Crystal ball

Overheard: Experts weigh in on what the energy industry will look like in 2050 at Houston summit

From fossil fuels to clean and sustainable energy, here's what experts postulate the industry will look like in 2050. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

There are a lot of things up in the air within the energy industry when you look at the next 40 years — clean energy, regulation regarding fossil fuels, carbon footprint, and so much more.

At the Society of Petroleum Engineers' inaugural SPE Dot Energy Leadership Summit, the big question was what does 2050 look like for the industry. Tasked with the discussion were three energy leaders — Deanna Zhang, energy tech investment banking associate at TudorPickering Holt & Co., Lees Rodionov, vice president of Global Stewardship at Schlumberger, and David R. Hall, managing director of Hall Labs — on a panel moderated by Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston.

The panel, which took place on August 15 at MATCH, discussed all the variables and what their potential theories are for how time will change oil and gas. Of course, no one knows for sure. If they did, they wouldn't be sharing it, would they?

"It's very hard I think to capture all the things that will play out by 2050, and honestly, if I knew with any amount of certainty what would happen, I wouldn't be talking about it in public," Zhang says. "I'd be in a basement somewhere, making a company that would make a trillion dollars."

Fair enough. Here are some other overheard quotes from the discussion in case you missed it.

“I think we’ll face the fact that we’ve got to be totally clean and solve the emissions problem and do a complete full cycle. It’ll mean lots of innovation, but I certainly see the capability to get it done.”

David R. Hall, managing director of Hall Labs.

“When it comes to bridging the efficiency debate and the green and clean debate, that will be something that by 2050 we will have bridged.”

— Deanna Zhang, energy tech investment banking associate at Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. Currently, she says the industry is split. "Right now we are trying to optimize for two objectives. The industry is divided."

“I think that one of the challenges actually is that it’s an idea of ‘us and them,’ and energy is a ‘we.’ Everyone has a role to play.”

Lees Rodionov, vice president of Global Stewardship at Schlumberger. She emphasized that it's the energy industry — oil and gas is just one part, and it's where there's a lot of money. O&G does have opportunities for carbon neutral development.

“The opportunity for the oil and gas industry is to recognize the problems and then announce solutions itself. If the industry doesn’t, regulators will."

— Hall says on moving the industry toward a cleaner, greener future.

“In 50 years, we’ll find a way to survive, but it won’t be the same quality of life.”

— Zhang, when asked about the worst case scenario if the industry doesn't make big changes. She cites urbanization and a greater wealth gap as some things to expect.

"Stop saying 'oil and gas.' It's 'energy.'"

— Rodionov, when asked about bridging the gap between renewables and fossil fuels.

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston-based Soliton can use its audio pulse technology to erase scars, cellulite, and tattoos. Photo via soliton.com

Soliton, a Houston-based technology company, is using audio pulses to make waves in the med-aesthetic industry.

The company, which is licensed from the University of Texas on behalf of MD Anderson, announced that it had received FDA approval earlier this month for its novel and proprietary technology that can reduce the appearance of cellulite.

MIT engineer and doctor Christopher Capelli first developed the basis of the tool while he led the Office of Technology Based Ventures at M.D. Anderson.

Capelli uncovered that he could remove tattoos more effectively by treating the skin with up to 100 waves per second (about five to 10 times greater than other devices on the market), giving birth to the company's proprietary Rapid Acoustic Pulse (RAP) platform.

In 2012 he formed Soliton with co-founder and entrepreneur Walter Klemp, who also founded Houston-based Moleculin, and later brought on Brad Hauser as CEO. By 2019, the company had received FDA approval for using the technology for tattoo removal.

"The original indication was tattoo removal, which is what Chris envisioned," Hauser says. "The sound wave can increase in speed whenever it hits a stiffer or denser material. And tattoo ink is denser, stiffer than the surrounding dermis. That allows a shearing effect of the sound wave to disrupt that tattoo ink and help clear tattoos."

According to Hauser, the team then turned to a second application for the technology in the short-term improvement in the appearance of cellulite. With the use of the technology, patients can undergo a relatively pain-free, 40- to 60-minute non-invasive session with no recovery time.

Brad Hauser is the CEO of Soliton. Photo courtesy of Soliton

"It works similarly in the fibrous septa, which are the tethered bands that create the dimples and cellulite and the uneven skin. Those are stiffer than the surrounding fat cells in the subcutaneous tissue," Hauser says. "That allows the technology to disrupt those fibrous septa and loosen and release the dimples."

In 2021 the company plans to commercialize their product and get it into the hands of dermatologists, plastic surgeons, and other medical professionals for 25 key accounts—potentially including ones Houston—with a plan for a national rollout in 2022.

And they don't plan to stop there.

The company has already announced a partnership for a proof-of-concept study with the U.S. Navy in which Soliton will aim to use its technology to reduce the visibility of fibrotic scars, and more importantly work to increase mobility or playability of scars.

"Often the scar ends up causing restrictions in motion and discomfort with pressure of even clothing and certainly with sleeping," Hauser says. "We believe based on the reduction in volume and the increase in playability that we saw in our original proof-of-concept study that we will be able to bring benefits to these military patients."

Work on the study is slated to begin in the first half of this year.

In the meantime, the company is making headway with treatment of liver fibrosis, announcing just this week that it's pre-clinical study in animals demonstrated positive results and a reduction in effects by 42 percent seven days after the completion of carbon tetrachloride (CCL4) induction. The RAP technology was also named the best new technology by the Aesthetic Industry Association earlier this month.

"It's really targeting collagen fiber and fibroblasts on a cellular level" Hauser says. "Which we think has numerous potential uses in the future."

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