UTPB shares in $1 million grant to advance energy

Decades of experience and expertise in energy production have made the Permian Basin not only a global source of energy but the source of know-how and technology to produce energy.

Aiming to further develop that expertise and technology and help adapt it to a future of low-carbon or net-zero carbon energy, the National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Texas Permian Basin a $1 million planning grant to support research into and implementation of technologies in the region. UTPB is part of a two-state – Texas and New Mexico – multi-institutional team receiving the grant.

The award will accelerate the Permian Energy Development Laboratory’s progress, with particular attention to bridging the gaps between research, entrepreneurship and job creation in the region. More importantly, it is the first step toward a possible 10-year, $160 million investment from the National Science Foundation.

Of that potential investment, George Nnanna, director of UTPB’s Texas Water and Energy Institute and professor of mechanical engineering, said requests for proposals are expected in April through June of next year, with awards presented in the fall of 2025.

“The research needs to be Permian Basin-focused, clearly identify stakeholders in the region and should benefit people in the region, not just the researcher or to do research for itself,” he told the Reporter-Telegram by email. “The proposed leadership team, representative of the people in the region, should have experience in the translation of technology to practice and in economic development.”

The research should clearly convey the region’s competitive advantage, including landscape analysis of strengths and gaps in the region and how those gaps will be addressed and strengths leveraged, he continued.

Nnanna listed four core focus areas of any research funded by the $160 million investment:

•    Carbon and materials management, including carbon capture, carbon accounting, methane management and the circular economy;
•    Advanced energy, fuels and integration, including renewable power, subsurface energy, low carbon fuels, industrial energy infrastructure, energy resilience and energy industry policies;
•    Water, land and agriculture, including water resources, produced water management, environmental monitoring/geographic information systems and regenerative agriculture and conservation;
•    Economic development and environmental justice, including equitable energy economics, community resilience, entrepreneurship and regional education

Of the $1 million grant, Nnanna said it is the National Science Foundation’s Engines Development award and will help advance energy and resilience technologies in the Permian Basin. The region’s considerable energy infrastructure and expertise, developed through decades of producing energy on a globally significant scale, will be leveraged to support research, development and commercialization of advanced energy solutions and technologies.

“More specifically, the Regional Innovation Engines Development Award will support collaboration among community members and energy experts from the public and private sectors to develop a regional engine for advancing energy innovation. This framework will ultimately inform other oil- and gas-dependent regions. Together they will work to ensure that the future of energy in America is safe, reliable, affordable, clean and fair,” he wrote.

Even more specifically, the award will:
•    Develop and demonstrate advanced energy technologies at scale
•    Improve systemic environmental performance
•    Share the benefits of the energy economy through workforce development and education
•    Accelerate growth of the region’s innovation ecosystem

UTPB’s Water and Energy Institute already has a robust produced water research program, and Nnanna said his department is planning research programs around four core focus areas:

•    Mineral Extraction using a photothermal porous membrane
•    Solar-enabled produced water treatment
•    Design of micro heat exchangers
•    Technology Evaluation of Recycling End-of-Life Photovoltaic Panels

The Permian Energy Development Lab is a new initiative that was introduced earlier this year. The initiative serves as a partnership between seven Texas and New Mexico colleges and universities and three national laboratories. In addition to UTPB, partners include Midland College, Odessa College, The Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation, GTI Energy, NREL Energy, New Mexico State University, New Mexico Tech, Sandia National Laboratories, Texas A&M University, The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Texas El Paso. 

Mella McEwen is the Oil Editor for the Midland Reporter-Telegram

Editor's Note: PEDL is a project launched and incubated by the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. CGMF established the Mitchell Innovation Lab in 2020 to focus on emerging issues and develop a portfolio of breakthrough sustainability ideas and opportunity areas to develop, seed, and incubate. PEDL is the Mitchell Innovation Lab's first initiative. 

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