Rice and Texas partners’ energy transition proposal named semifinalist for major NSF Engines grant

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A coalition between Rice University, the Greater Houston Partnership’s Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI) and four other leading Texas research universities has been named a semifinalist for the National Science Foundation Engines program.

NSF Engines will provide up to $160 million in funding over 10 years to establish each engine.

The proposed “Accelerating Carbon-Neutral Technologies and Policies for Energy Transition” (ACT) engine aims to make Houston a global nexus for low-carbon energy leadership, technologies, products and services, and a hub for accelerating the global energy transition. The hub would also ensure demand for a clean energy sector workforce is met, creating strong economic growth, the coalition said.

“Providing affordable, reliable energy while minimizing the impact on the environment is going to be one of the most challenging, most important priorities for this generation,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches said. “It’s a priority Rice and the city of Houston are zeroed in on. Joining forces with Houston and Texas’ greatest universities and industry partners through the ACT Engine will allow the U.S. to advance this imperative with an incredible force, urgency and impact.”

NSF Engines will be led by universities, nonprofits, businesses and other organizations across the country. HETI, Rice, the Texas A&M University System, Texas Southern University, the University of Houston and the University of Texas at Austin are among the member organizations working on ACT, which is one of 34 semifinalists chosen from 188 concept outlines received. It is anticipated that winners will be announced in the fall.

“This NSF Engines program is a tremendous opportunity for the Houston region,” said Bobby Tudor, CEO of Artemis Energy Partners, chair of HETI and chairman emeritus of the Rice Board of Trustees. “The Greater Houston Partnership and HETI, along with our universities and ecosystem partners, are demonstrating that collaboration across all parts of our energy innovation ecosystem creates a distinct advantage in leading the energy transition. The region is primed and ready for this opportunity.”

Jane Stricker, senior vice president of energy transition and executive director for HETI, said the ACT Engine will leverage Houston’s diverse energy innovation ecosystem and talent, creating a true competitive advantage for existing and new energy companies across the region.

“Texas is leading the way in nearly every energy and energy transition solution, and this engine can catalyze our region’s continued growth in low-carbon technology development and deployment,” Stricker said.

The NSF Engines competition spans nearly all key technology areas highlighted in the CHIPS and Science Act. The program was launched by NSF's new Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships and authorized by the legislation.

“Each of these NSF Engines semifinalists represents an emerging hub of innovation and lends their talents and resources to form the fabric of NSF's vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "These teams will spring ideas, talent, pathways and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation."