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Houston organizations team up to accelerate startups with low-carbon solutions

A new six-month accelerator program is looking to move the needle on the energy transition. Photo via greentownlabs.com

Attention, innovators: A new initiative in Houston is searching for startups whose offerings can help reduce global carbon emissions.

The Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator is a partnership involving Greentown Labs, the Electric Power Research Institute, Shell Oil, the City of Houston, and New York University's Urban Future Lab. The accelerator is seeking applications from startups that are advancing low-carbon hydrogen production, enhancing hydrogen storage and distribution, or providing business models for management of hydrogen supply chains. Applications are due February 9, 2022.

"If we can improve the devices and processes that will be used to make, transport, and store clean hydrogen in the future, it can become a cost-competitive fuel. At the same time, these advances can improve the capacity factor of renewable generation, producing multiple economic and climate benefits," Pat Sapinsley, managing director of cleantech initiatives at the Urban Future Lab, says in a news release.

The six-month accelerator will enable startups to collaborate with the Electric Power Research Institute, utilities, and Shell on tech development, feasibility studies, pilot projects, and other low-carbon efforts.

The institute and Shell will provide startups two routes within the accelerate: a path for validation of their technology and a path for demonstration of their technology.

"Accelerating low-carbon hydrogen technologies is essential to achieving global net-zero targets by 2050," says Neva Espinoza, the institute's vice president of energy supply and low-carbon resources.

Shell foresees hydrogen playing a bigger role in hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as heavy-duty trucking, marine, aviation, chemicals, steel, and cement. Julie Ferland, vice president of innovation excellence at Houston-based Shell Oil, says programs such as the new accelerator will be critical to fostering low-carbon energy.

Earlier this year, after visiting Greentown Labs' Houston location, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Hydrogen Energy Earthshot to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80 percent to $1 per kilogram by 2030.

"As the Energy Capital of the World, I believe it is our responsibility to continue Houston's legacy of energy innovation and develop the technologies and practices needed to decarbonize the global energy sector," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says. "Houston has the skilled workforce and infrastructure to develop clean hydrogen at scale, and Greentown Labs' Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator is a great example of the kind of partnerships we need to make it happen."

Greentown Labs is the largest climatech startup incubator in North America. The Somerville, Massachusetts-based incubator recently opened its Houston location.

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Building Houston

 
 

HCC is working on a new center focused on resiliency on its Northeast Campus. Image via HCC

Houston’s initiative to protect the city from catastrophes is getting a big boost from Houston Community College.

The college is developing the Resilience Center of Excellence to aid the city’s resilience campaign. At the heart of this project is the 65,000-square-foot, $30 million Resiliency Operations Center, which will be built on a five-acre site HCC’s Northeast campus. The complex is scheduled to open in 2024.

HCC estimates the operations center will train about 3,000 to 4,000 local first responders, including police officers and firefighters, during the first three years of operation. They’ll be instructed to prepare for, manage, and respond to weather, health and manmade hazards such as hurricanes, floods, fires, chemical spills, and winter freezes.

According to The Texas Tribune, the operations center will include flood-simulation features like a 39-foot-wide swift water rescue channel, a 15-foot-deep dive area, and a 100-foot-long “rocky gorge” of boulders.

The college says the first-in-the-nation Resilience Center of Excellence will enable residents, employers, civic organizations, neighborhoods, and small businesses to obtain education and certification aimed at improving resilience efforts.

“Our objective is to protect the well-being of our citizens and our communities and increase economic stability,” Cesar Maldonado, chancellor of HCC, said when the project was announced.

Among the programs under the Resiliency Center of Excellence umbrella will be non-credit courses focusing on public safety and rescue, disaster management, medical triage, and debris removal.

Meanwhile, the basic Resilience 101 program will be available to businesses and community organizations, and the emergency response program is geared toward individuals, families, and neighborhoods.

HCC’s initiative meshes with the City of Houston’s Resilient Houston, a strategy launched in 2020 that’s designed to protect Houston against disasters. As part of this strategy, the city has hired a chief resilience and sustainability officer, Priya Zachariah.

“Every action we take and investment we make should continue to improve our collective ability to withstand the unexpected shocks and disruptions when they arrive — from hurricanes to global pandemics, to extreme heat or extreme cold,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said last year. “The time is now to stop doing things the way we’ve always done them because the threats are too unpredictable.”

In an InnovationMap guest column published in February 2021, Richard Seline, co-founder of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub, wrote that the focus of resilience initiatives should be pre-disaster risk mitigation.

“There is still work to be done from a legislative and governmental perspective, but more and more innovators — especially in Houston — are proving to be essential in creating a better future for the next historic disaster we will face,” Seline wrote.

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