UT Energy Institute partners with global oil companies to research sustainable energy

Pili Saravia, General News Reporter

The UT Energy Institute is partnering with global oil companies to fund research plans that focus on sustainable energy, a collaboration that works toward mitigating the carbon footprint of the corporations.

Oil companies ExxonMobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips and Chevron will each fund a project proposed by different University research groups, with a max funding of $100,000 per project, according to the grant proposal guidelines.

According to the Energy Institute website, the awards will be announced April 15 after each company chooses a project to fund with University input. Until then, teams have time to prepare until research begins in May when the funds become available.

The research proposals will focus on key themes of carbon capture and storage, renewable energy sources and industrial decarbonization, which accounts for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions through manufacturing of steel and cement.

All of the projects share a common factor: the generation of clean hydrogen, which can be transformed into methanol, an alternative fuel to natural gas.

Robert Hebner, director of the Center for Electromechanics, said the University decided to research clean hydrogen after recognizing the energy industry’s commitment to hydrogen as a possible renewable energy source.

“It is critically important to research hydrogen,” Hebner said. “Technology has evolved enough, and the climate problem has become bad enough, that I think hydrogen is going to make a big difference in the next 20 years.”

Energy Institute director Brian Korgel said the benefactor energy companies eagerly agreed to the project. He said he was surprised to find every company involved is making efforts to work toward the net zero carbon emissions goal. 

“If anything, they were further ahead than our campus,” Korgel said. “Our campus doesn’t have a net zero carbon emissions goal.”

To put more emphasis on environmental impact, Korgel said UT President Jay Hartzell announced energy and environment as one of the University’s key research initiatives as a part of UT’s Strategic Planning Process. Korgel said this program will help drive it.

“It’s a super interesting time right now for energy research,” Korgel said. “The companies all seem to share a similar goal, in terms of drastically reducing emissions and inventing new technologies.”

According to a 2021 Forbes article, ExxonMobil has continued to build new oil and gas projects despite announcing a net zero emissions goal for 2030, and other oil companies are following similar trends. Hebner said for some companies, goals cover up their inaction while other times it’s due to the naturally slow process of reinventing energy.

“Can I say that the company is only making incremental progress so they don’t have to make real progress?” Hebner said. “That has happened before.”

Hebner said companies need to consider the balance between creating clean energy now and creating sustainable processes for the future.

“Can we really do this in an affordable way to where we don’t hurt people today, but we maintain the world through the next generation and the one after that?” Hebner said.