Summer Research Opportunities for Students Promise Great Impact for Low Carbon Energy

By Janet Miranda

This summer UH Energy and C.T. Bauer College of Business in collaboration with Center for Houston’s Future sponsored four research projects that focus on quantitative analysis models to examine the regional impact of new low carbon energies, which have the potential to attract billions of dollars of capital investments and tens of thousands of jobs.

“There’s so many areas in the energy field where there’s a real benefit to bring in this kind of knowledge and expertise of different parts of the university together,” said the director of the Gutierrez Energy Management Institute, Greg Bean.

The multidisciplinary summer research projects are part of what Bean calls experimental learning that expands how students get information by moving learning outside of the classroom and into hands-on internships, competitions, or in this case research projects.

The research projects include four different low carbon energy sectors including carbon capture storage and utilization, hydrogen, low carbon electric grid, and circular plastics industry. The teams include an interdisciplinary mix of undergraduate students and graduate students.

The main objective is to understand what a leadership role in low carbon energy would look like in Houston, and what would be required to achieve it, to cement its role as the energy capital of the world.

"The students will gain much knowledge on the leading-edge issues in energy,” said Bean. “The ongoing energy transition will happen over the next 30 years, and with this project they are getting direct exposure to many of the key initiatives along with analytical exposure and contact with the industry.”

The teams are working on a rigorous model of the four ecosystems detailing the nature and size of asset base and markets in 2050, capital investment requirements, economic and workforce impact such as GDP and jobs. The report will also highlight key hurdles and milestones for 2025, 2040, and 2050 along with necessary infrastructure developments and government policy support.

Cameron Barrett, finance graduate student and member of the low carbon electric grid group, whose team focused on key investments and technology challenges to create a highly digitized, flexible grid system, said the project makes headway in a challenging generational issue.

"Energy and sustainability issues will be one of the greatest challenges of our generation,” said Barrett. “I think that the chance to work on these issues is invaluable, and I am looking forward to contributing to the broader discourse surrounding the deployment and feasibility of renewable assets.”

As the energy transition marches along, energy companies have started to turn their eye to the possibilities of new technology to reduce their carbon footprint.

Makpal Sariyeva, a petroleum engineering student and member of the group focused on carbon capture storage and utilization research, said that carbon capture was an increasingly relevant topic in the energy world.

“It is a very hot topic in the energy sector with many companies interested in how to start sequestering and storing carbon in the most efficient and economically feasible way,” said Sariyeva. “I’m very glad that I was able to join this project because it is related to what I am studying as a petroleum engineer and the energy sector as a whole.”

Will Nordt, a supply chain management and management information systems senior and one of the members of the circular plastics industry project, echoed Sariyeva’s takeaways.

"This project has been extremely beneficial, even if I don’t end up going into plastics,” said Nordt. “For some one that lives in Houston, it’s really been insightful to see why we have the processes that prevent some things from being recycled. It gives you a really good overview not just of policy and regulation, but also the economics behind it.”

The students will be led by faculty advisors, including Bean for low carbon electric grid project; Chuck McConnell, executive director for carbon management, in the carbon capture project; Brett Perlman, CEO of Center for Houston’s Future, in the hydrogen project; Ramanan Krishnamoorti, UH Energy’s chief energy officer for the circular plastics industry project, with additional support from faculty.

The students will continue to work on the report and presentation for the remainder of the summer and will present their finding in an event this fall.