Rising Stars 2021: ‘Little Bit Of Luck’ Led To Highwood Emissions Management Success, Says President
Editor’s note: We’ll be running all Rising Stars Class of 2021 profiles over the next two weeks. Today, we profile Thomas Fox.
Fox was co-nominated with Jessica Shumlich, whose profile is here.
Although Thomas Fox has an environmental science degree from McGill University in Montreal, the president and co-founder of Highwood Emissions Management, a rapidly growing start-up, attributes his current role to “a little bit of luck.”
After earning a master’s degree in science, also from McGill, he had begun work on a doctorate in precision agriculture with the use of drones shortly before the federal government implemented methane reduction regulations. “My supervisor asked me if I wanted to pivot to methane, so I went for it,” says Fox, who went on to complete his PhD at the University of Calgary’s Centre for Smart Emissions Sensing Technologies. His doctoral work evaluated methane measurement technologies through simulation and literature review.
He and Jessica Shumlich, whose background is in emissions management, co-founded Highwood in September 2020 and since then it has grown to a team of 15. “I think we’ve already done five years worth of work in the first year,” says the 33-year-old Fox.
Highwood works with its clients to develop strategies to understand their liabilities and their emissions — enabling them to accurately quantify their emissions, reduce them and then take credit for the reductions they’ve achieved, he says. “If inaction is a risk, taking action is actually an opportunity because there are a lot of incentives out there to encourage companies to reduce their emissions.”
In Canada, government regulations have been the driving force for innovation. Industry is focused on achieving cost-effective reductions, yet many companies are beginning to go above and beyond regulatory requirements to achieve voluntary reductions, says Fox.
“There’s a lot of opportunities to improve the economics of reducing emissions,” he says. “It’s really about decarbonizing the way that we produce energy and that can happen in a number of ways — and I think it needs to happen in a number of ways.”
And while there’s a big and important push for renewable energy, it also has issues that aren’t likely to be resolved for a very long time, says Fox. “And so there’s a very important role for oil and natural gas in the energy mix and, because of that, we need to find ways to produce it with the lowest possible carbon intensity.”
Although understanding the carbon intensity of different sources of energy will become increasingly important in the effort to produce and deliver lower carbon energy, the current challenge with natural gas is that “we really don’t have a concrete idea of how much emission is emitted and from where,” he says.
There’s a need for more measurements with technologies that can quantify methane emissions from the entire supply chain, says Fox. It’s really in the best interest of the natural gas industry to figure out what that number is so it can accurately characterize their emissions and assert a role as a transition fuel in a low carbon economy, he says.
Technologies that are being developed in Canada in terms of methane emissions and quantification could be exported and it’s already starting to happen, he says. “Several of our Canadian clients are already deploying their technologies all over the U.S. and it’s a whole market for what we could develop here in Canada.”
For its part, Highwood is exporting its knowledge around the world and is keenly interested in new United States draft methane regulations that would increase the size of the emissions management market by a factor of 10. “It’s a massive opportunity because we’re years ahead of them,” says Fox, who currently is working with the Gas Technology Institute, University of Texas, SLR and dozens of stakeholders to design and pilot a global standard for measurement-based methane intensity.
In the meantime, Highwood’s president is excited to be working on cutting-edge projects — “things that nobody’s ever worked on before [and] coming up with new ideas, new services, … new solutions, and trying to trying to solve problems that have never been solved. [We’re] working with some of the smartest people in the world, who are coming up with all kinds of brilliant ideas for how to move us all forward collectively.”
One of the best things, though, he says, is the people he works with. “We’ve built a fantastic team of really passionate and excited and bright young people who want to change the world and are excited to be doing it, and engaging with them on a daily basis is extremely motivating.”
Rising Stars: Sponsors
Fluor has provided engineering, procurement, fabrication, construction, and project management services to Canada’s energy industry for 72 years. Its 43,000 employees globally (and 3,000+ across Canada) deliver comprehensive services — from conceptual design through to commissioning and maintenance — for all types and sizes of facilities. Fluor applies its broad expertise, extensive experience, and proven technology to benefit Canada’s energy transition in areas such as liquefied natural gas, carbon capture, hydrogen, renewable fuels, small modular reactors, and minerals mining. Fluor is committed to positively contributing to Canada’s energy tomorrow by focusing on safe and sustainable solutions today. This commitment includes focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure opportunities represent the diversity of Canada’s population and support reconciliation, partnerships, and benefit-sharing with Indigenous peoples.
geoLOGIC systems ltd.
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- Emissions Management