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Texas Innovator Fall 2008 - Web Exclusive


New oil from old wells

Despite the oil industry’s best efforts – and the nation’s rising need for energy – much of the oil beneath our feet remains out of reach. But a new consortium organized through the University of Texas’ Bureau of Economic Geology plans to use nanotechnology to find and produce more oil from existing fields.

The Advanced Energy Consortium (AEC), a partnership between UT, Rice University and industry giants BP America, Baker Hughes, ConocoPhillips and Halliburton, is developing better ways to locate, map and extract this oil.

“Under current technology, 60 percent of oil typically remains underground after recovery methods have been implemented,” says Sean Murphy, AEC manager. “Creating new technologies for precisely locating the remaining petroleum is our research goal.”

A major focus of the AEC’s research is the development of micro- and nanoscale intelligent sensors that can be injected into rock formations to better understand the three-dimensional characteristics of such reservoirs.

According to the Comptroller’s May 2008 Energy Report, Texas has nearly 219,000 active oil and gas wells.

For more information, contact Sean Murphy, The Comptroller’s Energy Report is online at


Cleaning up old buses

The Texas Clean School Bus Program wants to clean up Texas school buses – not their exteriors, but rather their dangerous, polluting exhausts.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which sponsors the program, has awarded $5.5 million in fiscal 2008 to 58 school districts to retrofit about 2,700 buses with pollution reduction devices. The agency will allocate a like amount in fiscal 2009 to retrofit additional older buses.

“Retrofits are quick, easy to do and represent a good investment for school districts,” says TCEQ Commissioner Larry R. Soward. “This program is good for the environment and for the schoolchildren of Texas.”

About one-third of Texas’ 36,000 school buses are more than 10 years old. Retrofitting reduces emissions by as much as 90 percent and costs from $800 to $7,500 per bus.

Exhaust from idling, diesel-powered school buses can accumulate around and even inside buses waiting to pick up or drop off students, and the fumes and accompanying pollutants are especially dangerous to children.

For more information about the Texas Clean School Bus Program, visit


Tapping the depths

Seminole, Texas, is planning to use wind power to desalinate water using reverse osmosis. The water will come from as deep as 2,000 feet in the Santa Rosa Aquifer. The project is believed to be a first for an inland municipality using wind power.

“Our goal is to produce 1 million gallons a day,” says Tommy Phillips, Seminole’s city manager. “The water down there is very briny, saltier than seawater.”

For the project, Seminole has about $800,000 in grant funding from the Texas Water Development Board and the Office of Rural Community Affairs, as well as a wind-power generator on loan from Texas Tech University.

For more information, contact Tommy Phillips,, (432) 758-3676.


Curing the stomach blues

Tummy troubles while traveling may be a thing of the past.

Researchers at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston and the Iomai Corporation of Maryland have developed the Iomai patch, a vaccine aimed at a strain of E. coli bacteria that typically causes gastrointestinal upset.

A study of travelers to Mexico and Guatemala showed a drop in moderate to severe diarrhea among those vaccinated. Three of 59 people were sick, one severely. About one-quarter of the 111 placebo takers fell ill, 12 of them severely.

“These results suggest that the Iomai patch has the potential to fundamentally change the way we approach prevention of this disease, an ailment against which we now have very few weapons,” says Dr. Herbert DuPont, professor and director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at UT’s School of Public Health and the trial’s principal investigator.

No serious vaccine-related side effects were reported.

The first of its kind in the United States, the vaccine could be available within a few years.

For more information, contact Herbert DuPont, (713) 500-9366.


Wall-crawling robots

Newly developed wall-crawling robots could prove helpful in military applications and rescue situations.

A robot climbing a wall.

Photo courtesy of SRI International, Menlo Park, California

SRI International, an independent nonprofit research and development organization, developed the robots using a new electrical adhesive technology called compliant electroadhesion.

Electroadhesion is an electrically controlled adhesion technology that induces electrostatic charges on a wall surface using a power supply connected to pads placed on a moving robot. Unlike conventional or dry adhesives, the electroadhesion can be turned off for mobility or cleaning. These robots also can clamp to wall surfaces covered in dust or debris.

“Recent events such as natural disasters, military actions and public safety threats have led to an increased need for robust robots, especially ones that can move in three dimensions,” says SRI Senior Mechanical Engineer Harsha Prahlad. “The ability to climb walls and other structures offers unique capabilities in military applications such as urban reconnaissance, sensor deployment and installation of network nodes in an urban environment.”

Electroadhesive robots perform well on concrete, wood, steel, glass, drywall and brick. The worldwide market for robots is expected to reach $16 billion by 2025, according to the Japan Robotics Association.

For more information, contact Ellie Javadi, (650) 859-4874, or visit

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