covid heroes

University of Houston partners with health system to provide COVID-19 protective equipment

Aaron McEuen of the University of Houston's Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design answered the call for creating medical face shields for Harris Health System. Photo via uh.edu

A Houston health system was in need of protective personal equipment, or PPE, when they reached out to a local academic institution for support.

Harris Health System tapped the University of Houston to make medical face shields for doctors and nurses at the system's two hospitals — Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson.

"Face shields are one of our most challenging pieces of protective equipment to get during these times of need," says Chris Okezie, vice president of system operations at Harris Health System, in a news release. "They're also the most effective equipment to protect our front-line staff."

One college on campus is particularly equipped to build things, and that's the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design — specifically the college's Burdette Keeland Jr. Design Exploration Center. It took only a day for the center to build a prototype. Harris Health then made an initial order of 500 masks.

The lab uses universal laser cutters to create the semi-circle of plastic for the shield — the machines can cut 10 pieces in less than 3 minutes. Then, it can be assembled manually. Aaron McEuen, instructional lab manager at the center, is leading the efforts.

"Honestly, it's nice to be productive. I know a lot of people are cooped up in their houses," he says. "We're lucky to have the opportunity to contribute."

One challenge McEuen is facing is procuring the raw materials for the shields. as shipping and delivery times are slower during the pandemic. Despite the obstacles, Harris Health System's president and CEO, Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, is grateful for the support and effort.

"This is a great example of how people of this great city and county come together to address a common and dire need," says Porsa in the release. "I want to personally thank the staff and leadership of University of Houston for stepping up and leading the way to help Harris Health care for our communities in the safest possible way."

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Building Houston

 
 

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity. Photo via Getty Images

Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”

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