The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship identified eight startups that are best suited for disrupting energy tech and innovation. Photo courtesy of Rice Alliance

In honor of CERAWeek, the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship hosted its annual Energy Venture Day.

After over 50 startup pitches and more than 300 meetings, venture investors identified eight startups that are the most-promising companies on a path to innovate and disrupt the energy ecosystem.

The 2023 Energy Venture Day's Most-Promising Startup winners were:

AeroShield Materials

Graphic via aeroshield.tech

Hyde Park, Massachusetts-based AeroShield Materials is creating thermally insulating transparent inserts. The inserts are only four millimeters of AeroShield's material and, when placed inside a double-pane window, provides 65 percent more energy efficiency.

Columbia Power Technologies (C-Power)

Image via cpower.co

C-Power, based in Charlottesville, Virgina, has a technology that harnesses the power of the ocean.

"C-Power delivers this renewable energy resource to the world, both through low-power solutions that bring energy and the cloud to the sea and large-scale solutions that help decarbonize terrestrial grids," the company's website reads.

EarthEn

Graphic via earthen.energy

Chandler, Arizona-based EarthEn is focused on long duration energy storage solutions that use CO2 in a closed loop to store 4 to 100 hours of energy at a low cost. The SaaS tools — with artificial intelligence and machine learning — optimize peak demand pricing and use predictive analysis to enable grid resiliency.

Group1

Photo via Twitter

Group 1, based in Austin, is focused on the commercialization of potassium-ion batteries. The core technology originates from the labs of University of Texas at Austin professor JB Goodenough, co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery.

Ionada Carbon Solutions

Photo via ionada.com

Houston-based Ionada, a member of Halliburton Labs, has created a technology that can remove up to 99 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions for the energy, marine, and e-fuels, according to the company.

"Our engineers have more than a century of combined expertise in reducing emissions for the power generation, chemical, road, rail, air and marine industries. We are here to help you find the best sustainable solution to reduce your emissions," reads the website.

H Quest Vanguard

Photo courtesy of Halliburton

Another Halliburton Labs member H Quest Vanguard, headquartered in Pittsburgh, has developed an electrically powered chemical conversion platform that leverages Microwave Plasma Pyrolysis to liberate zero-CO2 hydrogen from natural gas using only a quarter of energy required by electrolysis, while coproducing a high-value carbon or petrochemical coproduct.

Pressure Corp

Photo by Anton Petrus/Getty

Houston-based Pressure Corp is developing waste pressure power systems to help midstream gas companies solve how they reduce emissions by providing the technology, capital and expertise required to achieve their environmental, social and governance goals.

STARS Technology

Photo via starsh2.com

Based in Richland, Washington, STARS Technology Corp. is commercializing advanced micro-channel chemical process technology that originally was designed for NASA and the Department of Energy. The company's reactors and heat exchangers are compact, energy-efficient, and more.

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Houston innovator receives $5M to establish new center that explores crystallization process

crystal clear initiative

A new hub at the University of Houston is being established with a crystal-clear mission — and fresh funding.

Thanks to funding from Houston-based organization The Welch Foundation, the University of Houston will be home to the Welch Center for Advanced Bioactive Materials Crystallization. The nonprofit doled out its inaugural $5 million Catalyst for Discovery Program Grant to the new initiative led by Jeffrey Rimer, Abraham E. Dukler Professor of Chemical Engineering, who is known internationally for his work with crystals that help treat malaria and kidney stones.

“Knowledge gaps in the nascent and rapidly developing field of nonclassical crystallization present a wide range of obstacles to design crystalline materials for applications that benefit humankind, spanning from medicine to energy and the environment,” says Rimer in a news release. “Success calls for a paradigm shift in the understanding of crystal nucleation mechanisms and structure selection that will be addressed in this center.”

The Welch Foundation, which was founded in 1954, has granted over $1.1 billion to scientists in Texas. This new grant program targets researchers focused on fundamental chemical solutions. Earlier this year, the organization announced nearly $28 million in grants to Texas institutions.

"Support from the Welch Foundation has led to important advances in the field of chemistry, not only within Texas, but also throughout the United States and the world as a whole,” says Randall Lee, Cullen Distinguished University Chair and professor of chemistry, in the release. “These advances extend beyond scientific discoveries and into the realm of education, where support from the Welch Foundation has played a significant role in building the technological workforce needed to solve ongoing and emerging problems in energy and health care.”

Rimer and Lee are joined by the following researchers on the newly announced center's team:

  • Peter Vekilov, Moores Professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering
  • Alamgir Karim, Dow Chair and Welch Foundation Professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering;
  • Jeremy Palmer, Ernest J. and Barbara M. Henley Associate Professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering
  • Gül Zerze, chemical and biomolecular engineering
  • Francisco Robles Hernandez, professor of engineering technology.

The University of Houston also received another grant from the Welch Foundation. Megan Robertson, UH professor of chemical engineering, received $4 million$4 million for her work with developing chemical processes to transform plastic waste into useful materials.

“For the University of Houston to be recognized with two highly-competitive Welch Foundation Catalyst Grants underscores the exceptional talent and dedication of our researchers and their commitment to making meaningful contributions to society through discovery,” Diane Chase, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, says in the release.

University opens its newest, largest campus research facility in Houston

research @ rice

As the academic year officially kicks off, professors have started moving in and Rice University has opened its largest core campus research facility, The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science.

The 250,000-square-foot building is the new home for four key research areas at Rice: advanced materials, quantum science and computing, urban research and innovation, and the energy transition. The university aims for the space to foster collaboration and innovation between the disciplines.

"To me it really speaks to where Rice wants to go as we grow our research endeavors on campus," Michael Wong, Chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, whose lab is located in the new facility, said in a video from Rice. "It has to be a mix of engineering and science to do great things. We don’t want to do good things, we want to do great things. And this building will allow us to do that."

At $152 million, the state-of-the-art facility features five floors of labs, classrooms and seminar rooms. Common spaces and a cafe encourage communication between departments, and the top level is home to a reception suite and outdoor terrace with views of the Houston skyline.

It replaces 1940s-era Abercrombie Engineering Laboratory on campus, which was demolished in 2021 to make way for the new facilities. The iconic sculpture "Energy" by Rice alumnus William McVey that was part of the original building was preserved with plans to incorporate it into the new space.

The new building will be dedicated to its namesake Ralph O'Connor on Sept. 14 in Rice's engineering quad at 3 p.m. O'Connor, a Johns Hopkins University grad, became a fan Rice when he moved to Houston to work in the energy industry in the 1950s.

The former president and CEO of the Highland Oil Company and founder of Ralph S. O’Connor & Associates left the university $57 million from his estate after he died in 2018. The gift was the largest donation from an estate in Rice's history and brought his donations to the university, including those to many buildings on campus and endowments and scholarships, to a total of $85 million.

“How fitting that this building will be named after Ralph O’Connor,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches said in a statement last summer. “He was a man who always looked to the future, and the future is what this new engineering and science building is all about. Discoveries made within those walls could transform the world. Anybody who knew Ralph O’Connor knows he would have loved that.”

The dedication event will be open to the public. It will feature remarks from DesRoches, as well as Rice Provost Amy Dittmar, Dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences Thomas Killian, Chair of the Rice Board of Trustees Robert Ladd and Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering Luay Nakhleh. A reception and tours of the new building will follow.

New certificate course trains a ready workforce as biotech companies in Pearland take off

Top of the Class

Biotech companies in Pearland are thriving, with big names such as Lonza, Millar Inc. Inc., and Abbott all experiencing tremendous growth in recent years.

The only challenge to this success is the increased demand for a faster workforce pipeline. Fortunately, the Pearland Economic Development Corporation (PEDC) has a solution.

PEDC has partnered with Alvin Community College (ACC) and Lonza to create a two-level Biotechnology Certificate Course designed to address the need for a better-equipped entry-level workforce.

This initiative offers two options to quickly train individuals for employment in the biotech field: Level 1, a six-week commitment for Biotech: Material Handler; and Level 2, a twelve-week commitment for Biotech: Lab Technician. Each level consists of 64 contact hours, with lectures delivered online and labs and assessments conducted on-site.

Alvin Community College is offering this course, which commenced on August 21, under its Continued Education and Workforce Development (CEWD) department. This department provides programs that incorporate current and new technical courses, training partnerships with businesses and industries, and other opportunities for individuals to acquire and upgrade skills or pursue personal enrichment.

Before this initiative, the region's two- or four-year programs were only graduating a dozen or so individuals. Early discussions focused on how to expedite workforce development through a local community college's certificate program. Alvin Community College was prepared to respond to the local workforce's needs.

PEDC played a pivotal role in establishing an advisory committee comprised of industry partners responsible for vetting the Biotechnology Certificate Course curriculum. Industry partners included the University of Houston Clear Lake (UHCL) at Pearland, Lonza, Millar Inc., Merit Medical, and the nonprofit organization BioHouston.

These partners are invaluable as plans continue to expand these certification programs.

Given the ever-increasing demand for a biotechnology workforce in the Pearland area, the future wish list includes expanding the certification program to other education partners.

For more information about the Biotechnology Certificate Program at Alvin Community College, visit this link.