Houston energy transition folks: Here's what to know this week. Photo via Getty Images

Editor's note: It's a new week — start it strong with three quick things to know in Houston's energy transition: events not to miss, energy startups win big, and more.

Events not to miss

Add these events to your radar:

  • November 15 - RuggedEdge Reshaping AI and Connectivity in the Energy Industry "Staying Connected to Leverage Artificial Intelligence." Register.
  • November 16-17 - Carbon Management Dialogue will host a conversation about carbon capture, transport, and storage in the Greater Houston Area. Register.
  • November 30 - Carbon to Value Initiative Year 3 Final Showcase will be streamed online. Register.
  • December 7 - Greentown Labs Investor Speaker Series: Both Sides of the Coin will host a thoughtful fireside chat followed by networking. Register.

To stream: Houston Innovators Podcast with Wogbe Ofori

The energy transition has momentum, according to Wogbe Ofori. But there's still a ways to go.

Ofori, the founder and chief strategist of WRX Companies, is an adviser to Nauticus Robotics and strategist to Intuitive Machines and Jacobs, he's also served as a mentor across the local innovation community. He's narrowed in on hardtech and has has gotten a front-row seat to observing what's happening in Houston amid the energy transition, as he explains on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

3 Houston energy startups named winners at annual innovation event

Three energy tech startups scored wins this week at the annual Houston Innovation Awards.

The awards program — hosted by EnergyCapital's sister site, InnovationMap, and Houston Exponential — named its winners on November 8 at the Houston Innovation Awards. The program was established to honor the best and brightest companies and individuals from the city's innovation community.

Eighteen Houston energy startups were named finalists last month across categories, and three won awards. Click here to meet the winners.

Wogbe Ofori, founder and chief strategist of WRX Companies, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss hardtech and Houston as an energy transition city. Photo via LinkedIn

Energy transition in Houston is going to 'take time and be hard'

Q&A

The energy transition has momentum, according to Wogbe Ofori. But there's still a ways to go.

Ofori, the founder and chief strategist of WRX Companies, is an adviser to Nauticus Robotics and strategist to Intuitive Machines and Jacobs, he's also served as a mentor across the local innovation community. He's narrowed in on hardtech and has has gotten a front-row seat to observing what's happening in Houston amid the energy transition, as he explains on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Listen to the episode and read an excerpt below.

EnergyCapital: Looking back on some of the recent trends of the energy transition, what have you observed?

Wogbe Ofori: The energy transition has been something that — through the last hype cycle that started in the second half of 2020 and lasted until the first quarter of 2022 — was part of that momentum along with Web3. Now, the energy transition is continued as Web3 has fallen off a cliff and now been replaced by AI, but the energy transition is continued. Where I think moving into the next major stage where now it’s time for them to actually be proven out. And these things are hard and take time to be proven out and these technologies to mature. Then for the products and services that are derived from them, to really find the right place within the market and the right use cases. The idea that there is some sort of silver bullet — whether it be hydrogen or something else — that's going to solve the problem for all use cases is completely unrealistic. The issue is that a lot of folks especially the big energy players — the O&G majors here — they know that.

EC: So, what does this next stage look like?

WO: Now we're moving into what I think is a really interesting period where it's going to be, “well do we really have the legs for this race?” Because we sprinted, and everybody got really excited. Now you starting to hear, “well you know some investors are a little worried that cleantech 2.0 might suffer some of the same fate as cleantech 1.0.” How do we avoid that? Will investors have the patience to continue to make investments into energy transition plays for the longer term, because we’re going to need that to make these transitions. It's not going to happen overnight.

EC: Where does Houston come in on all this?

WO: Well the other big question that’s being asked around is, “Can Houston actually lead this?” It's difficult for an incumbent to disrupt itself. We’ve been positioning ourselves as moving from the energy capital of the world to the energy transition capital. I'm all for it, and I'm 100 percent behind it. Now we are just at the place where we're really going to start to see the difference between those who were caught up in the excitement of the energy transition, and those who really have the faith to see this thing through. The ones who do have the faith to see this through are going to create some fantastic companies that are going to create real value and that will materially change the way we live. But it’s going to take time and be hard.

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3 Houston sustainability startups score prizes at Rice University pitch competition

seeing green

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

ExxonMobil's $60B acquisition gets FTC clearance — with one condition

M&A moves

ExxonMobil's $60 billion deal to buy Pioneer Natural Resources on Thursday received clearance from the Federal Trade Commission, but the former CEO of Pioneer was barred from joining the new company's board of directors.

The FTC said Thursday that Scott Sheffield, who founded Pioneer in 1997, colluded with OPEC and OPEC+ to potentially raise crude oil prices. Sheffield retired from the company in 2016, but he returned as president and CEO in 2019, served as CEO from 2021 to 2023, and continues to serve on the board. Since Jan. 1, he has served as special adviser to the company’s chief executive.

“Through public statements, text messages, in-person meetings, WhatsApp conversations and other communications while at Pioneer, Sheffield sought to align oil production across the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico with OPEC+,” according to the FTC. It proposed a consent order that Exxon won't appoint any Pioneer employee, with a few exceptions, to its board.

Dallas-based Pioneer said in a statement it disagreed with the allegations but would not impede closing of the merger, which was announced in October 2023.

“Sheffield and Pioneer believe that the FTC’s complaint reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. and global oil markets and misreads the nature and intent of Mr. Sheffield’s actions,” the company said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was “disappointing that FTC is making the same mistake they made 25 years ago when I warned about the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1999.”

Schumer and 22 other Democratic senators had urged the FTC to investigate the deal and a separate merger between Chevron and Hess, saying they could lead to higher prices, hurt competition and force families to pay more at the pump.

The deal with Pioneer vastly expands Exxon’s presence in the Permian Basin, a huge oilfield that straddles the border between Texas and New Mexico. Pioneer’s more than 850,000 net acres in the Midland Basin will be combined with Exxon’s 570,000 net acres in the Delaware and Midland Basin, nearly contiguous fields that will allow the combined company to trim costs.