new hire

University of Houston names new leader to Shell-supported energy transition initiative

Former Shell Chief Scientist Joseph Powell has joined UH to lead its new Energy Transition Institute. Photo via uh.edu

The University of Houston has announced the first leader of its Shell-backed Energy Transition Institute.

Joseph Powell has been named the founding director of the institute, which was founded following a $10 million donation from Shell in spring of last year. Powell is the former chief scientist for Shell and member of the National Academy of Engineering, according to a news release from UH.

“What excites me about my new role is the opportunity to work with students, faculty and industry to make a difference on problems that truly matter," Powell says in the release. "Who could pass that up? Imagine the difficulties that arise when you don’t have access to energy.

“At this point in time, the global transformation to energy abundance is not complete, so we must grow the energy system while reducing its impact on climate and the environment, and also develop circular systems to recycle materials and reduce waste," he continues. "That’s a tall order, but a necessity to bring clean energy and sustainable chemicals into play globally and develop solutions that improve the quality of life for all.”

The appointment was funded by a matching grant from the Governor’s University Research Initiative, a program that was created in 2015 to help Texas's public universities recruit the top researchers. In addition to his role at the institute, Powell will also serve as a faculty member in the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering.

“Dr. Powell brings extensive experience, insight and passion to the position. I anticipate the institute growing under his leadership to further strengthen UH’s position as the Energy University," says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president for energy and innovation at UH, in the release. "We are grateful Governor Abbott prioritizes funding to bring recognized researchers to Texas through GURI and believe Dr. Powell will play a pivotal role in finding solutions to critical local and global challenges around the energy transition."

Powell's name is associated with over 125 patent applications, with more than 60 granted. He has 36 years of chemical engineering experience and has led research and development programs in new chemical processes, biofuels and enhanced oil recovery.

The new institute — through its faculty and industry partnerships — is geared at education and research into the future of affordable and cleaner energy, including hydrogen, carbon management and circular plastics.

“We must be the trusted voice for stakeholders and the community that is objective and knowledgeable, where industry comes to present ideas and challenges, where faculty come with their research interests and expertise to partner and achieve more together, and where students are transformed into the energy workforce and leaders of tomorrow," he says in the release.

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Building Houston

 
 

Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

With more and more electric vehicles on the road, existing electrical grid infrastructure needs to be able to keep up. Houston-based Revterra has the technology to help.

"One of the challenges with electric vehicle adoption is we're going to need a lot of charging stations to quickly charge electric cars," Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "People are familiar with filling their gas tank in a few minutes, so an experience similar to that is what people are looking for."

To charge an EV in ten minutes is about 350 kilowatts of power, and, as Jawdat explains, if several of these charges are happening at the same time, it puts a tremendous strain on the electric grid. Building the infrastructure needed to support this type of charging would be a huge project, but Jawdat says he thought of a more turnkey solution.

Revterra created a kinetic energy storage system that enables rapid EV charging. The technology pulls from the grid, but at a slower, more manageable pace. Revterra's battery acts as an intermediary to store that energy until the consumer is ready to charge.

"It's an energy accumulator and a high-power energy discharger," Jawdat says, explaining that compared to an electrical chemical battery, which could be used to store energy for EVs, kinetic energy can be used more frequently and for faster charging.

Jawdat, who is a trained physicist with a PhD from the University of Houston and worked as a researcher at Rice University, says some of his challenges were receiving early funding and identifying customers willing to deploy his technology.

Last year, Revterra raised $6 million in a series A funding round. Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

The funding has gone toward growing Revterra's team, including onboarding three new engineers with some jobs still open, Jawdat says. Additionally, Revterra is building out its new lab space and launching new pilot programs.

Ultimately, Revterra, an inaugural member of Greentown Houston, hopes to be a major player within the energy transition.

"We really want to be an enabling technology in the renewable energy transition," Jawdat says. "One part of that is facilitating the development of large-scale, high-power, fast-charging networks. But, beyond that, we see this technology as a potential solution in other areas related to the clean energy transition."

He shares more about what's next for Revterra on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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