eavesdropping in Houston

Overheard: How the energy tech ecosystem will evolve and the role of Houston innovators

At a panel at virtually hosted CERAWeek, energy innovation stakeholders discussed the future of cleantech. Photo via Getty Images

The energy technology and innovation ecosystem is comprised of stakeholders across the industry — from the academic institutions that house researchers in the field and the entrepreneurs with the big ideas to the venture backers who fund the scaling of these ideas and the corporations who put these new technologies into their supply chain.

A recent panel at CERAWeek by IHS Markit explored where the energy tech ecosystem is headed — and what all needs to be done to advance innovation. Missed the discussion or just want a refresher on on the highlights? Here are some significant overheard moments from the virtual panel.

“We need more energy innovation, and when we think about the energy system of the future there are key areas where we need more technology developed. We all need to encourage and support that early innovation.”

— Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures. Burger mentions that it's about collaboration. "All of us play a role in a critical part of the development."

“Not only do we have to have the innovation pipeline, but then we’ve got to really move quickly to work with governments, corporations, public-private partnerships that can be formed around these technologies.”

— Ashley Grosh, vice president of Breakthrough Energy. Grosh echoes the need for collaborative efforts. No one part of the equation — such as corporates, scientists, academics, etc. — can move the needle by itself.

“We face a need to run the current energy system extremely well … while also envisioning a new energy system.”

— Burger says. Burger, who alludes to the state's recent power grid failure as an example, says this balancing act is a challenge across the board for energy companies.

“Government is going to have to play aggressively to solve the climate problem.”

— Ilan Gur, CEO of Activate Global Inc., a nonprofit organization that WORKS with U.S.-based funders and research institutions to support a group of fellows. Gur says there needs to be some aspect of incentivization somewhere in the innovation process to drive results.

“Where the market works, let it work. And where it needs help, let’s double down.”

— Burger says, adding that it will take the public, corporations, innovators, and capital to make a difference. "If you can align those all toward derisking then scaling that technology, we will all benefit from the fruits of that labor.

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Building Houston

 
 

Just after announcing an investment from United, NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc. scored a SPAC-based IPO. Photo via nextrenewables.com

It’s been a momentous month for Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc.

On November 15, United Airlines Ventures announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the next-generation, low-carbon fuel producing company.

Just a week later, the company revealed it’s going public through a SPAC merger with Industrial Tech Acquisitions II Inc. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, assigns a $666 million equity value to NEXT. The publicly traded company will be named NXTCLEAN Fuels Inc.

NEXT, founded in 2016, produces low-carbon fuels from organic feedstock. The company plans to open a biofuel refinery in Port Westward, Oregon, that’s set to start production in 2026. The refinery could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels.

“West Coast states are demanding a clean fuels conversion of the transportation and aviation industries with aggressive targets necessitating rapid increases in clean fuel supplies,” Christopher Efird, executive chairman and CEO of NEXT, says in a news release. “[The company] is advancing toward becoming one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of clean fuels for these markets, and is investigating and pursuing potential vertical expansion into other clean fuels.”

The proposed public listing of NEXT’s stock on the Nasdaq market and United’s investment are poised to help NEXT reach its goal of becoming a leader in the clean fuel sector. United’s investment appears to be the first equity funding for NEXT.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, says in a news release.

United’s investment arm, launched in 2021, targets ventures that will complement the airline’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

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