A California tech company is planning on rolling out a handful of atmospheric water generation projects near Houston. Photo via skyh2o.com

Houstonians are used to filtering their water, but few really ponder why they’re doing it.

“Most people, when they think about water stress, they think about water scarcity, like what you see happening in Northern Africa or maybe the Southern U.S.,” says Alexander von Welczeck, chairman, president and CEO of SkyH2O. “A bigger, creeping issue, particularly in the industrialized world, is water toxicity.”

Some Houston tap water contains “forever chemicals” that can be toxic, as some reports have found. In fact, says von Welczeck, water toxicity is a problem across the Gulf Coast. That’s why the California-based businessman has identified Houston as the first region to benefit from SkyH2O’s technology.

The company will break ground on its first SkyH2O Station in the first quarter of 2024 in Dickinson, strategically placed between Houston and Galveston. That will be followed by another in Angleton. Eventually, says von Welczeck, there will be eight SkyH2O stations in the greater Houston area.

Von Welczek describes a SkyH2O Station as bearing a resemblance to “a big, modern gas station, but as opposed to gas, the primary product is fresh, healthy water.” With everything from charging stations for electric vehicles to a farmers market-style set-up of sustainable food, the stations will indeed be like a futuristic gas station.

Water will be distributed both in recyclable packaging for smaller businesses and homes, and in bulk to fill water tankers for ranches and other larger customers. Von Welczeck foresees, for example, Galveston cruise ships filling up with a supply of water at that station.

But where will this fresh, clean water come from? SkyH2O uses atmospheric water generation, or AWG, systems to pull humidity from the air and turn it into potable water. The higher the humidity, the more water can be produced.

“Obviously in and around Houston, we have tremendous humidity,” von Welczeck says.

This is all done using the Maximus 4260, the latest and greatest of the company’s AWG systems. The machine is rated to produce 10,500 litres of fresh, potable water a day. It produces net zero water, meaning that it doesn’t come from any existing water resource.

What comes out initially is a semi-distilled, purified water. The next step is further filtering it and adding minerals to make the product potable for customers. Von Welczeck says that SkyH2O’s water meets the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s water standards.

The serial entrepreneur has been working in the climate tech space since 2002 and has a proven track record. Von Welczeck says that he sold his company, Solar Power Partners, to NRG in 2010.

“From my perspective, most everything in climate technology, whether it's clean energy, recycling, even food and water, they're all interrelated,” he says.

After opening around 20 Texas locations, von Welczeck has his sights set on covering the entire Gulf Coast. After that, he hopes to expand to Mediterranean Europe, particularly water-strapped islands. He’s even in discussions with potential clients in the Middle East. But Houston will be the first to taste SkyH2O’s potentially globe-altering water.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Austin-based Tesla has released new information on its Megapack project, which is being stood up south of Houston in Angleton. Screenshot via YouTube.

Tesla reveals details on massive power storage facility being built south of Houston

texas-sized energy project

Tesla Inc. has taken the wraps off a backup-power storage project in Angleton designed to ease the impact of incidents like February 2021’s near-collapse of the Texas power grid.

The project’s 81 Tesla Megapacks are aimed at providing backup power while reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Tesla says its Megapack batteries store clean energy that can be used anytime.

The Bloomberg news service reported last March that the more than 100-megawatt Angleton project could power about 20,000 homes on a hot summer day. Austin-based Tesla unveiled the 2.5-acre project in a YouTube video posted January 6.

A presentation made to the Angleton City Council by Plus Power LLC indicates the Megapack project is supposed to be part of a larger energy-storage “park.” The park could generate about $1 million in property tax revenue over a 10-year span, the presentation says.

San Francisco-based Plus Power, which has an office in Spring, develops battery-equipped systems for energy storage.

The Megapack project, built by Tesla subsidiary Gambit Energy Storage LLC, is registered with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), according to Bloomberg. The quasi-governmental agency operates about 95 percent of the Texas power grid. ERCOT came under intense criticism after last February’s massive winter storm left millions of Texans without power for several days.

Tesla’s new energy-storage system is adjacent to a Texas-New Mexico Power Co. substation, Bloomberg says.

“Tesla’s energy-storage business on a percentage basis is growing faster than their car business, and it’s only going to accelerate,” Daniel Finn-Foley, head of energy storage at Wood MacKenzie Power and Renewables, told Bloomberg. “They are absolutely respected as a player, and they are competing aggressively on price.”

In November, the Texas Public Utilities Commission approved an application from Tesla subsidiary Tesla Energy Ventures LLC to be a retail provider of electricity in Texas. The power will be sold to residential and business customers throughout the ERCOT grid.

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Health tech startup launches Houston study improve stroke patients recovery

now enrolling

A Houston-born company is enrolling patients in a study to test the efficacy of nerve stimulation to improve outcomes for stroke survivors.

Dr. Kirt Gill and Joe Upchurch founded NeuraStasis in 2021 as part of the TMC Biodesign fellowship program.

“The idea for the company manifested during that year because both Joe and I had experiences with stroke survivors in our own lives,” Gill tells InnovationMap. It began for Gill when his former college roommate had a stroke in his twenties.

“It’s a very unpredictable, sudden disease with ramifications not just for my best friend but for everyone in his life. I saw what it did to his family and caregivers and it's one of those things that doesn't have as many solutions for people to continue recovery and to prevent damage and that's an area that I wanted to focus myself on in my career,” Gill explains.

Gill and Upchurch arrived at the trigeminal and vagus nerves as a potential key to helping stroke patients. Gill says that there is a growing amount of academic literature that talks about the efficacy of stimulating those nerves. The co-founders met Dr. Sean Savitz, the director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, during their fellowship. He is now their principal investigator for their clinical feasibility study, located at his facility.

The treatment is targeted for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that it’s caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

“Rehabilitation after a stroke is intended to help the brain develop new networks to compensate for permanently damaged areas,” Gill says. “But the recovery process typically slows to essentially a standstill or plateau by three to six months after that stroke. The result is that the majority of stroke survivors, around 7.6 million in the US alone, live with a form of disability that prevents complete independence afterwards.”

NeuraStasis’ technology is intended to help patients who are past that window. They accomplish that with a non-invasive brain-stimulation device that targets the trigeminal and vagus nerves.

“Think of it kind of like a wearable headset that enables stimulation to be delivered, paired to survivors going through rehabilitation action. So the goal here is to help reinforce and rewire networks as they're performing specific tasks that they're looking to improve upon,” Gill explains.

The study, which hopes to enroll around 25 subjects, is intended to help people with residual arm and hand deficits six months or more after their ischemic stroke. The patients enrolled will receive nerve stimulation three times a week for six weeks. It’s in this window that Gill says he hopes to see meaningful improvement in patients’ upper extremity deficits.

Though NeuraStasis currently boasts just its two co-founders as full-time employees, the company is seeing healthy growth. It was selected for a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health through its Blueprint MedTech program. The award was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding furthers NeuraStasis’ work for two years, and supports product development for work on acute stroke and for another product that will aid in emergency situations.

Gill says that he believes “Houston has been tailor-made for medical healthcare-focused innovation.”

NeuraStasis, he continues, has benefited greatly from its advisors and mentors from throughout the TMC, as well as the engineering talent from Rice, University of Houston and Texas A&M. And the entrepreneur says that he hopes that Houston will benefit as much from NeuraStasis’ technology as the company has from its hometown.

“I know that there are people within the community that could benefit from our device,” he says.

Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.