HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 130

Houston innovator: 'The climate has already changed' — here's the impact indoor farming can make

Zain Shauk, co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast just ahead of Earth Day. Photo courtesy of Dream Harvest

Modern agriculture and produce farming is not sustainable — whether you're using the environmental impact definition of that word or in terms of a lasting economy.

This concept has been made abundantly clear to Zain Shauk, co-founder and CEO of Houston-based Dream Harvest Farming Co., a vertical indoor farming company producing leafy greens and herbs and delivering them locally to grocery stores in Texas and nearby states.

"The inspiration for Dream Harvest is really the problem with our food system and agriculture today," Shauk says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Thirty-five percent of the produce grown is thrown away before you even have a chance to eat it. Almost more astounding than that is that 80 percent of our water use as a nation is agricultural."

Shauk brings up California as an example because the state's constant water shortage is hindering outdoor farming. The country relies on California for leafy greens, and both due to the lack of water and the fact that it takes produce seven to 10 days to travel from the West Coast to Texas grocery aisles, it's not an ideal process in any way. Dream Harvest can change that.

"The climate is changing now. We talk about Earth Day and the importance of realizing our impact on the planet, but we are already there," Shauk says on the show. "The climate has already changed."

The future of produce depends on making more environmentally friendly changes to the supply chain, and new technologies are enabling vertical indoor farming to effect these changes in some part. Dream Harvest recently received a $50 million investment from Orion Energy Partners to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Houston to scale production. Shauk says he's also using the funding to support research and development to expand into other types of produce, but he has a lot to consider — affordability of the produce, maintaining sustainability, and more.

"It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of research. What I do know is we've come a long way with leafy greens," Shauk says. "When we started, we weren't growing in a way that makes financial sense with the amount of money we have to spend growing the product — and now we do."

Some of the reasons for advances in vertical farming is new technology — which is coming out of a slightly different green industry.

"Cannabis has really driven a lot of the innovation — there's been so much money poured into the marijuana industry to grow it for commercial sale, and that's evolved a rapid development in technology for indoor growing," Shauk says, adding that one example of this is indoor lighting. "There's so much interest in making money on marijuana, that we're benefiting off that from produce."

Shauk shares more about the future of Dream Harvest and vertical farming, as well as what Houstonians can do to shrink their carbon footprint, on the podcast episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cemvita reported a successful pilot program on its gold hydrogen project in the Permian Basin. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.

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