"To solve the climate crisis, confidence in emissions data is crucial." Photo via Getty Images

Sustainability has been top of mind for all industries as we witness movements towards reducing carbon emissions. For instance, The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed a new rule that requires companies to disclose certain climate-related activities in their reporting on a federal level. Now, industries and cities are scrambling to ensure they have strategies in the right place.

While the data behind sustainability poses challenges across industries, it is particularly evident in oil and gas, as their role in energy transition is of the utmost importance, especially in Texas. We saw this at the COP26 summit in Glasgow last November, for example, in the effort to reduce carbon emissions on both a national and international scale and keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The event also made it clear achieving this temperature change to meet carbon neutrality by 2030 won’t be possible if organizations rely on current methods and siloed data. In short, there is a data problem associated with recent climate goals. So, what does that mean for Houston’s oil and gas industry?

Climate is a critical conversation – and tech can help

Houston has long been considered the oil and gas capital of the world, and it is now the epicenter of energy transition. You can see this commitment by the industry in the nature of the conferences as well as the investment in innovation centers.

In terms of the companies themselves, over the past two years each of the major oil and gas players have organized and grown their low carbon business units. These units are focused on bringing new ideas to the energy ecosystem. The best part is they are not working alone but joining forces to find solutions. One of the highest profile examples is ExxonMobil’s Carbon Capture and Underground Storage project (CCUS) which directly supports the Paris Agreement.

Blockchain technology is needed to improve transparency and traceability in the energy sector and backing blockchain into day-to-day business is key to identifying patterns and making decisions from the data.

The recent Blockchain for Oil and Gas conference, for instance, focused on how blockchain can help curate emissions across the ecosystem. This year has also seen several additional symposiums and meetings – such as the Ion and Greentown Houston – that focus on helping companies understand their carbon footprint.

How do we prove the data?

The importance of harmonizing data will become even more important as the SEC looks to bring structure to sustainability reporting. As a decentralized, immutable ledger where data can be inputted and shared at every point of action, blockchain works by storing information in interconnected blocks and providing a value-add for insuring carbon offsets. To access the data inside a block, users first need to communicate with it. This creates a chain of information that cannot be hacked and can be transmitted between all relevant parties throughout the supply chain. Key players can enter, view, and analyze the same data points securely and with assurance of the data’s accuracy.

Data needs to move with products throughout the supply chain to create an overall number for carbon emissions. Blockchain’s decentralization offers value to organizations and their respective industries so that higher quantities of reliable data can be shared between all parties to shine a light on the areas they need to work on, such as manufacturing operations and the offsets of buildings. Baking blockchain into day-to-day business practice is key in identifying patterns over time and making data-backed decisions.

Oil and gas are key players

Cutting emissions is not a new practice of the oil and gas industry. In fact, they’ve been cutting emissions estimates by as much as 50 percent to avoid over-reporting.

The traditional process of reporting data has also been time-consuming and prone to human error. Manually gathering data across multiple sources of information delivers no real way to trace this information across supply chains and back to the source. And human errors, even if they are accidental, pose a risk to hefty fines from regulatory agencies.

It’s a now-or-never situation. The industry will need to pivot their approaches to data gathering, sharing, and reporting to commit to emissions reduction. This need will surely accelerate the use of technologies, like blockchain, to be a part of the energy transition. While the climate challenges we face are alarming, they provide the basis we need for technological innovation and the ability to accurately report emissions to stay in compliance.

The Energy Capital of the World, for good

To solve the climate crisis, confidence in emissions data is crucial. Blockchain provides that as well as transparency and reliability, all while maintaining the highest levels of security. The technology provides assurance that the data from other smart technologies, like connected sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT), is trustworthy and accurate.

The need for good data, new technology, and corporate commitment are all key to Houston keeping its title as the energy capital of the world – based on traditional fossil fuels as well as transitioning to clean energy.

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John Chappell is the director of energy business development at BlockApps.

Siloed data, lack of consistency, and confusing regulations are all challenges blockchain can address. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Blockchain is the key to unlocking transparency in the energy industry

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Houston has earned its title as the Energy Transition Capital of the world, and now it has an opportunity to be a global leader of technology innovation when it comes to carbon emissions reporting. The oil and gas industry has set ambitious goals to reduce its carbon footprint, but the need for trustworthy emissions data to demonstrate progress is growing more apparent — and blockchain may hold the keys to enhanced transparency.

Despite oil and gas companies' eagerness to lower carbon dioxide emissions, current means of recording emissions cannot keep pace with goals for the future. Right now, the methods of tracking carbon emissions are inefficient, hugely expensive, and inaccurate. There is a critical need for oil and gas companies to understand and report their emission data, but the complexity of this endeavor presents a huge challenge, driven by several important factors.

Firstly, the supply chain is congested with many different data sources. This puts tracking initiatives into many different silos, making it a challenge for businesses to effectively organize their data. Secondly, the means of calculating, modeling, and measuring carbon emissions varies across the industry. This lack of consistency leaves companies struggling to standardize their outputs, complicating the record-keeping process. Finally, the regional patchwork of regulations and compliance standards is confusing and hard to manage, resulting in potential fines and the headaches associated with being found noncompliant.

Better tracking through blockchain

When it comes to tracking carbon emissions, the potential for blockchain is unmatched. Blockchain is an immutable ledger, that allows multiple parties to securely and transparently share data in near real time across the supply chain. Blockchain solutions could be there at every step of operations, helping businesses report their true emissions numbers in an accurate, secure way.

Oil and gas companies are ready to make these changes. Up to now, they've been using outdated practices, including manually entering data into spreadsheets. With operations spread across the world, there is simply no way to ensure that numbers have been accurately recorded at each and every point of action if everything is done manually. Any errors, even if they're accidental, are subject to pricey fines from regulatory agencies. This forces businesses into the costly position of overestimating their carbon emissions. Instead of risking fines, energy companies choose to deflate their carbon accomplishments, missing out on valuable remediation credits in the process. In addition, executives are forced to make decisions based on this distorted data which leaves projects with great potential to cut carbon emissions either underfunded or abandoned entirely.

In conversations with the super majors, they've reported that they have cut emission reduction estimates by as much as 50% to avoid over-reporting. This is anecdotal, but demonstrates a real problem that results in slower rates to meet targets, missed opportunities, and unnecessary expenditures.

There are so many opportunities to integrate blockchain into the energy industry but tackling the carbon output data crisis should come first. Emissions data is becoming more and more important, and oil and gas companies need effective ways to track their progress to drive success. It's essential to start at the bottom and manage this dilemma at the source. Using blockchain solutions would streamline this process, making data collection more reliable and efficient than ever before.

Houston is on the right track to lead the world in energy innovation — local businesses have made impressive, action-driven efforts to make sure that our community can rightfully be called the Energy Capital of the World. The city is in a great position to drive net-zero carbon initiatives worldwide, especially as sustainability becomes more and more important to our bottom lines. Still, to maintain this command, we need to continue to look forward. Making sure we have the best data is critical as the energy world transitions into the future. If Houston wants to continue to be a leader in energy innovation, we need to look at blockchain solutions to tackle the data problem head on.

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John Chappell is the director of energy business development at BlockApps.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

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Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

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Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.