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Rice launches partnership with Woodside Energy

Courtesy Brandon Martin

By Viola Hsia     1/23/24 9:20pm

Rice announced a five-year partnership with Australian-based company Woodside Energy Jan. 17. This partnership will provide $12.5 million to build the Woodside-Rice Decarbonization Accelerator, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide lower carbon solutions.

President Reginald DesRoches said that this partnership is representative of the types of collaborations higher education institutes partake in to address difficult international issues.

“Such partnerships accelerate discoveries made at universities to be transformed into products, technologies and systems that can be applied across the globe,” DesRoches wrote in an email to the Thresher.

Paul Cherukuri, Rice’s vice president for innovation, said the collaboration itself differs from other university partnerships, in both the five-year deadline and the global scale of the project.

“This problem [with carbon dioxide] is literally a global challenge, and generally companies are looking for solutions that are a little shorter term, but a little more manageable,” Cherukuri said. “This is quite literally a moonshot kind of program, where we have a hard target of getting to a method that will convert CO2, so we don’t have to dump it into the atmosphere.”

In an email to the Thresher, a spokesperson from Woodside wrote about the importance of this project in this day’s climate.

“We know that the world needs energy that is affordable, sustainable, and secure to support the energy transition,” a they wrote. “The goal of this accelerator is to develop carbon utilization technologies at a meaningful scale. We want to use them, but we also want them to be available to help decarbonize industry. We hope to give the carbon to products market a jump start.”

The project is led by faculty members Aditya Mohite, Naomi Halas, Peter Nordlander and Bruce Weisman. Mohite, a professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering, explained the premise of the project, and how they plan on achieving this.

“In order to achieve this project, we’ve proposed a totally new approach which includes plasma, the fourth [type of] matter,” Mohite said. “Plasma is 99% of the universe. You create plasma … if you have a gas [and ionize it], it breaks the atoms down into electrons and their corresponding positive particles and then ions. These charges then have tremendous amounts of energy, which allow you to then break bonds or do useful things.”

Andrew Lin, a first-year doctoral student in chemical and biomolecular engineering, is currently working on the project and said that their current steps include research and compiling lists for needed materials for the accelerator.

“Right now, we’re sitting down and trying to determine what equipment is going to be the most important for us to make advances in the project,” Lin said. “In the next coming months, we’ll have new systems brought into the building, and we’ll be able to start doing those experiments.”

Cherukuri said that the current end goal is to have a product at the end of the five years that can be the start of a new company.

“The philosophical outcome of this is that we forge a new way that industry and academia work together,” Cherukuri said. “I would like to see us set an example of how industry and universities can work together to do something faster than has ever been done before and to create brand new technology that has never existed.”

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