leading the way

University of Houston names new energy transition-focused executive

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.”

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A View From HETI

Nádia Skorupa Parachin joined Cemvita as vice president of industrial biotechnology. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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