HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 76

Growing Houston biotech startup is capturing a new way for oil and gas to get to carbon negative

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory, is offering energy execs an innovative way to meat their climate change pledge goals. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

As more and more energy companies are focusing on reducing their carbon footprint ahead of lofty clean energy goals, Moji Karimi, CEO and co-founder of Houston-based Cemvita Factory, is doing his oil and gas clients one better. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, Cemvita provides an additional revenue stream for its clients.

Karimi founded the company with his sister and Cemvita CTO, Tara, in 2017. The idea was to biomimic photosynthesis to take CO2 and turn it into something else. The first iteration of the technology turned CO2 into sugar — the classic photosynthesis process. Karimi says the idea was to create this process for space, so that astronauts can turn the CO2 they breathe out into a calorie source.

"While we were doing that, we realized the big picture is not just the space application. If we could apply the same technology for other chemicals made in energy-intensive way, then we could actually help with climate change," Karimi says on the podcast.

Now, Cemvita has 30 different molecules its technology can produce and works with the likes of BHP, Oxy, and more energy clients to take their carbon emissions and turn it into something useful.

"It's not just for sustainability reasons — it's part of the reinvention of the company to maintain its legacy for the next few decades to come," Karimi adds.

While 2020 was a chance for Cemvita to reset, by Q4 of last year the company was in growth mode and got back to the lab. The company's teams were divided between two spots — one being an R&D team in larger office at JLABS @ TMC — and Karimi says later this year that will change. Cemvita is moving into a larger, combined space in Upper Kirby in May.

But Karimi says one of the biggest challenges Cemvita is facing is that its doing something that's never been done before. There's a huge learning curve for clients and oil and gas stakeholders.

"There weren't biotech companies working with oil and gas companies for this use case that we have now," Karimi says. "We're defining this new category for application of synthetic biology in heavy industries for decarbonization."

There are other companies in the carbon capture and neutralization fields, though they are taking slightly different approaches. Rather than being competitive, companies in this space are working together for a greater good.

"The more successful that some of these other companies are in opening up the market, that also helps us the same way we're doing for them," Karimi says. "It's an interesting and collaborative area, because at the end of the day, the outcome is good for the world."

Karimi shares more about what Cemvita's growth plans on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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For over a year now, scientists have been testing wastewater for COVID-19. Now, the public can access that information. Photo via Getty Images

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

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