UH Energy:

Engaging, Encompassing, Empowering

By Ramanan Krishnamoorti

UH Energy as a formal entity is fairly new – President Renu Khator introduced the idea of making energy a primary focus for the University of Houston in 2008 – but its roots go back decades.

UH Energy brings together faculty, students and industry to meet a number of key goals: providing a trained workforce and technical leadership, researching and developing hydrocarbons and alternative energy sources, setting regulatory and public policy, and devising commercialization pathways and other business practices, as well as promoting technology incubation.

UH is best known for its technical energy-related educational and research programs, which began almost as soon as the University was founded.

The Cullen College of Engineering was created in 1941, and its engineering programs – including chemical engineering, petroleum engineering and graduate programs in subsea engineering, well completions and interventions, along with well design engineering – maintain UH’s standing as a leading academic institution for the development of unique educational programs that target the energy industry.

Those programs, coupled with geoscience programs in the College of Natural Science and Mathematics and related certificate and degree programs, including construction management and petroleum technology in the College of Technology, are just part of the array of academic programs that make up the UH Energy Initiative.

The Global Energy Management Institute at the C. T. Bauer College of Business, along with its Executive MBA programs aimed at energy executives, contribute to the goal, as do energy and environmental law programs at the Law Center. Similarly, educational and research programs in architecture, history, economics, political science and international politics have focused on policy issues in energy and environment.

An interdisciplinary minor in energy and sustainability, launched in 2013 under the guidance of UH Energy, now provides students in all fields of study an introduction to the topic.

Many of these programs, and much of our research, are driven by our beneficial partnership with industry – we work with industry to better understand both their workforce needs and their technical challenges. Industry’s commitment to the growth and success of energy-related programs at UH can be recognized through the outstanding corporate leaders on the UH energy advisory board. The continued vibrancy of UH Energy will be achieved by addressing regional, national and global needs for the sustained development of energy resources.

We are gearing up to address these challenges.

Just a few examples: the growth of the Allied Geophysical and Well-Logging Laboratories and, more recently, the Unconventional Resources Center of Excellence have mirrored the growth of the oil and gas exploration and production industry and the increased interaction between our University and industry on critical issues in research and development.

You can add to that the recently started bachelor’s degree programs in petroleum engineering and master’s degree programs in subsea engineering, along with more specialized master’s degree programs, all at the request of industry.

These programs grew from the University’s foundations in energy research. In the early 1970s, the chemistry and chemical engineering programs developed research strengths in organic and inorganic synthesis, catalysis and reaction engineering to complement the growth of the chemical refining industry in the Houston area, becoming global leaders in downstream hydrocarbon processing.

In the 1980s UH researchers, led by physicist Paul Chu, investigated pioneering materials capable of exhibiting high temperature superconductivity and established the University as the leading academic entity to advance the science and technology required for the development of high-temperature superconductors.

The Energy Research Park, a 74-acre industrial park purchased by the University in 2009, has helped take those accomplishments to a new level. The establishment of the Texas Center for Clean Engines, Emissions and Fuel, the Energy Device Fabrication Laboratory, the Applied Research Hub for the Texas Center for Superconductivity and the National Wind Energy Center take advances in fundamental science and engineering and develop impactful technologies.

‘UH is best known for its technical energy-related educational research programs, which began almost as soon as the university was founded.’

That important work continues, even as we plan for the future.

Programs focused on conventional energy will continue to remain important to UH Energy, including critical issues in nuclear and pipeline infrastructure, safety programs addressing research and training, cybersecurity and analytics research to ensure responsible energy production. But alternative energy — including innovations in solar energy technologies, thermoelectric materials and advanced energy storage, as well as research to rethink urban development and ensure access to clean water — is also a critical part of our mandate.

Taken together, those pathways will not only define UH Energy during the coming years but will also change the world in the process.

Krishnamoorti, chief energy officer at the University of Houston, is a professor of chemical and biomedical engineering.

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