Hines, which opened its Texas Tower in 2021, is hoping to reach net-zero operational carbon by 2040. Image via Hines

Houston-based real estate giant Hines is on a mission to make its entire global portfolio free of carbon emissions.

Hines recently set a target of its 1,530 properties in 28 countries being net-zero operational carbon by 2040, including the 27.7 million square feet of space it owns or manages in the Houston area. Operational carbon refers to greenhouse gases produced by building operations.

The company says it will accomplish the net-zero goal by reducing emissions through renewable technology, and not by purchasing carbon offset credits.

Peter Epping, global head of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) at Hines, says that because the company has made its carbon-neutral plan public, “investors, developers, engineers, and building managers across our industry can use it to guide their own carbon-reduction efforts.”

Hines notes that the real estate sector emits nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions related to energy. The World Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment calls for decarbonizing half of buildings by 2030 and all buildings by 2050.

“As the impact of climate change is becoming increasingly integrated into our lives every day, the real estate industry has a responsibility to acknowledge this growing problem and take meaningful action to reduce our collective carbon emissions,” Jeff Hines, chairman and co-CEO of Hines, says in a news release. “By seeking to achieve net-zero operational carbon without relying on offsets, Hines wants to raise the bar for sustainability and invest in a plan designed to achieve significant and tangible results.”

To achieve those results, Hines plans to:

  • Halting the use fossil fuels to power buildings in its $90.3 billion portfolio.
  • Reducing energy demand by improving building efficiencies.
  • Boosting reliance on renewable energy.
  • Using “circular systems” to reduce energy waste and enhance efficiency.
  • Promoting carbon capture.

A recent report from Houston-based law firm Vinson & Elkins underscores the economic benefits that the net-zero movement presents to commercial real estate players like Hines.

“Real estate increasingly attracts attention from sustainability-minded investors amid a wider push for ESG considerations in bond and loan markets. … Decarbonizing the real estate industry will likely require trillions of dollars of capital, but there is vast opportunity for environmentally friendly projects to access additional financing sources, often on favorable terms,” Caitlin Snelson, sustainable finance senior associate in the Houston office of Vinson & Elkins, says in a news release.

Beyond real estate, Hines’ net-zero campaign aligns with efforts to transform Houston into a net-zero industrial hub. A whitepaper published by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy declares that Houston is well-positioned to become a “best in class” net-zero hub.

According to the whitepaper, the hub “could serve as a magnet for new and emerging industries, innovators and entrepreneurs and investment in energy transition companies and resources. Failure to develop a hub could lead to loss of these benefits and opportunities.”

Consulting giant McKinsey & Co. points out that clean hydrogen is emerging as a vehicle to achieve net-zero status and says Houston could evolve into a global hub for clean hydrogen. A Houston hub that’s in place by 2050 could generate 180,000 jobs and an economic impact of $100 billion, according to McKinsey.

“With the right supportive policy frameworks, Texas could become the global leader in clean-hydrogen production, application, development, and exports with Houston at its core; the resulting thriving hydrogen community could push innovation and develop the necessary talent to conceive and deliver hydrogen projects,” McKinsey says.

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

Expert: Using data to reduce Houston’s oil and gas carbon footprint

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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.

Through increasing awareness, affordability, and accessibility, the city of Houston hopes to grow the number of electric vehicles on Houston roads by 2030. Courtesy of EVolve Houston

Mayor announces major effort to reduce emissions on Houston's roadways

Easy EVs

The city of Houston has taken a major step toward reducing carbon emissions caused by its estimated 1.3 million vehicles that drive the city's streets daily.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced a new partnership between the government, local businesses, and academic leaders that has created EVolve Houston. The coalition is aimed at boosting electric vehicle sales to 30 percent of new car sales in Houston by 2030.

"This new partnership will help solidify Houston's success as a leader in transportation technology and it will help improve air quality for the citizens of Houston and beyond, by reducing reliance on vehicles powered by carbon-based fuels," Mayor Turner says in a release. "Houston will now have a dedicated resource working to increase the adoption of electric vehicles, wherever it makes sense to do so. Nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions in Houston come from transportation. Shifting to zero emission forms of transportation is a key strategy to help us meet our ambitious climate goals and improve our regional air quality."

EVolve Houston, which will contribute to the city's Climate Action Plan that was announced in July, will focus on increasing awareness, affordability, and availability of electric vehicles. The coalition's founding partners include the city, CenterPoint Energy, the University of Houston, NRG Energy, Shell, and LDR.

"Houston has bold goals to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To do that, we must make a major impact on one of the largest sources of emissions, which is transportation" says Dr. Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the chief energy officer at University of Houston.

The partners will focus on launching pilot projects as well as hosting demonstrations and awareness activities to promote EV adoption, according to the release.

"At CenterPoint Energy, we are committed to making a positive difference in the communities we touch, and environmental stewardship is an integral component of our overall corporate responsibility approach," says Scott Prochazka, president and CEO of CenterPoint Energy, in the release. "I am proud to partner with Mayor Turner and other founding members of EVolve Houston to help accelerate clean transportation for Houston."

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Houston cleantech company sees shining success with gold hydrogen

bling, bling

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.

Houston named best city in Texas and No. 11 in U.S. in prestigious report

best in tx

At least according to one new report, Houston is not only the Energy Capital of the World but also the livability capital of Texas.

A new study from Best Cities, powered by Resonance Consultancy, puts Houston at No. 11 among the best cities in the U.S. That’s the top showing among the six Texas cities included in the ranking. Houston appeared at No. 17 on last year’s list.

“Educated, diverse and hard-working, Houston is America’s stealthy powerhouse on the rise,” Best Cities proclaims.

Best Cities notes that while Austin grabs much of the best-city attention, “the promise of the Lone Star State drawing Californians and New Yorkers is quietly being fulfilled in Houston.” The website points out that the Houston metro area has gained nearly 300,000 residents in the past year, thanks to both domestic and international migration.

Here are some of the individual rankings that contribute to Houston’s 11th-place finish:

  • No. 4 for restaurants
  • No. 7 for culture
  • No. 8 for foreign-born population

“Houston is a diverse and vibrant metro where individuals can start a family, grow their business, attend world-class institutions and universities, or be immersed in the 145 languages that are spoken by our residents,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “The quality of life we have in Houston is second to none, and the data we receive from placements such as … Best Cities further reaffirm the strength and resiliency that has come to define this great city of ours.”

A few spots behind Houston on the Best Cities list are No. 14 Dallas and No. 15 Austin.

What lifts Dallas to the No. 14 spot? These are some of the factors cited by Best Cities:

  • Location of more than 10,000 corporate headquarters
  • Strong showing (No. 2) in the airport connectivity category
  • Kudos for the soon-to-be-expanded Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center Dallas
  • Home of the country’s sixth largest LGBTQ+ community
  • Presence of the 28-block, 68-acre Dallas Arts District

Austin comes in at No. 15, one notch behind Dallas.

Best Cities praises Austin as “a place that’s incredibly livable. Talk to any entrepreneur leaving Silicon Valley or Seattle and chances are they’ve considered Austin.”

The website points to a number of Austin’s assets, such as:

  • Growing presence of Fortune 500 headquarters
  • Comparatively low unemployment rate
  • Location of the University of Texas’ flagship campus
  • Status as the Live Music Capital of the World
  • Home of the annual SXSW gathering

Two other Texas cities make the Best Cities list: No. 34 San Antonio and No. 94 McAllen.

Best Cities bases its list of the best U.S. cities on Resonance Consultancy’s combination of statistical performance plus qualitative evaluations by locals and visitors. Those figures are grouped into six main categories. This year’s ranking features 100 U.S. cities. To come up with the ranking, Resonance Consultancy assessed all U.S. metro areas with at least 500,000 residents.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How a Houston med device startup pivoted to impact global health and diagnostics

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 153

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.