Pumps & Pipes Aims to Bring Together Energy, Medicine, Space Innovators

8/1/13Follow @angelashah

Companies often struggle within themselves to get different departments to collaborate. So trying to bring together completely disparate sectors—say, innovators in energy and medicine—to work together for mutual benefit would seem like madness.

But that’s exactly the mission of the Houston organization Pumps & Pipes.

“We work very hard to establish that even dissimilar areas of technology have many similarities,” says Bill Kline, manager of drilling and subsurface at ExxonMobil’s Upstream Research Company and one of the group’s founders. “In both the upstream oil and gas industries and heart/vascular areas, we all work through long, thin tubes. We really have borrowed from the other guy’s toolbox.”

Taking a step back, the commonalities between energy and medicine become a bit clearer. Both deal with fluids that navigate through pipes controlled by pumps and valves. Blockages and corrosion can be catastrophic, and the malfunctions happen in difficult-to-reach places, whether inside the human body or in a drilling “tree” 900 feet below sea level.

The six-year-old organization, which is a consortium of medical institutions, energy companies and startups in related fields, hold biannual seminars that look at key problems common to each industry. Committees meet among themselves and report back on progress or obstacles at the next meeting.

Pumps & Pipes held its most recent summit Monday at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in south Houston to welcome its third partner, the aerospace industry.

“Operating in space leads to innovation in telemedicine, nutrition, radiation protection, exercise science,” says Ellen Ochoa, an astronaut and JSC center director. “Space is a hard and unforgiving environment, and if it can work there, it can work on Earth.”

Among the innovations … Next Page »

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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