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Exclusive: Canadian energy software company plans to grow local team and open Houston office

A Canadian software company is expanding its presence in Houston to meet the needs of its clients. Photo via Getty Images

One of the biggest obstacles heavy industry tech startups face — especially in oil and gas — is getting that first big customer, says Vicki Knott, co-founder and CEO of Crux OCM.

"Our biggest challenge is nobody wants to be first in energy," she tells InnovationMap.

But Crux OCM, based in Calgary, overcame that challenge and currently counts Houston-based Phillips 66 among its clients. The two companies announced a pilot program for Crux OCM's pipeBOT technology earlier this year.

Crux OCM's technology focuses on automating the control room operations — something that, like most automation software, increases revenue and reduces errors. The company, which was founded in 2017, also allows its clients consistency and reliability with its software.

"Even though the pumps and the equipment are automated, control room operators are still executing procedures, checklist, and rules of thumb on their own via screens," Knott says. "If you think of pilots and planes have autopilot software, why don't our control room operators? That's really the problem we set out to tackle."

Vicki Knott is co-founder and CEO of Crux OCM. Photo courtesy

Automation is certainly a growing opportunity for energy companies — especially in light of the pandemic that forced remote work and less on-site personnel across industries. Knott says just over a year ago, Crux OCM saw increased interest.

"We had a couple customers who had their capital budget cut when the pandemic hit and when oil went negative, and we had a couple customers who said they were doubling down on software like this," Knott explains.

The company has raised $3 million in venture funding, backed by Root Ventures, Angular Ventures, and Golden Ventures. Knott says another funding round is on the horizon as is growth for its Houston presence.

Crux OCM currently has three full-time Houston employees and is looking to grow that team in the next six months. Specifically, the local team will focus on sales, as well as product development, as the company's head of sales and senior product manager are both based here. As the local clientbase grows, Knott says they will also need to hire deployment engineers as well.

A new office to support this growing team is also in the works. Knott says she's looking for space in North Houston, and, depending on how comfortable people are returning to offices and meetings, it could open as early as later this year.

Calgary and Houston have a lot in common, Knott says, and she sees a very natural connection to the two regions. Knott plans to work six months of the year in Houston with the local office.

"A lot of the companies that head offices in Houston, they have head offices in Calgary," she says. "If a startup in Houston is getting traction, I think there's a natural movement to start in the Calgary market and vice versa."

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Building Houston

 
 

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity. Photo via Getty Images

Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”

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