Journally Speaking: The Energy University

Oct. 2, 2023
The University of Houston has begun positioning itself as The Energy University. As the leading public university in the oil and gas capital of the world, doing so makes good marketing sense.

The University of Houston (UH) has begun positioning itself as The Energy University. As the leading public university in the oil and gas capital of the world—itself in the US state with by far the most wind power generation and second most solar power—doing so makes good marketing sense.

Both the University of Texas and Texas A&M University have energy institutes, but they’re not in Houston. And there is also the Universiti Tenaga Nasional (tenaga being the Malay word for energy) in Kajang, Malaysia.

But there’s more to what’s happening at UH than just advantageous location and good publicity. Earlier this year the school reached an MOU with the Indian Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to establish a joint geoscience, exploration, and production data center. And since that initiative was announced, UH has introduced a graduate fellows program with Chevron Corp. and a consortium with Louisiana State University (LSU) and Shell PLC to evaluate the feasibility of building a direct air capture (DAC) hub in Louisiana.

Funded by Chevron, the graduate program supports post-bachelor students’ research efforts through a 1-year, $12,000 fellowship which includes mentoring by faculty experts and the opportunity to engage with subject matter experts at Chevron. According to the university the recipients’ work focuses on “scalable innovations for transformational impact on the energy industry.”

The selected fellows will engage with Chevron subject matter experts on a quarterly basis and participate in educational and research engagements organized by UH throughout the year. They will submit quarterly progress reports and may have opportunities to contribute to energy-related blogs and thought leadership pieces.

Pelican Gulf

The US Department of Energy awarded the LSU-led consortium a grant to support the first phase of the Pelican Gulf Coast Carbon Removal project. The Pelican Consortium, which includes Shell and the University of Houston, will consider the feasibility of building the DAC hub, leveraging existing regional infrastructure in one of the highest emitting areas in the Gulf Coast. It will also evaluate the potential for scaling up and deploying multiple DAC technologies, while addressing two of the process’s most problematic aspects: energy and water consumption and land use.

UH’s portion of the work will be under the primary direction of Joseph Powell, founding executive director of the Energy Transition Institute at UH, who spent 33 years as a chemical engineer at Shell, ending his time there as chief scientist. “DAC can be an important technology for addressing difficult-to-decarbonize sectors such as aviation and marine transport as well as chemicals, or to achieve negative emissions goals,” said Powell.

At the center of UH’s energy ambitions is The Energy Coalition, an organization bringing together students from various colleges to solidify the university’s position as The Energy University while they pursue careers in the energy industry. The Energy Coalition is the largest independent energy-focused student organization in the country and was the first-ever student group to be honored with podium time at a Houston American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Wildcatters event. UH’s AAPG chapter also won the organization’s Outstanding Domestic Student Chapter award at its 2018 annual convention.

Further helping set UH’s path is the Energy Advisory Board, a group of C-suite level volunteers from the industry appointed by UH President, Renu Khator. Chaired by Darrin Talley, vice-president of corporate strategic planning at ExxonMobil Corp., the board includes members from Chevron, ConocoPhillips Co., bp America Inc., Baker Hughes Co., Halliburton Co., and McKinsey & Co. among its ranks of 26.

“Shell is proud to work with LSU and the University of Houston as the technical delivery partner of Pelican Gulf Coast Carbon Removal,” said Adam Prince, general manager for carbon capture and storage strategy and growth at the company. “Advancing carbon management technologies is a critical part of the energy transition, and effectively scaling this technology will require continued collaboration, discipline, and innovation.”