seeing green

Houston team researching how algae can combat climate change

Venkatesh Balan and his team at UH are researching ways fresh- and salt-water phototropic organisms, or microalge, can sequester carbon from industrial refineries and convert it into useful byproducts. Photo via

Researchers at the University of Houston are looking at an alternative way to capture carbon that uses a surprising conduit: algae.

In a newly published article in Green Chemistry, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Venkatesh Balan, associate professor of engineering technology at UH, details how he and his team are researching ways fresh- and salt-water phototropic organisms, or microalgae, can sequester carbon from industrial refineries and convert it into useful byproducts.

Balan is joined by UH researchers James Pierson and Hasan Husain, Sandeep Kimar from Old Dominion University, Christopher Saffron of Michigan State University, and Vinod Kumar from Cranfield University in the United Kingdom.

According to a release from UH, Balan and research assistant Masha Alian have uncovered how microalgae can produce fungus like lichen and create healthy food products. After microalge captures the carbon, it then converts that CO2 into mass-produced proteins, lipids and carbohydrates, according to the team's research.

“We are coming up with the alternate approach of using algae to fix the CO2 then using the carbon to make bioproducts that are useful to mankind,” Balan said in the release.

The method offers an alternative to other carbon capture options that aim to burry carbon, which is expensive and energy intensive, according to UH.

Balan says this research also has applications in wastewater treatment and the production of food, fertilizers, fuels and chemicals, all of which could lessen the dependency on fossil fuels in the future.

"On your table or in your pantry, you see food products. What’s harder to visualize are the greenhouse gasses emitted by the orchard that grows the fruit, the factory that makes the breakfast cereal, the transportation that brings the cookies to your neighborhood, even your own commute to buy the food," Balan said. "It adds up, but the problem is easy to ignore because we can’t see it. Yet all consumers contribute, in our own way, to the greenhouse effect.”

The UH team is just one of many Houston groups looking at unconventional, although natural ways to combat climate change.

In September, Rice University announced that two researchers were awarded a three-year grant from the Department of Energy for their research into the processes that allow soil to store roughly three times as much carbon as organic matter compared to Earth's atmosphere.

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A View From HETI

Four energy companies are putting their money where their mouths are following Hurricane Beryl. Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Four major energy companies in the Houston area have chipped in more than $400,000 to support relief efforts for Hurricane Beryl in Southeast Texas. Nationwide, it’s estimated that the storm caused at least $28 billion in damage and economic losses.

Here’s a breakdown of contributions announced by the four energy companies.

Baker Hughes Foundation

The Baker Hughes Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Houston-based energy technology company Baker Hughes, gave a $75,000 grant to the Houston chapter of the American Red Cross for Hurricane Beryl relief efforts.

“We understand recovery and rebuilding can take weeks or months, and we support the American Red Cross’ mission of providing people with clean water, safe shelter, and food when they need them most,” says Lorenzo Simonelli, chairman and CEO of Baker Hughes.

CenterPoint Energy

Houston-based CenterPoint Energy, which at one point had more than 2 million customers without power due to Hurricane Beryl, says its foundation has donated to several disaster relief organizations in the region. These include the American Red Cross of Coastal Bend, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Combined Arms, and the 4B Disaster Response Network in Brazoria and Galveston counties.

As of July 11, the company had also provided:

  • More than 30,000 bottles of water to cooling centers and distribution centers in the Houston area.
  • Meals to local first responders.
  • Mobile power generation at cooling centers, hospitals, senior living centers, and water treatment plants.

CenterPoint didn’t assign a dollar value to its contributions.

“Our first priority is getting the lights back on. At the same time, we have seen firsthand the devastation our neighbors are facing, and our commitment to the community goes beyond restoration efforts,” says Lynnae Wilson, senior vice president of CenterPoint’s electric business.


Houston-based ConocoPhillips contributed $200,000 to relief efforts for Hurricane Beryl. The company also is matching donations from U.S. employees of ConocoPhillips.

The money is being split among the Houston Food Bank, Salvation Army and American Red Cross.

“Houston is our hometown, and many of our employees and neighbors have been impacted by Hurricane Beryl,” says Ryan Lance, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillip.

Entergy Texas

Entergy Texas, based in The Woodlands, donated $125,000 to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Beryl relief efforts. The money will go toward emergency needs such as food, shelter, and medical care.

“Our commitment to helping communities in distress remains unwavering, and we are hopeful that our contribution will offer relief and comfort to those facing hardships in the storm’s aftermath,” says Eliecer Viamontes, president and CEO of Entergy Texas.

Entergy Texas supplies electricity to about 512,000 customers in 27 counties. It’s a subsidiary of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp.

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