Debalina Sengupta has been named as the chief operating officer of UH's Energy Transition Institute. Photo via UH.edu

The University of Houston has named a new C-level executive to its energy transition-focused initiative.

Debalina Sengupta has been named as the chief operating officer of UH's Energy Transition Institute, which was established in 2022 by a $10 million commitment from Shell USA Inc. and Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc. The institute focuses on hydrogen, carbon management and circular plastics and works closely with UH’s Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute and researchers across the university.

Sengupta, who was previously a chemical engineer with over 18 years of experience with sustainability and resilience issues, was called to ETI’s mission and its focus on Houston, which is home to more than 4,500 energy companies and a pivotal international oil and gas hub.

“UH Energy Transition Institute is the first of its kind Institute setup in Texas that focuses solely on the transition of energy,” she says in a news release. “A two-way communication between the academic community and various stakeholders is necessary to implement the transition and I saw the UH ETI role enabling me to achieve this critical goal.”

Originally from India, where she saw first-hand the impact of natural disasters, she has been working with Texas coastal communities over the past two years to not help bring coastal resilience projects along the coast. The Texas coast will serve potentially as an economic development zone for several energy transition projects.

“It is necessary that we think deeply about sustainability quantification for our energy systems, diversify and expand from fossil to non-fossil resources, and understand how it can impact our future generations,” Sengupta continues. “This requires rigorous training and adopting new technologies that will enable the change, and I am dedicated to work towards this goal for UH ETI.”

Sengupta has also worked as a postdoctoral research fellow in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Jadavpur University in India and a doctorate from Louisiana State University with a focus on process systems engineering. Sengupta previously was at Texas A&M University where she was the Coastal Resilience Program director for Texas Sea Grant,which is a federal-state partnership program funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She has served as the associate director of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station’s Gas and Fuels Research Center; coordinator of the Water, Energy and Food Nexus at Texas A&M Energy Institute; and lecturer at the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering.

The ETI has helped catalyze “cross-disciplinary cooperation” to expand funding opportunities for UH faculty, which includes direct funding of over 24 projects via seed grants. As the new COO, Sengupta will work alongside founding executive director of the institute, Joe Powell, their executive team and the ETI advisory board to develop and implement strategic plans. Her position is partially funded by a $500,000 grant from the Houston-based Cullen Foundation.

“We are excited to have Dr. Sengupta join us at UH to help drive the Energy Transition Institute to fulfill its mission in educating students, expanding top-tier research, and providing thought leadership in sustainable energy and chemicals for the Houston area and beyond,” Powell adds. “Dr. Sengupta brings a strong background and network in collaborating with academic, community, governmental and industry partners to build the coalitions needed for success.”

The two companies will work closely with UH's Repurposing Offshore Infrastructure for Clean Energy Project Collaborative, or the ROICE project. Photo via UH.edu

UH to explore repurposing offshore tech for clean energy with new partnership

teaming up

The University of Houston has signed a memorandum of understanding with two Houston-based companies that aims to repurpose offshore infrastructure for the energy transition.

The partnership with Promethean Energy and Endeavor Management ensures that the two companies will work closely with UH's Repurposing Offshore Infrastructure for Clean Energy Project Collaborative, or the ROICE project. The collaborative is supported by about 40 institutions to address the economic and technical challenges behind repurposing offshore wells, according to a statement from UH. It's funded in part by the Department of the Treasury through the State of Texas.

“These MOUs formalize our mutual commitment to advance the industry's implementation of energy transition strategies,” Ram Seetharam, Energy Center officer and ROICE program lead, said in the statement. “Together, we aim to create impactful solutions that will benefit both the energy sector and society as a whole.”

UH announced the partnership last week. Photo via UH.edu

Promethean Energy develops, produces, and decommissions mature assets in a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable manner. It began working on the temporary abandonment of nine wells located in the Matagorda Island lease area in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.

According to Clint Boman, senior vice president of operations at Promethean, it is slated to become the first ROICE operator of a repurposed oil and gas facility in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Promethean Energy is focused on being the best, last steward of offshore oil and gas production assets, and our strategy is fully aligned with an orderly energy transition,” Borman said in the statement.

Endeavor Management is a consulting firm that works in several industries, including oil and gas, industrial service, transportation, technology and more.

“Our collaboration for this ROICE phase and with the RPC will blend our offshore operations expertise, our years of experience addressing evolving regulatory requirements with our decades of creating innovative commercial enterprises to meet the demands of energy transition” John McKeever, chief growth officer of Endeavor Management, said in the statement. “Together, we will create the blueprint that drives real business impact with the application of clean energy principles.”

The new partnerships will help foster ROICE's second phase. The first was focused on research and reports on how to implement ROICE projects, with the latest published earlier this month. This second phase will focus on innovation and implementation frameworks.

Additionally, at the signing of the MOU, ROICE revealed its new logo that features an oil and gas platform that's been transformed to feature wind turbines, a hydrogen tank and other symbols of the energy transition.

This spring, UH signed a memorandum of understanding with Heriot-Watt University in Scotland to focus on hydrogen energy solutions. The following month, Rice University announced it had inked a strategic partnership agreement with Université Paris Sciences & Lettres to collaborate on "fields of energy and climate," among other pressing issues. Click here to read more.

ReVolt Battery Technology Corp. is based out of the University of Houston Innovation Center. Photo via revoltbatterytechnology.com

Houston SaaS startup on a mission of decarbonizing public transportation secures SBIR grant

seeing green

A Houston company that's electrifying public transportation secured a SBIR Phase 1 award from the Department of Transportation.

ReVolt Battery Technology Corp., software-as-a-service company based out of the University of Houston Innovation Center, received the award. The company did not disclose the monetary value of the funding, but indicated that the grant will support ReVolt's "research on reducing auxiliary power consumption in battery electric buses," according to a statement from the company.

"ReVolt stands out as one of only 23 small businesses across the United States to be selected in this highly competitive process, which focuses on creating innovative infrastructure for safe and secure transportation," reads the statement.

The company's software technology platform consists of charging infrastructure, electric vehicle scheduling, fleet digital twin, and greenhouse gas reduction and estimation.

The company was founded in 2021 by Jan Naidu and, according to Crunchbase, has raised $200,000 in pre-seed funding.

Switching fully to electric vehicles could prevent 157 premature deaths each month in Houston. Photo courtesy

New Houston study shows health impacts of full vehicle electrification in major U.S. cities

what could be

A new study from the University of Houston shows that there's no one-size-fits-all strategy for full vehicle electrification in America's largest U.S. cities.

The study by Ali Mousavinezhad and Yunsoo Choi considered changes in air pollution, specifically PM2.5 and ozone levels, in Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago under different electrification scenarios and how the changes could impact public health.

“Our findings indicate vehicle electrification generally contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and lowering the mortality rate associated with exposure to toxic air pollutants,” Mousavinezhad said in a statement.

However, Mousavinezhad and Choi found that full electrification in Los Angeles could have negative impacts on public health.

Switching fully to electric vehicles could prevent 157 premature deaths each month in Houston, 796 deaths in New York and 328 in Chicago, according to the study. But in Los Angeles, full electrification would increase mortality.

Additionally, full electrification would save between $51 million to $249 million per day for New York, Chicago, and Houston in health-related costs. But Los Angeles would face economic losses of up to $18 million per day.

This was largely due to the unique weather and geography in Los Angeles that can trap air pollutants that harm the lungs. The study found that full electrification would lead to increases in PM2.5 and MDA8 ozone. According to UH, the study reveals the importance and "complexity of air quality management."

“The four largest U.S. cities have distinct anthropogenic sources of air pollutants and greenhouse gases, “Choi added. “Each city requires unique regulations or strategies, including different scenarios for the adoption of electric vehicles, to reduce concentrations of these pollutants and greenhouse gases effectively.”

Mousavinezhad, lead author, is a recent Ph.D. graduate from UH. Choi is a professor of atmospheric chemistry, AI deep learning, air quality modeling and satellite remote sensing. The study, titled “Air quality and health co-benefits of vehicle electrification and emission controls in the most populated United States urban hubs: insights from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston,” was published in the journal Science of the Total Environment earlier this year.

Earlier this year, Texas ranked low in a study that looked at the closest EV charging stations equivalent to a trip to the gas station. However, another study showed that Texas is among the top of the pack for states with the most electric vehicle registrations, but Houston fell behind other large metros in the state for EV friendliness. Click here to read more about both reports.
The DOE program allows graduate students to work on research projects that address national and international energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges. Photo via UH.edu

Houston students selected for prestigious DOE program

rising stars

Three rising stars in the energy sector who are graduate students at the University of Houston have been chosen for a prestigious U.S. Department of Energy research program.

UH doctoral candidates Caleb Broodo, Leonard Jiang, and Farzana Likhi, are among 86 students from 31 states who were selected for the Office of Science Graduate Student Research program, which provides training at Department of Energy (DOE) labs.

“This recognition is a testament to their hard work and dedication to pushing the boundaries of science, and to our commitment to fostering excellence in research and innovation,” Sarah Larsen, vice provost and dean of the UH’s graduate school, says in a news release.

The DOE program allows graduate students to work on research projects that address national and international energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges.

The program “is a unique opportunity for graduate students to complete their Ph.D. training with teams of world-class experts aiming to answer some of the most challenging problems in fundamental science,” says Harriet Kung, acting director of DOE’s Office of Science. “Gaining access to cutting-edge tools for scientific discovery at DOE national laboratories will be instrumental in preparing the next generation of scientific leaders.”

Here’s a rundown of the UH trio’s involvement in the DOE program:

  • Broodo, a second-year Ph.D. candidate whose research focuses on heavy ion nuclear physics, will work at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.
  • Jiang, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in materials science and engineering, will head to Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois to research electrochemistry.
  • Likhi, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the materials science and engineering program, will conduct research on microelectronics at Oak Ridge Laboratory in Tennessee.
Discovery Green's Earth Day event generated more than 3,800 pounds of garbage — and over 90 percent of it was diverted from landfills. Photo courtesy of Discovery Green

Houston organization celebrates zero waste goal

earth day win

Discovery Green celebrated Earth Day with a major milestone this year — achieving it’s Zero Waste goal.

The nonprofit, along with Citizens’ Environmental Coalition and Houston Public Works, are announced that the 2024 Green Mountain Energy Earth Day, which generated more than 3,800 pounds of garbage, diverted the majority of that waste from landfills. "Zero Waste," as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, is successfully diverting at least 90 percent of waste from the landfill.

On Earth Day, Discovery Green composted 2,200 pounds of waste and recycled 1,300 pounds of trash.

“Part of Discovery Green Conservancy’s mission is to serve as a village green for our city and be a source of health and happiness for all. Our goal is to sustain an exceptional environment for nature and people,” Discover Green President Kathryn Lott says in a news release. “We are beyond thrilled to have achieved Zero Waste certification.”

The achievement was made possible by volunteers from the University of Houston – Downtown.

Steve Stelzer, president of Citizens’ Environmental Coalition’s board of directors, acknowledged how rare the achievement is in a public space in a major city like Houston.

“Discovery Green Conservancy stepped up and made a commitment to weigh, measure and record everything. They should be congratulated to have done this at this scale,” Stelzer adds. “The Conservancy said they were going to do it and they did. It’s an amazing accomplishment.”

The 2024 event included:

  • 31,000 visitors in attendance
  • 60 + exhibitors
  • 100 + volunteers
  • 12 artists
    • 9 chalk artists
    • Donkeeboy and Donkeemom
    • Mark Bradford
  • 25 Mark Bradford artworks made of scrap presented in partnership with Houston First
  • 4 short films shown
  • 3,836.7 pounds of waste collected during Green Mountain Energy Earth Day
Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Oxy subsidiary secures Microsoft as largest-ever DAC carbon removal credit customer

major move

Occidental Petroleum’s Houston-based carbon capture, utilization and, sequestration (CCUS) subsidiary, 1PointFive, has inked a six-year deal to sell 500,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide removal credits to software giant Microsoft.

In a news release, 1Point5 says this agreement represents the largest-ever single purchase of carbon credits enabled by direct air capture (DAC). DAC technology pulls CO2 from the air at any location, not just where carbon dioxide is emitted.

Under the agreement, the carbon dioxide that underlies the credits will be stored in a below-the-surface saline aquifer and won’t be used to produce oil or gas.

“A commitment of this magnitude further demonstrates how one of the world’s largest corporations is integrating scalable [DAC] into its net-zero strategy,” says Michael Avery, president and general manager of 1PointFive. “Energy demand across the technology industry is increasing, and we believe [DAC] is uniquely suited to remove residual emissions and further climate goals.”

Brian Marrs, senior director for carbon removal and energy at Microsoft, says DAC plays a key role in Microsoft’s effort to become carbon-negative by 2030.

The carbon dioxide will be stored at 1PointFive’s first industrial-scale DAC plant, being built near Odessa. The $1.3 billion Stratos project, which 1Point5 is developing through a joint venture with investment manager BlackRock, is designed to capture up to 500,000 metric tons of CO2 per year.

The facility is scheduled to open in mid-2025.

Aside from Microsoft, organizations that have agreed to buy carbon removal credits from 1Point5 include Amazon, Airbus, All Nippon Airways, the Houston Astros, the Houston Texans, and TD Bank.

Occidental says 1PointFive plans to set up more than 100 DAC facilities worldwide by 2035.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott demands answers from Houston power company following Beryl

investigation incoming

With around 270,000 homes and businesses still without power in the Houston area almost a week after Hurricane Beryl hit Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday said he's demanding an investigation into the response of the utility that serves the area as well as answers about its preparations for upcoming storms.

“Power companies along the Gulf Coast must be prepared to deal with hurricanes, to state the obvious,” Abbott said at his first news conference about Beryl since returning to the state from an economic development trip to Asia.

While CenterPoint Energy has restored power to about 2 million customers since the storm hit on July 8, the slow pace of recovery has put the utility, which provides electricity to the nation’s fourth-largest city, under mounting scrutiny over whether it was sufficiently prepared for the storm that left people without air conditioning in the searing summer heat.

Abbott said he was sending a letter to the Public Utility Commission of Texas requiring it to investigate why restoration has taken so long and what must be done to fix it. In the Houston area, Beryl toppled transmission lines, uprooted trees and snapped branches that crashed into power lines.

With months of hurricane season left, Abbott said he's giving CenterPoint until the end of the month to specify what it'll be doing to reduce or eliminate power outages in the event of another storm. He said that will include the company providing detailed plans to remove vegetation that still threatens power lines.

Abbott also said that CenterPoint didn't have “an adequate number of workers pre-staged" before the storm hit.

Following Abbott's news conference, CenterPoint said its top priority was “power to the remaining impacted customers as safely and quickly as possible,” adding that on Monday, the utility expects to have restored power to 90% of its customers. CenterPoint said it was committed to working with state and local leaders and to doing a “thorough review of our response.”

CenterPoint also said Sunday that it’s been “investing for years” to strengthen the area’s resilience to such storms.

The utility has defended its preparation for the storm and said that it has brought in about 12,000 additional workers from outside Houston. It has said it would have been unsafe to preposition those workers inside the predicted storm impact area before Beryl made landfall.

Brad Tutunjian, vice president for regulatory policy for CenterPoint Energy, said last week that the extensive damage to trees and power poles hampered the ability to restore power quickly.

A post Sunday on CenterPoint's website from its president and CEO, Jason Wells, said that over 2,100 utility poles were damaged during the storm and over 18,600 trees had to be removed from power lines, which impacted over 75% of the utility's distribution circuits.

Things to know: Beryl in the rearview, Devon Energy's big deal, and events not to miss

taking notes

Editor's note: Dive headfirst into the new week with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition.

Hurricane Beryl's big impact

Hundreds of thousands of people in the Houston area likely won’t have power restored until this week, as the city swelters in the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl.

The storm slammed into Texas on July 8, knocking out power to nearly 2.7 million homes and businesses and leaving huge swaths of the region in the dark and without air conditioning in the searing summer heat.

Although repairs have restored power to nearly 1.4 million customers, the scale of the damage and slow pace of recovery has put CenterPoint Energy, which provides electricity to the nation's fourth-largest city, under mounting scrutiny over whether it was sufficiently prepared for the storm and is doing enough now to make things right.

Some frustrated residents have also questioned why a part of the country that is all too familiar with major storms has been hobbled by a Category 1 hurricane, which is the weakest kind. But a storm's wind speed, alone, doesn't determine how dangerous it can be. Click here to continue reading this article from the AP.

Big deal: Devon Energy to acquire Houston exploration, production biz in $5B deal

Devon Energy is buying Grayson Mill Energy's Williston Basin business in a cash-and-stock deal valued at $5 billion as consolidation in the oil and gas sector ramps up.

The transaction includes $3.25 billion in cash and $1.75 billion in stock.

Grayson Mill Energy, based in Houston, is an oil and gas exploration company that received an initial investment from private equity firm EnCap Investments in 2016.

The firm appears to be stepping back from energy sector as it sells off assets. Last month EnCap-backed XCL Resources sold its Uinta Basin oil and gas assets to SM Energy Co. and Northern Oil and Gas in a transaction totaling $2.55 billion. EnCap had another deal in June as well, selling some assets to Matador Resources for nearly $2 billion. Click here to continue reading.

Events not to miss

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

  • 2024 Young Leaders Institute: Renewable Energy and Climate Solutions is taking place July 15 to July 19 at Asia Society of Texas. Register now.
  • CCS/Decarbonization Project Development, Finance and Investment, taking place July 23 to 25, is the deepest dive into the economic and regulatory factors driving the success of the CCS/CCUS project development landscape. Register now.
  • The 5th Texas Energy Forum 2024, organized by U.S. Energy Stream, will take place on August 21 and 22 at the Petroleum Club of Houston. Register now.