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University of Houston’s Energy Transition Institute Continues Growth with New COO

Sustainability and Resilience Expert Joins Mission to Drive the Global Energy Transition

By Rashda Khan 713-743-7587

University of Houston – The Energy University – has named Debalina Sengupta as the chief operating officer of its Energy Transition Institute. Sengupta is a chemical engineer with over 18 years of experience working on sustainability and resilience issues. She starts Monday, July 1.

Debalina Sengupta

Since its inception in 2022, the ETI has made significant strides in its mission to create a future with reliable, affordable and sustainable energy for all.

Sengupta said the ETI’s mission and location in Houston, home to more than 4,500 energy companies and a pivotal international oil and gas hub, appealed to her. “UH Energy Transition Institute is the first of its kind Institute setup in Texas that focuses solely on the transition of energy,” she said. “A two-way communication between the academic community and various stakeholders is necessary to implement the transition and I saw the UH ETI role enabling me to achieve this critical goal.”

As COO, Sengupta will work alongside Joe Powell, founding executive director of the institute, their executive team and the ETI Advisory Board to develop and implement strategic plans, enabling the institute to achieve its many goals and objectives. The position is partially funded by a $500,000 grant from the Houston-based Cullen Foundation.

“We are excited to have Dr. Sengupta join us at UH to help drive the Energy Transition Institute to fulfill its mission in educating students, expanding top-tier research, and providing thought leadership in sustainable energy and chemicals for the Houston area and beyond,” Powell said. “Dr. Sengupta brings a strong background and network in collaborating with academic, community, governmental and industry partners to build the coalitions needed for success.” 

Sengupta joins UH from Texas A&M University where she was the Coastal Resilience Program director for Texas Sea Grant, a federal-state partnership program funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Previously, she has served as the associate director of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station’s Gas and Fuels Research Center; coordinator of the Water, Energy and Food Nexus at Texas A&M Energy Institute; and lecturer at the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, also at TAMU.

Her work has included developing collaborative projects with researchers from Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, China, France, Greece, India, Ireland, South Africa, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt and other countries. She has also led projects that engage underrepresented communities following principles of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Justice, and Access, STEM based research, extension, and education.

In addition, Sengupta has co-authored two books, “Chemicals from biomass: integrating bioprocesses into chemical production complexes for sustainable development” by CRC Press (2012), and “Measuring Progress towards Sustainability” by Springer (2017).

“It is necessary that we think deeply about sustainability quantification for our energy systems, diversify and expand from fossil to non-fossil resources, and understand how it can impact our future generations,” Sengupta said. “This requires rigorous training and adopting new technologies that will enable the change, and I am dedicated to work towards this goal for UH ETI.”

Originally from India, Sengupta is aware of the toll natural disasters and geopolitical strife can have on the daily lives of ordinary people. This awareness fuels her passion for sustainable development for societal impact. She has been working with Texas coastal communities over the past two years to not only bring awareness, but also build a strong basis for implementation of coastal resilience and adaptation projects along the coastline. Notably, the Texas coast serves as a potential economic development zone for several energy transition projects in the next decade.

She has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Jadavpur University in India and a doctorate from Louisiana State University focusing on process systems engineering. Sengupta also worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through a fellowship from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president for energy and innovation at UH, is proud of how far the institute has come and is looking forward to future developments.

“I am very proud of how much the UH Energy Transition Institute has accomplished in its short existence in terms of nurturing and growing research, thought leadership and student learning contributing to innovative solutions for a vibrant energy transition ecosystem,” Krishnamoorti said. “The grant from the Cullen Foundation and Dr. Sengupta’s appointment will allow us to do even more to further grow support from area industry to drive a sustainable and just energy transition.”

The institute has sponsored student competitions and hosted symposia with energy transition themes that have facilitated interaction with industry while enhancing student awareness, and catalyzed cross-disciplinary cooperation to expand funding opportunities for UH faculty, including direct funding of over 24 projects via seed grants. 

Established with a $10 million commitment from Shell USA Inc. and Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc., the ETI focuses on three key areas: hydrogen, carbon management and circular plastics. The institute works closely with UH’s Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute and researchers across the University, as well as with other colleges, universities and industry partners to achieve its mission.

The institute aims to solidify UH’s efforts and help Houston also be the “Energy Transition Capital of the World.” Its dedication to circular plastics, decarbonization, advancing hydrogen initiatives coupled with efforts to build the workforce and leadership of the future will play a pivotal role in shaping the energy transition.



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