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Houston-based corporate venture group makes 2 investments from new $300M fund

Chevron Technology Ventures has invested in two alternative energy startups. Photo via Getty Images

The venture arm of Chevron has made two recent investments as a part of a new fund. Both of the companies are creating solutions within alternative energy innovation.

Chevron Technology Ventures announced its $300 million Future Energy Fund II in February, and the two recent investments represent the first moves made by the new fund.

The first investment was in Denver-based Starfire Energy, which develops modular chemical plants for the production of carbon-free ammonia and carbon-free hydrogen. The company closed its funding round earlier this month at an undisclosed amount. The round was led AP Ventures, which focuses on hydrogen production, storage, and transportation innovations, with contributions from CTV, New Energy Technologies, Osaka Gas USA, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

"Our investment in Starfire Energy gives us visibility into green hydrogen's potential to improve the way ammonia is produced, distributed, and consumed," says Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation and president of CTV, in a news release. "This is the first investment from our new $300 million Future Energy Fund II, which will focus on industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and the growing circular carbon economy."

The funds will be used to scale operations to decarbonize ammonia production and and move it forward as a zero-carbon energy carrier. According to the release, ammonia has a lot of potential within the alternative energy space. It has an energy density "comparable to fossil fuels and significantly higher than Li-ion batteries, compressed, or liquid hydrogen." Additionally, it's cheap to transport and store.

The second investment, which was finalized this week, was into a Nevada-based company that is developing low-cost floating wind turbines. Ocergy Inc.Inc.'s series A, which didn't have its value disclosed, was invested in by Moreld Ocean Wind and CTV.

"We are delighted about this partnership as it will allow Ocergy to advance and commercialize its innovative technologies," says Ocergy CEO Dominique Roddier in a news release. "With MOW onboard we gain a trusted partner who will be able to provide an EPCI solution for OCG-Wind, a key requirement for many of our clients. We are excited to have gained Chevron's investment and look forward to potential opportunities for their guidance and expertise executing some of the most complex offshore projects in the world."

Ocergy's floating wind turbines are low-cost. Photo via release

The company will use the funds for growth and commercialization.

"Offshore wind power is undergoing a period of rapid innovation in an effort to provide lower carbon energy at a substantial scale," Burger says. "Ocergy has developed technology that could be part of the solution to enable more affordable, reliable, and ever-cleaner energy in a marine environment."

Future Energy Fund II is the eighth venture fund created by Chevron Technology Ventures since its establishment in 1999. In 2019, the investment arm started a $90 million fund to invest in startups that can help accelerate the oil and gas business of San Ramon, California-based Chevron.

Barbara Burger is vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of CTV. Photo courtesy of CTV

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This UH engineer is hoping to make his mark on cancer detection. Photo via UH.edu

Early stage cancer is hard to detect, mostly because traditional diagnostic imaging cannot detect tumors smaller than a certain size. One Houston innovator is looking to change that.

Wei-Chuan Shih, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering, recently published his findings in IEEE Sensors journal. According to a news release from UH, the cells around cancer tumors are small — ~30-150nm in diameter — and complex, and the precise detection of these exosome-carried biomarkers with molecular specificity has been elusive, until now.

"This work demonstrates, for the first time, that the strong synergy of arrayed radiative coupling and substrate undercut can enable high-performance biosensing in the visible light spectrum where high-quality, low-cost silicon detectors are readily available for point-of-care application," says Shih in the release. "The result is a remarkable sensitivity improvement, with a refractive index sensitivity increase from 207 nm/RIU to 578 nm/RIU."

Wei-Chuan Shih is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering. Photo via UH.edu

What Shih has done is essentially restored the electric field around nanodisks, providing accessibility to an otherwise buried enhanced electric field. Nanodisks are antibody-functionalized artificial nanostructures which help capture exosomes with molecular specificity.

"We report radiatively coupled arrayed gold nanodisks on invisible substrate (AGNIS) as a label-free (no need for fluorescent labels), cost-effective, and high-performance platform for molecularly specific exosome biosensing. The AGNIS substrate has been fabricated by wafer-scale nanosphere lithography without the need for costly lithography," says Shih in the release.

This process speeds up screening of the surface proteins of exosomes for diagnostics and biomarker discovery. Current exosome profiling — which relies primarily on DNA sequencing technology, fluorescent techniques such as flow cytometry, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) — is labor-intensive and costly. Shih's goal is to amplify the signal by developing the label-free technique, lowering the cost and making diagnosis easier and equitable.

"By decorating the gold nanodisks surface with different antibodies (e.g., CD9, CD63, and CD81), label-free exosome profiling has shown increased expression of all three surface proteins in cancer-derived exosomes," said Shih. "The sensitivity for detecting exosomes is within 112-600 (exosomes/μL), which would be sufficient in many clinical applications."

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