A new program at Rice University will educate recent graduates or returning learners on key opportunities within energy transition. Photo via Rice.edu

A Houston university has committed to preparing the workforce for the future of energy with its newest program.

Rice University announced plans to launch the Master of Energy Transition and Sustainability, or METS, in the fall. The 31 credit-hour program, which is a joint initiative between Rice's George R. Brown School of Engineering and the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, "will train graduates to face emergent challenges in the energy sector and drive innovation in sustainability across a wide range of domains from technology to economics and policy," according to the university.

“We believe that METS graduates will emerge as leaders and innovators in the energy industry, equipped with the skills and knowledge to drive sustainable solutions,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches says in the release. “Together we can shape a brighter, more resilient and cleaner future for generations to come.”

Some of the focus points of the program will be geothermal, hydrogen, and critical minerals recovery. Additionally, there will be education around new technologies within traditional oil and gas industry, like carbon capture and sequestration and subsurface storage.

“We are excited to welcome the inaugural cohort of METS students in the fall of 2024,” Thomas Killian, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences and a professor of physics and astronomy, says in the release. “This program offers a unique opportunity for students to delve into cutting-edge research, tackle real-world challenges and make a meaningful impact on the future of energy.”

The new initiative is just the latest stage in Rice's relationship with the energy industry.

“This is an important initiative for Rice that is very much aligned with the university’s long-term commitment to tackle urgent generational challenges, not only in terms of research — we are well positioned to make significant contributions on that front — but also in terms of education,” says Michael Wong, the Tina and Sunit Patel Professor in Molecular Nanotechnology, chair and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and a professor of chemistry, materials science and nanotechnology and of civil and environmental engineering. “We want prospective students to know that they can confidently learn the concepts and tools they need to thrive as sustainability and energy transition experts and thought leaders.”

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Retirement is coming for the energy industry's workforce. Here's how to prepare for it. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert shares strategies for addressing  potential workforce shortages

guest column

The energy industry, a vital part of Houston’s business ecosystem, faces the challenge of a shrinking workforce.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce report indicates the workforce has nearly two million fewer workers today as compared to February 2020. A considerable part of this decline can be attributed to retirement and early retirement rates, with the pandemic prompting three million people to early retirement. Furthermore, with an estimated 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 daily, the entire generation is expected to reach retirement age by 2030.

The tight labor market, coupled with the growing brain drain associated with retirement rates, should serve as a wake-up call for employers in the energy sector. There are tried-and-true strategies to prepare businesses for waves of retirement and ensure the knowledge does not walk out the door.

Upskilling: Invest in the workforce

Knowledge and skills go with workers are they retire. To mitigate the brain drain, companies need to invest in upskilling their existing employees and new hires. Establishing formal training and development opportunities can help enrich the workforce to pick up the responsibilities of retiring colleagues. This investment ensures a smooth transition, shows employees they are valued by the organization, and increases employee loyalty and engagement.

Adopting innovative training programs that cater to the specific needs of the energy sector is one approach. Technologies rapidly evolve, and employees must stay current to remain effective in their roles. Investing in the latest training programs, workshops and certifications will enable the workforce to thrive in a rapidly changing industry.

Mentoring programs: Pass the torch

Mentorship programs can play a pivotal role as more employees retire. Experienced employees nearing retirement can mentor younger workers, transferring knowledge and skills while ensuring a seamless transition of expertise. The value of mentorship programs can be priceless for an organization as they help transfer on-the-job learning and experiences that are not taught in the classroom.

A structured mentorship program usually proves most effective as it outlines the responsibilities of the mentors and mentees. A structured approach, which should have built-in accountability measures, ensures there is a productive knowledge transfer process.

Intentional recruitment: Attract and retain talent

A proactive recruitment approach is essential as businesses work to fill knowledge gaps. Companies in the energy sector should seek out talent to bridge the generational divide. This may include targeting candidates who have the relevant skills and knowledge, yet they are willing to adapt to the industry’s changing landscape.

Workplace culture is still a relevant and important component of attracting and retaining top-notch talent. Beyond competitive compensations packages, today’s job candidates look for growth opportunities and a focus on work-life balance.

Retaining knowledge: Document the expertise

Institutional knowledge will walk out the door as experienced employees retire. Companies can prepare for and mitigate the knowledge migration with knowledge-sharing systems and comprehensive documentation processes. An established process can help preserve information that may seem like second nature to more experienced employees and make it accessible to current and future employees. Asking retiring employees to document their expertise and best practices can safeguard their insights within the organization.

Covering bases: Create an alumni network

Retirement does not always mean the employee wants to hang up their proverbial hat entirely. Filling the knowledge gap as employees retire can be daunting. However, the development of an alumni network can extend the life of the institutional knowledge and knowledge-sharing process. Bringing back retirees on a project basis or to consult is a solution benefiting everyone involved.

Every industry must prepare for the impending wave of retirements. The energy industry’s significant impact on the Houston economy requires proactive and thoughtful solutions. The tight labor market and retirement rates should have businesses in this sector working diligently to fill the upcoming knowledge gaps through upskilling, mentoring, intentional recruitment, knowledge-sharing systems and alumni networks. Taking these steps now, the energy industry can circumnavigate workforce shortages and prepare for continued success.

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Jill Chapman is a director of early talent programs with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions. This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

This Houston-based media company launched a networking platform to help solve the energy crisis. Screenshots via apps.apple.com

Houston startup launches networking app for next-generation energy workforce

get connected

A Houston-based media organization dedicated to covering the energy industry has officially launched the beta program of their networking app.

After producing zanily named energy podcasts like “Big Digital Energy” and “What the Funk,” Digital Wildcatters is trying to bridge the hiring gap in the energy industry. By providing a platform for individuals to get their questions answered by experts and a space for companies seeking qualified talent, Collide is structured to ignite the next generation of energy innovators. Collide is currently available for users in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Collin McLelland, co-founder and CEO of Digital Wildcatters, says he aims to expand their professional community through this networking platform. Rather than being a transition away from Digital Wildcatters’ roots as a digital media organization McLelland explains Collide is an integration of the community they have built through podcasts and events into an interactive platform.

“If you look at what we’ve done historically with Digital Wildcatters, we’ve built an extremely engaged community of energy professionals — it’s a next generation community, very young forward thinking professionals that are working towards solving the world’s energy crisis,” McLelland shares.

The roll out of Collide has been intentionally gradual, McLelland says because they want to shape the user experience based on feedback from ongoing focus groups. Currently they have about 1,000 users and are examining how they can make the app valuable to them before providing the platform to a wider audience.

McLelland says there are two major issues within the energy sector that Collide hopes to address — a lack of knowledge about energy verticals and difficulty recruiting talent. McLelland attributes the information gap to how expansive the energy sector is, incorporating beyond oil and gas, everything from renewables to lithium mining. Similarly, by zeroing in on the energy sector, McLelland believes Collide can draw upon the network of talent Digital Wildcatters has already cultivated to tackle recruiting issues.

“What we really see with our platform is being able to bring people together where if you want to find a piece of information, you need to find a subject matter expert, or if you want to find your next job, it happens on the Collide platform,” McLelland says.

Unlike other hiring platforms, Collide offers users the opportunity to look for information about the energy sector by integrating all of Digital Wildcatters’ podcasts and videos into a content search engine. This program is part of their DW Insight subscription product which also has a startup database with overviews of various companies, from their demos to a portal to contact them.

“We hope someday that we’ll have this knowledge base that can be searched and queried to where if you want to find out any piece of information, you’ll be able to find it on (DW Insight),” McLelland explains.

McLelland co-founded Digital Wildcatters with Jake Corley. The two started the Oil and Gas Startups podcast in 2019.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Don Frieden, president and CEO of P97, shares how he plans to streamline day-to-day transactions on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of P97

Houston fintech startup taps into new tech to modernize 'daily journeys'

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 197

Before Don Frieden started his company, gas stations hadn't innovated their payment technology since 1997. He knew that needed to change.

P97, founded in 2012, exists to use innovative technologies to simplify and energize daily journeys, Frieden explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"We think about daily journeys from the time we leave home in the morning and when we get back at the end of the day — whether it's tolling, parking, buying fuel, fast food restaurants, it's all a part of your daily journeys, and our goal is to make things a little bit simpler each day," Frieden says on the show.

The fast-growing company — which has nearly 200 employees, most of whom work from Houston — has raised over $100 million in venture funding, according to Crunchbase, most recently closing a $40 million series C round earlier this year. This funding has supported P97 as its expanded its technology, even expanding outside of gas station payments and into other sectors, like consumer packaged goods, mobile app development, and alternative fuel sources.

Part of what P97 is focused on too is adapting new technologies, including biometrics, and applying them to the payments world. Voice-enabled payments is something in particular that Frieden is working on.

"One of the things we’re most excited about is voice enable payments through our partnership with Amazon's Alexa," he explains. "The landscape of payments at gas stations underwent this next revolution, and we're using cutting-edge speech recognition and artificial intelligence to allow drivers to pay for fuel just using their voice.

"It makes the process faster and more efficient, and is completely hands-free," he continues, explaining that biometrics are also safer compared to card transactions. "From this time I say, 'Alexa, buy gas,' six seconds later, the gas would be turned on and any loyalty rewards I have would be applied, all from the comfort of my car."

Frieden shares more about the future of P97, payments, and the energy industry as it intersects with P97 — including the future of alternative fuels — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


A new agreement between the University of Houston and India will establish the UH-DGH Data Center. Photo via UH.edu

UH enters into agreement to bring energy-focused data center to campus

closed the deal

The University of Houston has signed an agreement with India to bring a data center focused on energy to campus, the school announced last week.

The memorandum of understanding, or MoU, is between UH and the Directorate General Hydrocarbon, the technical arm of the Indian Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas The agreement is to establish the UH-DGH Data Center, which, according to a UH press release, "will house a geoscience data repository with display capability and software to interpret key exploration and production data and extensive knowledge of India’s sedimentary basins and fields."

The five-year agreement aims to generate reliable information on the energy industry — including seismic, well, reservoir and production data.

“This MoU is essentially an agreement to spur collaboration and combine the strengths of the involved parties for greater good,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at UH, in the release. “UH is in Houston, the Energy Capital of the World and the DGH has this wonderful wealth of information in its National Data Repository.

"By working together, we will maximize the potential of this important data and it will serve as an excellent research foundation,” he continues.

Krishnamoorti signed the agreement on behalf of UH and Akash Goyal, addl. director general – coordination represented DGH.

A new ranking looks at the Houston companies with the most patents granted in 2022. Photo via Getty Images

These are the Houston companies with the most patents granted last year

by the numbers

Two major players in Houston’s energy industry are also major players in the patent arena.

A new ranking from the analytics arm of patent law firm Harrity & Harrity puts Saudi Aramco, whose North American headquarters is in Houston, and Halliburton, whose global headquarters is in Houston, puts them in a tie for the number of U.S. patents with 963 patents received in 2022. Saudi Aramco and Halliburton now share the title of Houston’s patent king.

Saudi Aramco saw a 12 percent rise in patents granted in 2022 compared with 2021, according to Harrity & Harrity’s Patent 300 report, while Halliburton experienced a 5 percent jump. Each company tied for 44th place among the top 300 U.S. patient recipients in 2022.

According to the report, Samsung Electronics (8,513 patents) knocked IBM off its longtime pedestal as the No. 1 recipient of U.S. patents. IBM (4,743 patents) now holds the No. 2 position.

Many of Aramco’s U.S. patents come from its R&D centers in Houston, Boston, and Detroit. The Houston R&D hub opened in 2014 and underwent an expansion three years later.

Aramco, a Saudi Arabia-based supplier of oil and natural gas, also generates patents through academic partnerships, such as the one it established last year with Rice University’s Carbon Hub. Aramco has committed $10 million over five years to the carbon initiative.

“While patents are a leading indicator of innovation, the ultimate goal is to create value through the development of solutions that help to address a particular need,” Aramco says. “Such results are often only possible with significant upfront investments, and patents make it possible to recoup these costs and potentially generate additional revenue through commercialization.”

Last year, Aramco boasted that it ranked first in the oil and gas industry for U.S. patents (864) granted in 2021. Until 2011, Aramco had received only 100 U.S. patents over a 78-year span.

“Many of the patents are for innovations Aramco uses itself for competitive advantage, although they can also be licensed to others, creating extra value for the company,” Jamil Bagawi, then the company’s chief engineer, wrote in 2021.

Halliburton also has ramped up its patenting efforts in recent years.

According to Houston law firm Yetter Coleman, those efforts kicked into high gear after Halliburton lost a fracking patent lawsuit to Tomball-based BJ Services, which is now out of business. In 2003, a Houston jury awarded $98 million in damages to BJ in the case, and Halliburton had to stop selling the system that allegedly infringed on BJ’s patent.

In the five years before the verdict, Halliburton averaged 142 patent awards a year, according to Yetter Coleman. The law firm reported in 2013 that Halliburton subsequently averaged 234 patents a year.

Today, of course, Halliburton has far exceeded those numbers. And it vigorously defends its growing patent portfolio. In September 2022, for instance, three subsidiaries of the oilfield services giant filed two lawsuits against Houston-based rival U.S. Well Services alleging infringement of 14 Halliburton patents.

IAM, a website that reports about the intellectual property industry, noted that when Halliburton sued U.S. Well Services, “IP professionals in the oil and gas industry may well have reached for the popcorn. Battles of this magnitude rarely break out in their slice of the patent world.”

Halliburton and Aramco may be the goliaths in Houston’s patent world, but they’re not the only local organizations to appear on the Patent 300 list for 2022. Other Houston-area companies that made the cut are:

  • Spring-based Hewlett Packard Enterprise, No. 84. The tech company received 511 U.S. patents in 2022, down 4 percent from the previous year.
  • Houston-based SLB (Schlumberger), No. 117. The oilfield services company received 372 U.S. patents in 2022, down 14 percent from the previous year.
  • Houston-based Baker Hughes, No. 123. The oilfield services company received 350 U.S. patents in 2022, down 11 percent from the previous year.
  • ExxonMobil, No. 156. The oil and gas company received 281 U.S. patents in 2022, down 8 percent from the previous year. It is in the process of moving its headquarters from Irving to Spring.
  • United Imaging Healthcare, No. 253. The Chinese healthcare equipment company, whose North American headquarters is in Houston, received 175 U.S. patents in 2022, up 31 percent from the previous year.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston university teams up with angel group to reach, upskill future investors

Through a new partnership with the Houston Angel Network and Houston Exponential, the University of Houston will help cultivate startup investors among UH alumni.

The partnership will bolster accredited early-stage investors and accelerate opportunities for aspiring startup investors, the university says in a news release.

“Investors play a vital role in the startup ecosystem and this initiative gives our alumni a rapid path to becoming angels. Our vision is to activate more investors with deep connections to UH who support world-class innovation in our community and beyond,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the university’s vice president for energy and innovation.

The partnership is based at UH’s Technology Bridge. Tech Bridge promotes tech commercialization, industrial partnerships, and startup development.

“Our founders are launching many exciting new companies, but they need better access to capital,” says Tanu Chatterji, associate director of startup development at UH. “This partnership will help us mobilize angel investors who want to support these innovators with knowledge and financial resources.”

UH alumni interested in participating in the new partnership should contact Chatterji at tchatte@uh.edu.

The angel network will lend its investing expertise to early-stage businesses in tech, energy, life sciences, consumer, and aerospace sectors. Meanwhile, tech startup incubator Houston Exponential will provide support for entrepreneurs and the startup ecosystem.

“This relationship is a testament to the collaborative spirit of Greater Houston’s business and academic communities,” says Mitra Miller, vice president of the Houston Angel Network, an organization for early-stage investors. “By leveraging the combined expertise and resources of our three organizations, we can increase the flow of early-stage capital in our region in support of great innovators and high-growth enterprises.”

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential, says the new initiative “promises to be a roadmap for investment education, and support for aspiring investors and entrepreneurs alike.”

“An active and educated investor base is an essential component of a thriving startup ecosystem,” says Branch.

Houston lab sees progress with breakthrough light-harvesting processes

Hi, tech

A groundbreaking Rice University lab has made further strides in its work to make harvesting light energy more efficient and stable.

Presented on the cover of a June issue of Science, a study from Rice engineer Aditya Mohite's lab uncovered a method to synthesize a high-efficiency perovskite solar cell, known as formamidinium lead iodide (FAPbI3), converting them into ultrastable high-quality photovoltaic films, according to a statement from Rice. Photovoltaic films convert sunlight into electricity.

The new process makes solar cells that are about 10 times more durable than traditional methods.

“Right now, we think that this is state of the art in terms of stability,” Mohite said in a statement. “Perovskite solar cells have the potential to revolutionize energy production, but achieving long-duration stability has been a significant challenge.”

The change come from "seasoning" the FAPbI3 with 2D halide perovskites crystals, which the Mohite lab also developed a breakthrough synthesis process for last year

The 2D perovskites helped make the FAPbI3 films more stable. The study showed that films with 2D perovskites deteriorated after two days of generating electricity, while those with 2D perovskites had not started to degrade after 20 days.

“FAPbI3 films templated with 2D crystals were higher quality, showing less internal disorder and exhibiting a stronger response to illumination, which translated as higher efficiency," Isaac Metcalf, a Rice materials science and nanoengineering graduate student and a lead author on the study, said in the statement.

Additionally, researchers say their findings could make developing light-harvesting technologies cheaper, and can also allow light-harvesting panels to be lighter weight and more flexible.

"Perovskites are soluble in solution, so you can take an ink of a perovskite precursor and spread it across a piece of glass, then heat it up and you have the absorber layer for a solar cell,” Metcalf said. “Since you don’t need very high temperatures ⎯ perovskite films can be processed at temperatures below 150 Celsius (302 Fahrenheit) ⎯ in theory that also means perovskite solar panels can be made on plastic or even flexible substrates, which could further reduce costs.”

Mohite adds this has major implications for the energy transition at large.

“If solar electricity doesn’t happen, none of the other processes that rely on green electrons from the grid, such as thermochemical or electrochemical processes for chemical manufacturing, will happen,” Mohite said. “Photovoltaics are absolutely critical.”

The Mohite lab's process for creating 2D perovskites of the ideal thickness and purity was published in Nature Synthesis last fall. At the time, Mohite said the crystals "hold the key to achieving commercially relevant stability for solar cells."

About a year ago, the lab also published its work on developing a scalable photoelectrochemical cell. The research broke records for its solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency rate.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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 a health tech data scientist, a CEO celebrating an international expansion, and a founder who won a big DOE prize.

Angela Wilkins, chief data scientist at Starling Medical

Angela Wilkins joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the intersection of data and health care. Photo courtesy

When most people hear about Houston startup Starling Medical, they might think about how much potential the medical device company has in the field of urinalysis diagnostics. But that's not quite where Angela Wilkins's head went.

Wilkins explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that when she met the company's co-founders, Hannah McKenney and Drew Hendricks, she recognized them as very promising startup leaders taking action on a real health care problem. Starling's device can collect urine and run diagnostics right from a patient's toilet.

"It was one of those things where I just thought, 'They're going to get a bunch of data soon,'" Wilkins says. "The opportunity is just there, and I was really excited to come on and build their AI platform and the way they are going to look at data."

For about a year, Wilkins supported the startup as an adviser. Now, she's working more hands on as chief data officer as the company grows. Read more.

Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon

Amperon officially expanded in Europe. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston-based, AI-powered electricity forecasting and analytics services company Amperon Holdings is live in Europe. The expansion, which Co-Founder and CEO Sean Kelly previously told InnovationMap about, is official, the company announced this month. In addition to the expansion, Amperon announced Jon Ecker as general manager, Europe, and Kelsey Hultberg as executive vice president, communications, and chief of staff.

Now, European companies that buy and sell energy in the renewable energy producers, financial institutions, and utilities markets can leverage Amperon's platform of AI and machine learning technologies to access short- and long-term forecasts for their individual meters and generation assets.

“As a warmer-than-expected June ushers in a hot summer, and increasing uncertainty looms for the calmer fall months due to the influx of wind and solar generation, we are eager to assist our European customers in navigating the power market volatility caused by heat waves, extreme weather events, and shifts in power usage across the region,” Kelly says in a news release. Read more.

Laureen Meroueh, founder of Hertha Metals

Hertha Metals, based in Conroe, won first place at the 2024 Summer Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Startup Pitch Competition. Photo via LinkedIn

Four startups from across the country won over $160,000 in cash prizes from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions earlier this month, and a Houston-area company claimed the top prize.

Hertha Metals, based in Conroe, won first place at the 2024 Summer Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Startup Pitch Competition. The program honors and supports clean energy innovators nominated by clean technology business incubators.

Hertha Metals was founded by Laureen Meroueh, a mechanical engineer and materials scientist, in 2022. Read more.