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Startups, Major Corporations Announce New Houston Energy 2.0 Projects in First Half of '21

Published Jun 11, 2021 by A.J. Mistretta


Chemical worker at Solugen

The pandemic, social influence and other factors appear to be accelerating the energy transition to a low-carbon future. Companies large and small, as well as governments around the world, are preparing for the change, and Houston is no exception. The acknowledged energy capital of the world is now working to position itself as the energy transition capital of the world. 

Later this month, the Partnership will co-host The Future of Global Energy, presented by Chevron, a three-day conference in collaboration with the Center for Houston’s Future. On day one, the Partnership will reveal a blueprint for how Houston can guide the global energy transition—leveraging its knowledge and infrastructure. Other sessions will feature discussions on how to bolster carbon capture use and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen technologies in the region. 

The Houston region is already attracting significant activity in the energy transition and energy 2.0 spaces. Following announcements from Greentown Labs and other players last year, momentum is ramping up in 2021. Here are a few projects we’re watching.

In February, Halliburton Labs announced the inaugural cohort of companies for its program that makes the oil field services giant’s labs, technical expertise and business network available to early-stage energy 2.0 companies. The goal is to help the companies prepare to commercialize and scale their technology. The initial cohort includes Nanotech Inc., Enexor BioEnergy, Momentum Technologies and OCO Inc. 

Media reports in March described a new 100-megawatt energy storage project being built in Angleton, about 40 miles south of downtown Houston. The project is registered to Gambit Energy Storage LLC, which is reportedly a subsidiary of Tesla. Battery storage initiatives are picking up across Texas and elsewhere around the country as companies work to increase the efficiency and capacity of large-scale power storage. The Angleton project could be enough to power 20,000 homes during the peak of summer. 

Rendering of how proposed ExxonMobil Houston Ship Channel project would work

In April, ExxonMobil revealed a $100 billion proposal to create an innovation zone along the Houston Ship Channel that would capture carbon emissions from petrochemical, manufacturing and other plants. Those emissions would then be transported and stored in natural geologic formations on the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico. Initial projections from the company estimate the project could capture and store about 50 million metric tons of CO2 a year by 2030. The project would require funding from both industry and government and is still in the feasibility stage. 

Danish power company Ørsted is building Old 300, a 1.1-gigawatt solar PV, in Fort Bend County. The Old 300 Solar Center will cover an area of 2,800 acres and use approximately 1 million bifacial modules. The company said Old 300 will create a dependable source of income for the ranches that lease their land for the project. "With its location close to Houston, Old 300 will further diversify our onshore footprint into a premium market with strong long-term fundamentals." said Vishal Kapadia, chief commercial officer for onshore with Ørsted. "We're excited to add another large-scale, attractively contracted solar project to our portfolio. Solar is the fastest-growing power generation technology in the world and will continue to play a key role in our growth going forward."

Houston bio-manufacturing company Solugen is working on a project to create a new bio-based manufacturing process for a specialty chemical. The zero-carbon process for creating glucaric acid, which is a useful anti-corrosive agent, could represent a lucrative new product line for Solugen and set a roadmap for other low-carbon or no-carbon chemical manufacturing.  

Cemvita Factory, a Houston-based startup that uses biotech to convert carbon dioxide emissions into a variety of useful chemicals, is plotting an expansion. The company said in May that it would more than triple its current headcount of 30 as it scales up to meet growing demand for services. Cemvita Factory uses synthetic biological processes to genetically alter microorganisms to absorb carbon dioxide and other molecules as feedstock. The altered microbes can then be turned into a variety of chemicals for industrial use, such as ethylene, which can be used to make plastics. 

These are just a handful of the energy 2.0 projects happening across the Houston region. To learn more about the role such companies will play in the energy transition and how Houston is positioned to lead the effort, register today for The Future of Global Energy, presented by Chevron

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Day 3 of Future of Global Energy: Hydrogen's Role in the Transition

Houston, already a leading hydrogen producer, has the ingredients to become a global hub for low-carbon hydrogen, a point stressed by leaders from across industry, government and community organizations on the third and final day of The Future of Global Energy conference. Creating a low-carbon hydrogen hub would help us decarbonize locally, bring emissions-reducing products and services to the nation and world, and create new jobs and investment. Doing so will require new levels and models of cooperation. Here is a recap of the conversations about hydrogen on Day 3: Houston’s Role in Leading the Energy Transition The morning began with keynotes setting stage, from local to global. Houston played a leading role in energy transitions over the years, said Daniel Droog, Chevron’s Vice President of Energy Transition, and it’s no different this time around. “Solving the great challenges in energy depends on people,” Droog said. “It is the people in Houston that made it the energy leader and why Houston will remain the world's energy leader.” Chevron is contributing by doing everything from lowering the carbon footprint of its own operations to developing new technologies to bring to market. That involves working in Houston to scale up low-carbon hydrogen businesses, including around heavy-duty transportation and hard-to-abate industries and processes. Global View of the Hydrogen Industry Clean hydrogen will play a growing role across the entire economy as the world moves to net-zero, said keynote speaker Andreas Wagner, who leads hydrogen activities at the Energy Transitions Commission, a global coalition of leaders from across the energy landscape committed to achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century. He highlighted opportunities in a series of sectors, including manufacturing, shipping, aviation, power and steel. “Houston has one of the best hydrogen infrastructures already in place, making it primed to be a leader in clean hydrogen," said Wagner. Sector specific policies, certification standards and a price on carbon will also help grow demand for clean hydrogen, he concluded. Panel 1: What Will it Take to Launch Houston's Hydrogen Hub? Panelists representing government, industry and finance detailed Houston’s strong base of assets and considered what’s needed to mesh them into a thriving low-carbon hydrogen hub. Chris Angelides, Head of U.S. Energy Transition Program, Shell Rich Byrnes, Chief Infrastructure Officer, Port of Houston Scott Doyle, Executive Vice President - Natural Gas, CenterPoint Energy Pierre-Etienne Franc, Chief Executive Officer, 5T Hydrogen AG Vaseem Khan, Global Vice President, Digital and Analytics, McDermott International Moderator: Andy Steinhubl, Vice Chair, Center for Houston’s Future Low-carbon hydrogen can be transformative for the energy industry, be it what’s known as blue hydrogen – hydrogen produced with a fossil fuel base and paired with carbon capture to remove emissions – or hydrogen produced with renewable power and no emissions. But the industry, end-users and/or policymakers must work together to drive down productions costs, prove that robust demand will exist and, in essence, demonstrate how commercial markets can and will work. A successful demonstration effort will help Houston accelerate its success, said Angelides, who noted that Shell is participating in a number of hydrogen projects and sees a future in which low-carbon hydrogen fuels play an important role in both transportation and heavy industry. Doyle also stressed that stakeholders need to come together to figure out ultimate questions around economics and scale. A new level of collaboration is required to make all the pieces come together, emphasized Khan. The panel was optimistic about Houston’s chances as low-carbon hydrogen hub and its ability to lead the energy transition. "It is exciting how far we have already come,” Angelides said. “We are now looking at the transition across the entire value chain.” Panel 2: Who Wins in Producing Hydrogen’s Many-Colored Rainbow? Of the highest importance is the carbon intensity of any carbon type, concluded panelists, who also stressed the need for a variety of types in Houston, creation of transparent trading markets and, again, the need for collaboration. Kathy Ayers, Vice President Research & Development, Nel Hydrogen Deia Bayoumi, Vice President Production Management, Bloom Energy Trevor Best, Chief Executive Officer, Syzygy Plasmonics Andrew Garnett, Director, Special Projects - Corporate Strategy, Air Liquide Roman Kramarchuk, Head Energy Scenarios, Policy & Technology Analytics, S&P Global Platts Moderator: Nichelle McLemore, Managing Director Oil, Gas and Chemicals, Deloitte "There will be multiple technologies in the future, and we will need collaboration,” said Andrew Garnett, Interim President, Air Liquide U.S. Hydrogen Energy. “One company will not be able to build on hydrogen innovation alone." Different circumstances will yield different winners, noted Ayers, who also envisioned a future with a broad mix of hydrogen technologies. Rather than the current rainbow-color-system of labeling hydrogen production (example: grey plus carbon capture’s blue), panelists noted what is important is the “carbon intensity” of the hydrogen and the hydrogen production process. Best noted that some hydrogen fuels don’t have a color – and what is most important is the carbon intensity across a life cycle. The panel also focused on Houston’s strengths: people, infrastructure and industry. Also stressed was the need to act now or risk our advantages slipping away. The group again called for demonstration projects. "Houston can be the leader in the hydrogen market, it already has all the pieces,” Kramarchuk said. Panel 3: How Do We Grow Early Applications for the Hydrogen Hub? Houston has all the makings of a net-zero cluster – from a skilled workforce to infrastructure to R&D – but must act boldly and collaboratively to bring it all together, this panel concluded. Neva Espinoza, Vice President, Energy Supply and Low-Carbon Resources at the Electric Power Research Institute Michael Lewis, Senior Engineering Scientist, University of Texas Brian Rapp, Vice President of Business Development, Texas Brine Company Pradeep Venkataraman, Senior Manager, Investment and Business Development, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America Brian Weeks, Senior Director, Business Development, GTI Katie Zimmerman, Business Development Manager, Energy Transition, Wood Group “Houston is already a hydrogen hub,” said Espinoza. “You’re trying to be a net-zero hydrogen hub.” The region should undertake a big, bold, banner low-carbon hydrogen project that draws attention, enthusiasm and demonstrates we can do it here, said Zimmerman. We have opportunities to excel in a range of applications such as energy storage, power, industrial processes transportation, hydrogen-derived fuels and exports. One asset Houston should highlight and take advantage of is the global footprint of our energy companies and population, said Weeks. The group stressed the need for policy incentives, regulatory clarity, innovation, financing and drawing start-ups to Houston and research. And, again, collaboration. Policies Shaping the Energy Transition In closing keynotes Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher, Texas 7th Congressional District, and Jigar Shah, Director of the U.S. Department of Energy Loan Program Office, offered a federal perspective. Fletcher stressed how Houston must and can lead the transition to a low-carbon future. She detailed Biden’s administration legislation rich with provisions to boost investment in the energy transition including tax credits and funding for demonstration projects. Congress is also considering a series of other efforts. Shah detailed how the federal loan program has already helped spur key breakthroughs in solar and electric vehicles. And his office is reviewing applications for low-carbon hydrogen projects. Washington, he said, sees significant opportunity ahead for low-carbon hydrogen. All told, the day’s speakers made a strong case that Houston is the logical place for a world-class low-carbon hydrogen hub. But work remains in weaving all the pieces together. Learn more about the Center for Houston's Future and get more insight from the Future of Global Energy conference and the region's efforts around energy transition.  
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