The University of Houston’s Law Center (UHLC) and the Center for Carbon Management in Energy (CCME) teamed up this summer to create the first of its kind fellowship program for six law students interested in energy law research.
“This year has been a time of disruption, but that also creates opportunity,” said Tracy Hester, instructional associate professor at UHLC and co-founder of the CCME. “I’m enormously grateful that the University of Houston and the Center for Carbon Management were able to help give students an opportunity in these incredibly unusual times to do original work on legal issues at the heart of addressing the carbon challenge.”
The program, which started in May, lasted about six weeks and recruited law students and recent graduates whose internships or jobs were rescinded as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The research fellows worked on a variety of projects in the energy sector, from climate intervention technologies to examining regulatory barriers in upcycling plastic.
The Center for Carbon Management in Energy was launched in 2019, to form a dedicated academic and industry consortium to reduce carbon emissions and find new business opportunities for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions.
One of the students focused on identifying potential legal barriers to plastics reuse and upcycling, a process that breaks down used products to their basic polymers to use in new different products.
“There are many potential legal barriers. Since the plastics in this process are repurposed and not recycled that opens up marketing liability,” said Hayman Soliman, a second-year law student.”
Soliman identified three processing stages in the plastic upcycling process, investigating potential policy and legal barriers to the repurposing of plastics and mapping a framework to resolve them.
“The connections you make with other research and researchers are enormous,” said Soliman. “As a researcher I’m in charge of tackling these legal questions about the upcycling process. I get to build up my knowledge while moving the needle forward in research and literature on the issue.”
Soliman undertook this project with the American College of Environmental Lawyers and AIChE, a chemical engineering organization.
Neil Segel, also a second-year law student and vice president of the Energy and Environmental Law Society, researched the framework for regulation of climate intervention research and deployment in the U.S., with an emphasis on carbon capture.
“We’re experiencing a transformation in our energy sector, oil and gas companies are starting to venture more into renewable energy technologies, and so being aware of carbon management, at a technical, engineering, and legal level is important for the future.” said Segel.
He said the research project helped widen his knowledge of the operations for clean energy and technology, and that he would recommend the fellowship to any law student interested in energy.
“I certainly recommend the program to continue, even after things go back to normal,” said Segel. “One of the challenges was the short amount of time to immerse yourself in the literature, so perhaps a course for experiential credit would enhance the program and allow students to spend more time and effort.”
Hester, who served as project manager, said the research projects will be developed into white papers and included in seed grant proposals where most relevant.