seeing green

Houston biotech startup scores $5M to fuel sustainable aviation innovation

The United and Occidental investment arms are planning to form a joint venture to commercialize the technology. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Houston cleantech startup Cemvita Factory has scored a $5 million investment from United Airlines Ventures, the venture capital fund of the Chicago-based airline.

The equity investment is aimed at propelling commercialization of sustainable aviation fuel through a process involving carbon dioxide (CO2) and synthetic microbes.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, a subsidiary of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum that’s a founding investor in Cemvita, and United Airlines Ventures are financing the startup’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport.

If that work pans out, the United and Occidental investment arms plan to form a joint venture to commercialize the technology. The joint venture might include construction of plants for the production of sustainable aviation fuel.

Sustainable aviation fuel, known as SAF, is an alternative to jet fuel that uses non-petroleum feedstock and offers lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Founded by brother-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita Factory relies on synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels, including SAF. The startup, founded in 2017, is among the first companies to employ this technology to support heavy-industry decarbonization and find ways to take advantage of microbiology to convert CO2 into fuel.

“The use of SAF is a promising approach that we believe can significantly reduce global emissions from aviation and further decarbonization initiatives to combat climate change,” Richard Jackson, president of operations for U.S. onshore resources and carbon management at Occidental, says in a news release.

Cemvita is the third SAF-related startup to receive an investment from United Airlines Ventures.

The partnership among Cemvita, Occidental, and United is among many initiatives seeking to ramp up production of SAF. For instance, the U.S. Department of Energy is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal agencies to develop a strategy for scaling SAF technology.

The global SAF market is projected to grow from $219 million in 2021 to more than $15.7 billion by 2030, according to Research and Markets.

The International Air Transport Association says more than 370,000 flights have been fueled by SAF since 2016. Over 26.4 million gallons of SAF were produced last year.

Last month in France, aircraft manufacturer Airbus flew a A380 test jet for about three hours with one of the four engines operating solely on SAF. The three other engines ran on conventional fuel.

In December 2021, United flew a 737 MAX 8 jet from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Washington Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C., with one of the two engines operating only on SAF. It was the first commercial flight with passengers aboard to use SAF in that capacity. The other engine ran on conventional fuel.

United CEO Scott Kirby, who was aboard the historic flight, said the flight was “not only a significant milestone for efforts to decarbonize our industry, but when combined with the surge in industry commitments to produce and purchase alternative fuels, we’re demonstrating the scalable and impactful way companies can join together and play a role in addressing the biggest challenge of our lifetimes.”

For now, airlines are allowed to use up SAF for up to 50 percent of the fuel on commercial flights.

Trending News

Building Houston

 
 

The Pearland Innovation Hub celebrates its launch this week. Photo via pearlandedc.com

Entrepreneurs in the Pearland area have a new resource to help them grow their businesses.

The Pearland Economic Development Corp. has launched the Pearland Innovation Hub, aimed at connecting small businesses with programs and services that are designed to contribute to their success.

The Pearland Innovation Hub is managed through a partnership between the Pearland Economic Development Corp. and The Cannon, a Houston-area business networking community for entrepreneurs, investors, and corporate innovators. For now, the hub does not officially have a physical space. The hub is welcoming the local community to their launch party Thursday, May 19, at BAKFISH Brewing.

The Cannon hired Brandy Guidry to run the Pearland hub. She has more than 17 years of experience in business operations; engineering; technical marketing; innovation; and strategic planning, project, and program management.

Among the hub’s offerings are business-plan competitions, business coaching, networking, and programs.

Guidry’s office is at the Pearland Chamber of Commerce. “We can have small gatherings here,” she says. “Our focus is to have as many events at local venues to help promote and patronize the local business owners.”

Pearland Mayor Kevin Cole says in a news release that the hub will “serve to establish Pearland as a community known for innovation and entrepreneurship and where emerging companies want to locate.”

“The Pearland Innovation Hub is a groundbreaking initiative to support existing and aspiring small business owners,” Guidry adds.

A launch party for the Pearland Innovation Hub is scheduled for 5 pm May 19 at Pearland’s Bakfish Brewing Co., 1231 Broadway St.

Pearland Prosperity’s Community Strategic Plan recommended establishment of a hub for entrepreneurship and small business assistance. In April 2021, the economic development corporation’s board set in motion the creation of the hub. Seven months later, the Pearland City Council approved a three-year, $927,000 contract with The Cannon to operate the hub.

Members of the hub’s advisory board are:

  • Matt Buchanan, president of the Pearland Economic Development Corp.
  • Mona Chavarria, owner of A&A Cleaning.
  • Bill Jackson, founder and CEO of Base Pair Biotechnologies.
  • Jim Johnson, president and CEO of the Pearland Chamber of Commerce.
  • Randeep Nambiar, a board member of the Pearland Economic Development Corp.
  • HR consultant Ann Strouhal.

During the hub’s first year or two, it’ll be run through the economic development corporation. But the plan is to eventually transition the hub to its own nonprofit organization that will enter a contractual relationship with the economic development corporation.

Other than the Pearland Economic Development Corp. and The Cannon, the hub’s partners include the City of Pearland, the Pearland Chamber of Commerce, and San Jacinto Community College’s Small Business Development Center.

Brandy Guidry is the Pearland Navigator with The Cannon. Photo via pearlandinnovationhub.com

Trending News