Efficient energy

Houston oil and gas software company is increasing downstream productivity while lowering emissions

Penrose's advance process control software can increase production by 10 to 15 percent in downstream oil and gas refineries. Pexels

In the next 30 years, the world will need 30 percent more energy due to population growth. While energy production will increase to keep up with demand, there is an increasing concern with the impact on the environment.

"How do you produce more energy without emission increases or more air quality pollution?" asks Erdin Guma, CFO of Penrose Technologies.

According to Guma, Penrose is uniquely well-suited to solve these serious challenges with its advanced process control technology increases the productivity of a chemical plant or refinery by 10 to 15 percent. The increase in productivity means the plants use less fuel to produce the energy. The plant then releases fewer emissions while producing the same amount of energy.

The technology itself is an automation software — similar to autonomous software on a plane. The autonomous operation increases downstream productivity, which brings about the energy efficiency.

"Our autopilot software (like a human operator) can manage and foresee any unexpected disturbances in the plant," Guma explains. "The achievements that the Penrose technology has brought about seemed impossible to chemical and process engineers in the refinery space a few years ago."

Penrose recently signed its first project with one of the biggest downstream firms in the world. With a network of refineries and petrochemical plants around the world, this contract could lead to a global roll out of the Penrose technology.

A ground-breaking technology for O&G
The word "Penrose" is taken from a penrose triangle, an impossible geometrical object. Guma explained that the energy efficiency brought about from their software seemed impossible at first. Penrose has been able to reduce emissions inside plants and refineries by 15 to 20 percent while keeping production at the same level.

In 2007, a chief engineer working at a major oil and gas processing plant in Houston procured the technology for one of his plants. When the engineer saw how well the technology worked, he founded Penrose Technologies in 2017 with Tom Senyard, CTO at Penrose, who originally developed the technology.

After starting the company at the end of 2007, Penrose joined Station Houston. Guma said that by becoming a member, Penrose was able to plug into a large refining and petrochemical network.

"Penrose Technologies is completely self-financed. We worked with [Station Houston] as we finalized the software to find out what potential customers thought of the product. For us, Station Houston has been a great sounding board to potential investors in the company," Guma says.

Guma also explained that while there has been an uptick in innovation in the last few years, the refining and petrochemical business is traditional a slow mover in the uptake of innovation.

"I think more major oil and gas firms are becoming attune to startups and the innovation solutions they offer," Guma says.

He went on to explain that the biggest challenge Penrose faces is perception. Since the software allows plant operators and engineers at the plant to be hands off in the processes, there is a concern with reliability. For industry insiders, any viable product must be reliable even when process conditions at the plant change, which can happen often.

"The Penrose software is maximum hand off control from operators, and the reliability of our software gives us a huge edge in other competing products that can be unreliable," Guma says.

Future growth on a global market
Given the pressing need for more environmentally sustainable energy production, new technology will be adopted in the oil and gas energy. As Guma explains it, there will be no way to continue producing energy as it's been produced for decades because the negative effects of air pollution and emissions will be too severe — particularly in the areas where refineries operate.

"We see the global market for this type of technology as severely underserved," Guma says. "It's a big and sizable market, and I think we can reach a $2 to $3 billion valuation in the next five years."

With a core team of six employees in Houston, Penrose's software is now commercially available, and the company is in full growth mode at this point. The software can be distributed directly to customers, but they are working to develop distribution with major engineering companies as well.

Guma is grateful to be in an environment conducive to energy start-ups. He sees Houston as a major advantage given its proximity to the energy sector.

"No technology rises up in a vacuum. Any new technology needs a good ecosystem to come from," says Guma. "Houston was that ecosystem for Penrose."

Backed by an Austin venture group, Navegate has opened a Houston outpost. Courtesy of Navegate

A growing software company backed by Austin-based Next Coast Ventures has set its eyes on a new office in Houston.

Navegate, a digital supply chain technology and services for the middle market with headquarters in Minneapolis and offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Shanghai, announced its new offices in Houston and Kansas City as well as a the beta version of a new software platform. The company now has 100 employees across its six offices.

"At Navegate we have a concierge-level commitment to fulfilling our clients' needs," says Nathan Dey, CEO of Navegate, in a news release. "By establishing Kansas City and Houston offices, we're expanding our footprint to have physical locations in two critical freight hubs. These locations will provide further leverage for both existing and future Navegate clients in their efforts to build best-in-class supply chains."

James Blodgett will lead the Houston office as the key accounts manager. He has more than 35 years of experience in project cargo, according to the release, and notes how important Houston is as a market considering its connection to the port.

"As a hub for cargo and oversized shipments, I'm excited to leverage our new location to strengthen customer relationships as well as grow Navegate's base for project cargo," says Blodgett in the release.

The company has financial support in Texas already. Next Coast Ventures originally got involved with the company last October when Chicago-based Saltspring Capital led Navegate's financing round. Dey, who was previously managing partner at Saltspring Capital, became CEO and chairman of Navegate as part of the recapitalization.

"Nathan has only been CEO at Navegate for less than a year and he has already done an incredible job of reinvigorating the company's mission to be the industry leader in logistics, strategically growing their global presence and incorporating customer feedback into their platform," says Michael Smerklo, co-founder and managing director of Next Coast Ventures. "Navegate's newly-designed software and commitment to having their experts on the ground in these transportation hubs show their unwavering dedication to their customers — the exact type of hands-on, innovative approach to customer service and product iteration that we strive to invest in."

The company announced that Operations Manager Adam Daugherty will lead the new Kansas City location, and that it will be rolling out a new platform, called Navegate Emerald™. The new user interface is complete with intelligent new shipment tracking and management tools that work with supply chain collaboration. Navegate Emerald has four new applications that allows customization for customers to build their own solutions depending on their needs.

"As we celebrate our 50th year in business, Navegate Emerald has ushered in a renaissance of our technology and our business as a whole," says Dey in the release. "We're thrilled to be able to help add value to our more than 600 clients' processes and transform how they do business through the utilization of these digitally-enabled supply chain tools. The breakthrough business benefits they provide will allow for reduced supply chain costs, better working capital management, improved understanding of capital at risk and more seamless communication with all supply chain constituents.