Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper, and this is The EnergyMakers Show. Coming to you today from Rice University, where my guest, once again, is Chuck McConnell, the Executive Director of Energy and Environment Initiative here at Rice. Chuck, welcome back to the show.
Chuck: And welcome back to campus. Great to see you, Russ.
Russ: Great to be here once again. So, it’s been at least a year, so update us on the Energy and Environment Initiative.
Chuck: Since you were last here, we’ve had a lot of enthusiasm in the marketplace that we’ve been able to react to. Trying to set new tones and new strategies around our research, in the energy community especially. I think one of the things that’s probably been the most clear to us, Russ, is that our whole focus around energy sustainability has been reinforced as we’ve looked into the marketplace. And that means focus on access, focus on the affordability, and certainly the environmental responsibility. If you have those three things, you have real energy sustainability, and that’s really been the focal point for us, to move in all of the areas of relevant and impactful research that we’re doing here.
Russ: Ok, from what I remember last time when we talked about all the cool initiatives out here, was the subsea effort. Is that still happening?
Chuck: It sure is. We’re now walking, I wouldn’t say we’re running just yet, but we’ve formed the Subsea Institute. We have appointed a Board of Directors from industry, not only for governance, but also for our technical advisory board. You know, Russ, the whole thing is about, how do we make sure there’s never another Macondo? I mean, that’s really the fundamentals of what we’re doing, and it’s about process safety, but not just safety implementation, but actually getting ahead of it; predictable maintenance, predictable types of approaches, new materials, new ways of doing the work, and it even gets into the humanities area in terms of the people and the interaction of people, leadership, operational discipline. It’s a very, very comprehensive institute, and what we’re most excited about is that it’s not just US. We’re getting the Statoils, the people from the Middle East, South Americans. I think it’s an internationally recognized opportunity for us to put a real sharp focus on the whole subsea technology program. And, you know, if you do it right, by definition you’re going to do it safely.
Russ: Absolutely. Well, that makes sense, doing it internationally, too, because we’re all kind of connected in the same globe. So, I think it’s kind of extraordinary times right now. I mean, on one hand, we have kind of success under our belt with production here, but on the other hand, the world seems to be on the verge of there being some serious international issues, which, generally speaking, has always affected our energy pricing here and availability.
Chuck: Yeah, you know, Russ I think if you look at the last thirty, forty years, I think as a country we’ve gone from hysteria around supply; are we going to run out of oil or gas? Do we need to take steps in this country for scarcity in terms of the way we saw the future? So, here we are today looking at the age of abundance, which has been unlocked by technology. It’s a fascinating, major shift in the way you look at energy as a part of your national security program, as part of your international security program. I’m not suggesting energy as a political tool is as important as our friends around the world understanding that we are in a position to be able to support international interests. We can participate in those international markets. Technology has allowed us now to look at the international markets quite differently. We are not just a player, we are in many ways, the player, and with that, we are able to do things that we hadn’t envisioned twenty, thirty, forty years ago. And I think that’s really important, and it’s not something that our politics have necessarily gotten our heads wrapped around completely just yet. And I think, again, technology has created this opportunity. It’s on us to do it right, and so the environmental challenges that go with developing our resources in this country, we have to do it right. Not only for our own citizens, but I think for global leadership. And global leadership is what the rest of the world looks at from us, I think, far more than perhaps moralization from our President or our government.
Russ: Right, absolutely. You got on my radar also this time around because I understand that you’re going to be involved and participating in CERAWeek.
Chuck: First time. Actually, we’re going in as a university partnership. That’s how it’s defined by the CERA IHS team. We went down last year and observed a few of the activities at CERAWeek, and found it to be, I guess, an opportunity for us that we’d be missing. I mean, this is our home court. We’re here in Houston, it’s the energy capital of the world, this is the preeminent conference, as you look around the world (Russ: This is it globally.). Absolutely, and so for us not to be there, frankly, it’s just a yawning gap that we decided to move right into. And frankly, we’re welcomed by the CERA team to come into this situation, to showcase our technologies, some of our progressive and leading faculty involved with many of the technologies that will touch the oil and gas arena as well as electric power and petrochemicals.
Russ: Ok, so you’re going to be taking up several agenda items at the event.
Chuck: Yeah, they have a new session this year called the Agora. And that Agora is specifically designed to feature and showcase new, progressive technologies. It will be an exciting new way for our faculty to interact directly with the audience; Q&A, but also with demonstrations. We’ll be participating in some panels, also involved with some of the main plenary sessions, and then as a big part of what we hope to capitalize on as well is the plenary dinner on Thursday night. We’re specifically allowed, enabling us to move forward with a bunch of our faculty, some hundred of our faculty and alumni, and being able to have people that are part of the Rice community come down and participate and then be a part of that dinner.
Russ: Oh wow, that’s impressive. Can you share with us any particular technology that you’re going to be featuring?
Chuck: Well, sure. I mean, if you look at some of the things that are really central and focused for us, we’re known for our nanotechnology, and carbon fiber nanotubes, and some of the specific areas of application for that in the oil and gas arena. Sensing technology, again, nanotechnology enabled microprocessors in small, small nanoparticles for pipeline integrity, pipeline corrosive management, also leak detection. All of the things that are associated with the, actually the performance of pipeline systems, so that they can be more affordable, more environmentally friendly, and certainly more productive that way. And so, we’re hoping that those examples, along with some other areas of our computer science department, our mathematics department, and as well as our materials department. So, all of these new technologies where we’re, in the unconventionals, going into more challenging environments, whether that’s temperature, pressure, corrosive materials, and so we’re looking to take all of that together as our approach toward coming up with comprehensive solutions.
Russ: Great. Well, we’re going to be there, so we’ll find you. We’re there every year on Media Row. We have a pretty neat little set up with those guys, so I might get you or some of your colleagues to come by and spend some time with us.
Chuck: Hoping to have some people also from out of town that will also be coming into CERA. Part of our relationships that we have in the Energy and Environment Initiative include the National Energy Technology Laboratory, include the EERC in North Dakota. Many places around the country, not just Texas, but all of the areas where the unconventionals have begun to get more and more enthused, if you will, and everybody is talking about this is lower for longer in terms of the pricing environment. And I think what we’re seeing is, and we recognize, is that these are the times when technology becomes the most important.
Chuck: The people that are sharp and out in front of it are the ones that are going to, not only survive, but thrive. And that is what we want to embrace. We want to be part of that transformation.
Russ: Great. Well, Chuck I really appreciate it once again having you on the show.
Chuck: Well, we’ll see you at CERAWeek.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Chuck McConnell, the Executive Director of the Energy and Environment Initiative here at Rice University. And this is The EnergyMakers Show.
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