energy transition materials

DOE grants Houston-area energy tech co. over $5M for rare earth elements study

A company headquartered in The Woodlands has secured funding to study the recovery of rare earth elements as they pertain to the energy transition. Photo via

The Woodlands-based Tetra Technologies, an energy technology and services company, has picked up nearly $5.4 million in U.S. Department of Energy funding to study the recovery of rare earth elements and other critical minerals from coal byproducts in Pennsylvania.

The funding also will enable Tetra to explore converting coal byproducts, known as underclay, into clays that could be sold. In addition to the DOE funding, the company also secured about $1.3 million for a total of $6.7 million.

Publicly traded Tetra got the funding as part of a more than $17 million package aimed at designing and building facilities to produce rare earth elements, along with other critical minerals and materials, from coal resources. The Department of Energy (DOE) says these minerals and materials will go toward generating clean energy.

Rare earth elements can be derived from the country’s more than 250 billion tons of coal reserves, over 4 billion tons of waste coal, and about 2 billion tons of coal ash, according to DOE.

Clean energy fixtures like solar plants, wind farms, and electric vehicles generally require more minerals to build than their fossil-fuel-based counterparts, according to the International Energy Agency. For example, a typical electric car requires six times the mineral resources of a conventional car and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired plant.

The American Geosciences Institute says rare earth elements, a set of 17 metallic elements, also are an essential component of many tech-dependent products. These include cell phones, flat-screen TVs, and radar and sonar systems.

China is the top country for production of rare earth elements, with the U.S. far behind at No. 2.

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A View From HETI

Governor 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. Photo via X/Governor Abbott

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.

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