seeing green

Houston company focused on renewables sees high growth potential amid 'energy revolution'

According to Houston-based ENGlobal, the company "has more promising opportunities for significant new business than at any time in [the] company's history." Photo via Getty Images

For Houston-based ENGlobal Corp., a provider of engineering and automation services geared toward the energy industry, renewable fuel facilities are a business pipeline gushing with opportunity.

ENGlobal's potential contracts for renewable fuels projects currently exceed $320 million, says Bill Coskey, the company's founder, president, and CEO. That's about six times the amount of ENGlobal's revenue through the first nine months of this year — $52.9 million.

During the company's third-quarter earnings call November 5, Coskey said publicly traded ENGlobal "has more promising opportunities for significant new business than at any time in our company's history."

Many of those opportunities stem from ENGlobal's shift a couple of years ago to a sharp focus on the renewable energy sector. This includes building utility-scale systems to store wind and solar power, and supplying modular engineered process plants for forms of energy like hydrogen and renewable diesel. Modular process plants consist of separately engineered and automated modules that are made off-site and assembled on-site.

"Manufacturing plants based on modular equipment are emerging as a viable and beneficial alternative to conventional stick-built processing plants. Modular equipment offers several benefits, including flexibility in plant siting, fewer safety concerns during construction, and ease of equipment modification," according to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

ENGlobal is engineering and fabricating a modular hydrogen plant for a renewal diesel facility scheduled for completion in May. Incorporating proprietary technology from Denmark-based Haldor Topsoe (which has two offices and one plant in the Houston area), this hydrogen plant will consume about 20 percent less feed and fuel than conventional hydrogen plants, leading to lower operating costs and a smaller carbon footprint. It's the first facility of its kind in the U.S. This $25 million project falls into a bucket of modular process plants — valued at $10 million to $200 million each — that ENGlobal typically pursues.

ENGlobal's emphasis on renewable energy is paying off, especially now. That's because this sector is less susceptible to economic harm caused by the coronavirus pandemic and to the downturn in the oil and gas industry, according to Coskey.

"To the contrary, the green and renewable energy sector is driven by a different set of project economics — the majority of which play directly to our core strengths and capabilities," Coskey said during the November 5 earnings call.

ENGlobal comprises two business units that are capitalizing on those core strengths and capabilities:

  • Engineering, procurement, and construction management
  • Automation

Through September 26, the automation segment of the business accounted for 63 percent of the company's revenue this year, with engineering, procurement, and construction at 37 percent. In the third quarter, the balance was roughly 50-50.

For the nine-month period ended September 26, ENGlobal posted a 33 percent increase in revenue compared with the same period a year earlier. Revenue for the period rose 37 percent in the automation segment of the business and 27 percent in the engineering, procurement, and construction management segment.

Looking ahead, Coskey says plants like the one employing the Haldor Topsoe technology are "a big area of growth for us."

"We've built a business which is really vertically integrated. We can engineer and design, we can mechanically fabricate the processing modules, we can automate them, we can go onto the site and start them up. So we have full-service capabilities," Coskey says in an interview.

Those capabilities are helping ENGlobal, which Coskey started in 1985, capitalize on what he dubs the "energy revolution" in the U.S.

"Oil and gas has a long runway and is sometimes not given enough credit," he says. "But I can tell you that the capital spending for traditional oil and gas projects pretty much dried up during the course of this year. And we had to look for other sources of work for our people, so we were fortunate to have these renewable energy projects to work on."

Evercore ESI predicts capital spending on energy exploration and production in the U.S. will fall 43 percent this year compared with 2019. Meanwhile, S&P Global Market Intelligence forecasts $14.26 billion in capital spending this year on renewable energy by major U.S. utilities, up more than 20 percent from an earlier projection for 2020. The share of U.S. electricity generation from renewable energy is expected to increase from 18 percent in 2019 to 20 percent this year and 21 percent in 2021, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says.

"There's a lot of money that used to flow into oil and gas projects that now seems to be flowing into renewable energy projects," Coskey says. "We were lucky to identify that early and be positioned to capture some of that."

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Building Houston

 
 

When examining how you can better prepare and respond to ongoing climate-related challenges, the CRE community needs to prioritize marginalized communities that are already experiencing most of the negative impacts. Photography by Peter Molick

Houston is no stranger to hurricanes, and in recent years winter storms have become an increasing concern. Following the winter freeze in 2021, more than 4 million Texans were left without power, water, or heat. The state’s infrastructure system was adversely impacted concurrently — including workplaces, hospitals, transportation, homes, drinking water distribution, electric power generation, agriculture, and grocery stores. Now, a new potential disaster is on the horizon. Recent research shows Houston is most likely to be affected by wildfires, a climate-related challenge that our city has not previously faced.

According to the Gensler Research Institute’s 2022 U.S. Climate Action Survey, since 2019, only 18 percent of Americans believe their communities are built to withstand climate change. The good news is Americans overwhelmingly agree that addressing climate change is urgent. The question many are asking is — “How can we take action to better prepare buildings and cities to weather the climate challenge?” The solution is simple. In order to understand where we need to go, we must understand how we got here.

With a population that has more than doubled in the past 50 years, it is challenging for most Houstonians to imagine a time when The Bayou City was nothing more than agricultural lands and oil fields. Today, Houston is known for being the fourth-most populous city in the United States. It is a sprawling concrete jungle home to the world’s largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions. When reflecting on the past 50 years, one can’t help but evaluate the city’s successes and shortcomings. While Houston has succeeded in becoming a diverse, international city, we have sacrificed the very ecology that once made up one of the country’s most productive agricultural areas. By 1980, Houston possessed the least amount of green space per person in the country.

As new developments popped up across the city, it became difficult to convince developers to pursue third-party certifications such as LEED, a globally recognized symbol of sustainability that provides the framework for designing healthy, efficient, carbon saving buildings. We can credit Hines with being one of the few developers in Houston to prioritize green design during the early-2000s. City leaders also began advocating for resilient strategies and more green space to attract and retain international talent and businesses. In recent years, we have seen an increase in buildings that are achieving LEED certification, and soon it will become the baseline.

The Houston Advanced Research Center, Photography by Shau Lin Hon, Slyworks Photography

An example of a project leading the way for resilient design is The Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC). In 2017 the organization completed work on its LEED Platinum Certified headquarters which was designed to meet the ENERGY STAR certification rate of 99 (out of 100). This means that the building is more efficient than 99 percent of all office buildings in the United States. Skanska is another construction and development company bringing a sustainable mindset to downtown Houston with its work on Bank of America Tower. In 2019, the 775,000 square foot building became the largest LEED v4 Platinum Core and Shell certified project in the world to date and was developed with harvesting technology that will significantly reduce energy usage.

It’s also important to understand the impact that the climate crisis is having on people. 91 percent of U.S. Gen Z/Millennials have been affected by extreme weather events since 2019, the most of any generation. These experiences have resulted in two generations preparing to react and combat climate change and has encouraged a spirit of transparency among companies who choose to share their environmental goals and strategies.

For architects and designers, addressing building and energy codes is proving to be the next big design consideration. As codes progress in the coming years, the result will be more unique and unexpected building designs.

When reimagining the use of buildings, Architects Paulina Abella and Tayler Trojcak propose an experimental process for repurposing vacant buildings called High Hackers. The concept provides an opportunity for developers to offer prime downtown real estate to people with diverse skill sets, whom they call “hackers,” to pursue projects shaped by their individual ideas. These hackers—makers, artists, and academics—will work alongside one another in spaces that encourage them to coexist with creatives from other fields and disciplines. More importantly, it fosters a collaborative, organic, and innovative workflow.

When examining how you can better prepare and respond to ongoing climate-related challenges, we encourage prioritizing marginalized communities that are already experiencing most of the negative impacts. Promoting awareness and optimism in our communities is another simple yet effective way to make a difference. For businesses, creating a sense of continuity in the face of climate events, investing in energy and resource efficiency and adaptation, and addressing insurability and the long-term value of real estate will ultimately help lead Houston and its community members toward a place of preparedness and resiliency.

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Rives Taylor directs Gensler’s Global Design Resilience teams and initiatives and has been a faculty member of both Rice University and the University of Houston for 30 years. Maria Perez is a design resilience leader for Gensler’s South Central region and director of sustainable design based in Gensler’s Houston office.

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