remaining categories:

  • No. 33 – Number of fatal crashes involving speeding (2.79 per 100,000 residents)
  • No. 40 – Number of fatal crashes involving a distracted driver (0.24 per 100,000 residents)
Forbes Advisor concluded that three of the top-15 U.S. cities with the worst drivers were located in Texas. Dallas (No. 6) earned a score of 90.97 points to take the crown for the city with the worst drivers in the state. Fort Worth (No. 9) also earned a top-10 spot, and San Antonio ranked No. 12. Austin fell behind Houston into No. 24.

The report found Dallas had the third-highest number of fatal car accidents involving a drunk driver, with 6.25 crashes per 100,000 residents. Dallas also ranked No. 4 in the category for the highest number of fatal car accidents involving speeding: 5.69 per 100,000 residents.

The most dangerous U.S. city to drive in, Forbes says, is Albuquerque, New Mexico. Albuquerque leads with the highest number of fatal car accidents involving a distracted driver, at 5.42 crashes per 100,000 city residents.

The top 10 U.S. cities with the worst drivers are:

  • No. 1 – Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • No. 2 – Memphis, Tennessee
  • No. 3 – Detroit, Michigan
  • No. 4 – Tuscon, Arizona
  • No. 5 – Kansas City, Missouri
  • No. 6 – Dallas, Texas
  • No. 7 – Louisville, Kentucky
  • No. 8 – Phoenix, Arizona
  • No. 9 – Fort Worth, Texas
  • No. 10 – Tampa, Florida

The study calculated five-year averages using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality and Injury Reporting System Tool for the years 2017-2021, and U.S. Census Bureau city population data from 2022.

The report and its methodology can be found on forbes.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston energy transition leader to spearhead urban reforestation initiative

seeing green

One of Houston's foremost energy transition leaders has been named to a community urban reforestation project from a Texas energy company.

Big Spring, Texas-based SCS Technologies named Jane Stricker, executive director of the Greater Houston Partnership’s Houston Energy Transition Initiative, as the executive chairperson of its inaugural urban reforestation event next month.

SCS, a provider of liquid hydrocarbon, water, and CO2 measurement systems, is holding the event on March 23 at the Galena Park Resource and Training Center in Galena Park, Texas, in collaboration with One Tree Planted and Trees for Houston.

“We are honored that Jane Stricker is spearheading our Galena Park tree-planting effort. As a revered leader in the energy transformation movement, Jane's impact is profound across Houston’s diverse energy sector and internationally,” Cody Johnson, CEO of SCS Technologies, says in a news release. “Jane's stewardship of this event underscores the vital importance of fostering partnerships between the community and industry to improve local environments and make strides in reducing our collective carbon footprint.

"Our donation of trees to the Galena Park area—a community just east of Houston materially affected by emissions from surrounding petrochemical plants—is one step towards environmental restoration and tree equity," he continues.

The goal for the event is to give out 1,125 shade, flowering, and fruit trees to community members, who will be asked to plant at their homes and businesses.

“The vast undertaking of the energy transformation requires more than just technological innovation; it demands a shared commitment from all sectors to enact real change. SCS Technologies is leading by example, demonstrating how innovative solutions and community-focused actions can drive meaningful change,” Stricker adds in the release. “As the executive chairperson, I am proud to be part of the Galena Park tree distribution event, an initiative that illustrates our shared dedication to environmental sustainability and community enrichment. The impact of these trees extends beyond carbon sequestration, bringing beauty and much-needed shade from our hot summer sun to the Galena Park community.”

The initiative is a part of SCS's goal to plant 100,000 trees in "economically challenged urban neighborhoods" across Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana by 2030. The company, per its environmental initiatives, is also participating in SME Net Zero by 2050.