Nauticus Robotics has extended a contract with one of its biggest customers. Photo via nauticusrobotics.com

A Houston startup has just secured an extended contract with a major customer.

Webster-based Nauticus Robotics, a maker of autonomous oceangoing robots, has bulked up its current contract with Reston, Virginia-based Leidos in a $2.1 million extension.. That brings Leidos’ total financial commitment from $14.5 million to $16.6 million.

In partnership with Leidos, Nauticus is developing next-generation underwater drones for business and military customers. These unmanned underwater vehicles are being designed to carry out tasks that are dangerous or impossible for human divers to do, such as mapping the ocean floor, studying sea creatures, and monitoring water pollution.

“This very important work combines great attributes from each company to deploy a truly novel subsea capability,” says Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus.

Based on Nauticus’ Aquanaut product, these robots will feature the company’s toolKITT software, which supplies artificial intelligence capabilities to undersea vehicles.

“This work is the centerpiece of Nauticus’ excellent collaboration with Leidos,” says Radford, “and I look forward to continuing our mutual progress of advancing the state of the art in undersea vehicles.”

Founded in 2014 as Houston Mechatronics, Nauticus adopted its current branding in 2021. Last year, Nauticus became a publicly traded company through a merger with a “blank check” company called CleanTech Acquisition Corp.

During the first six months of 2023, Nauticus generated revenue of nearly $4 million, down from a little over $5.2 million in the same period last year. Its operating loss for the first half of 2023 was almost $12.7 million, up from slightly more than $5.2 million during the same time in 2022.

Nauticus attributes some of the revenue drop to delays in authorization of contracts with government agencies.

The company recently lined up a $15 million debt facility to bolster its operations.

“I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of Nauticus. We employ some of the best minds in the industry, and we are positioned with the right product at the right time to disrupt a $30 billion market,” Radford said earlier this month. “Demand from potential customers is high, but constructing our fleet is capital-intensive.”

More good news for Nauticus: It recently signed contracts with energy giants Shell and Petrobras. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

The Shell contract involves a project in the Gulf of Mexico’s Princess oil and gas field that Nauticus says could lead to millions of dollars in additional contracts over the next few years. Shell operates the offshore field, which is around 40 miles southeast of New Orleans, and owns a nearly 50 percent stake in it.

Co-owners of the Princess project are Houston-based ConocoPhillips, Spring-based ExxonMobil, and London-based BP, whose North American headquarters is in Houston. In July, the Reuters news service reported that ConocoPhillips was eyeing a sale of its stake in the Princess field.

Under the contract with Petrobras, whose U.S. arm is based in Houston, Nauticus will dispatch its Aquanaut robot to support the Brazilian energy company’s offshore activities in South America. Nauticus says this deal “opens up a potential market opportunity” in Brazil exceeding $100 million a year.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Heath care organizations made up 20 percent of the top 100 employers on Forbes' list. Photo via houstonmethodist.org

Prestigious Houston hospital system named No. 1 large employer in Texas and No. 2 in U.S. by Forbes

where to work

Attention to all those seeking a career in the medical industry: this top city hospital is one of the best places to work for. Houston Methodist was named the best large employer in Texas, and second best employer in America, according to Forbes’ latest report.

Health care organizations are the shining stars in this year’s report; they represented 20 percent of the top 100 employers. Houston Methodist made some major improvements within the span of a year after being ranked No. 37 in Forbes' 2022 report. In another win for health care, Dallas’ University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center was placed at No. 19.

To determine their rankings, Forbes partnered with consumer data and statistics firm Statista to survey 45,000 employees at companies with a staff of 5,000 or more. The full list categorized 500 of America’s large employers that earned the most recommendations.

Other Houston-area companies on the list after Houston Methodist include:

  • No. 210 – Shell
  • No. 289 – Schlumberger, based in Sugar Land
  • No. 341 – BP
  • No. 383 – Sysco
  • No. 421 – Waste Management
  • No. 479 – Air Liquide

Elsewhere in Texas, the Dallas-Fort Worth area had the most employers on Forbes’ list, with 14 companies making an appearance after UT Southwestern Medical Center’s No. 19 ranking.

Dallas-Fort Worth area companies on Forbes’ list include:

  • No. 70 – Southwest Airlines
  • No. 83 – Topgolf
  • No. 164 – McKesson, based in Irving
  • No. 188 – Toyota North America, based in Plano
  • No. 250 – Jacobs Engineering
  • No. 268 – Texas Instruments
  • No. 339 – ExxonMobil, based in Irving
  • No. 369 – CBRE Group
  • No. 376 – American Airlines Group, based in Fort Worth
  • No. 400 – Aimbridge Hospitality, based in Plano
  • No. 403 – NTT Data, based in Plano
  • No. 410 – Republic National Distributing Company, based in Grand Prairie
  • No. 430 – AT&T
  • No. 497 – Crossmark, based in Plano

San Antonio had a top 10 contender on Forbes’ report for best employers: none other than Texas’ signature grocery store H-E-B. Other San Antonio companies that were ranked include United Services Automobile Association (USAA) at No. 42 and Whataburger at No. 493.

In Austin, five employers earned spots in Forbes' rankings:

  • No. 77 – Dell Technologies, based in Round Rock
  • No. 96 – Keller Williams Realty
  • No. 121 – University of Texas at Austin
  • No. 306 – Whole Foods Market
  • No. 454 – McLane Company, based in Temple

The full rankings and its methodology can be found at forbes.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston-based Archaea Energy's RNG facilities capture waste emissions and convert them into low-carbon fuel. Photo via archaeaenergy.com

Houston sustainable energy company to be acquired by industry giant for $4.1B

big buyout

BP’s proposed $4.1 billion acquisition of Houston-based Archaea Energy promises to dramatically boost the energy giant’s presence in the biogas market.

Publicly traded Archaea is one of the largest producers of renewable natural gas, or RNG, in the U.S. Its RNG facilities capture waste emissions and convert them into low-carbon fuel. Biogas is produced through the conversion of organic matter like animal manure, trash, plant material, food waste, and sewage.

Through the cash-and-debt deal, BP will gain ownership of 50 RNG and landfill gas-to-energy facilities across the U.S. Once the deal is wrapped up, BP anticipates a 50 percent increase in biogas volumes.

Archaea's development pipeline of more than 80 projects holds the potential for a fivefold increase in RNG volumes at BP by 2030. The pipeline includes 40 RNG projects that Archaea plans to develop with Republic Services, a solid waste disposal company based in Phoenix. Republic Services is a rival of Houston-based Waste Management.

BP expects Archaea to double its biogas-driven EBITDA to about $2 billion within the next eight years. Allied Market Research predicts the global market for waste-derived biogas will jump from $52.9 billion in 2020 to $126.2 by 2030.

The Archaea acquisition is set to close later this year. Once the deal is completed, Archaea will operate as subsidiary of BP, whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston. Archaea relocated its headquarters from Pittsburgh to Houston last year.

“Archaea was founded with a mission to build the world’s leading RNG development company to reduce global emissions and make multigenerational sustainability impacts,” Nick Stork, co-founder and CEO of Archaea, says in a news release. “In a very short period of time, we have rapidly become a leading RNG platform in the U.S., and [the BP acquisition] will further enable this business to realize its full potential.”

BP notes that the demand for biogas is rising thanks to the growth of renewable hydrogen, electric-vehicle charging, and other emerging segments of the energy sector.

“Our biogas team is already one of the leading suppliers of renewable natural gas in North America,” Dave Lawler, chairman and president of BP America, says in a news release. “This deal accelerates our ability to deliver cleaner energy, generate significant earnings in a fast-growing sector, and help reduce emissions. This could help BP take a significant stride toward our net-zero ambition.”

BP America employs nearly 4,000 full-time workers in Houston.

At an event last week, Evolve Houston celebrated its relaunch, a new leader, and its microgrant program. Photo courtesy of Evolve

Houston nonprofit relaunches, names new leader, and introduces electromobility initiative

evolve evolves

A Houston organization focused on promoting electromobility in Houston has announced some big updates.

Evolve Houston, founded in 2019 through Houston's Climate Action Plan, has relaunched as of its event Thursday, August 18. The nonprofit has also named Casey Brown as the new president and executive director. Formerly at Halliburton and Coretrax, Brown's appointment went into effect this month.

"I am honored to have been appointed by the board to lead Evolve into the next phase of our electric vehicle journey," says Brown. "I look forward to working with our partners to get more electric cars, buses, and bikes on the road, and to publish Evolve's electrification roadmap 2.0 early next year."

Additionally, thanks to funding from Evolve Corporate Catalysts General Motors and bp, the organization has introduced the eMobility Microgrant Initiative, which will facilitate a peer-review process to award microgrants to local electromobility projects. Applications for the grants are now open online and will be accepted through September 16 at 6 pm.

"Evolve Houston is committed to supporting a just transition to a more sustainable transportation system, so all residents can receive the benefits of eMobility," says Grace Millsap, Evolve Houston director of equity and investment, in a news release. "The Greater Houston area has made significant progress in improving livability. We must continue and bring the eMobility revolution to Houston's communities that remain disproportionately in need of a cleaner environment, better services, and diversified economic development.

"Evolve's eMobility Microgrant Initiative will empower and elevate residents' voices, drive further community investment, and prioritize the communities who are most impacted by climate and mobility challenges," she continues.

A community-focused initiative, the Equity Program has been established to address poor air quality and limited access to public transportation in vulnerable communities, per the release. This fall, Evolve will invest the microgrants into community-led efforts that are increasing access to all forms of electric mobility and EV charging stations.

"The Complete Communities Initiative bridges the gap between equity and opportunity for our city's most under-resourced and underserved neighborhoods. Residents living in the Complete Communities have made it clear that its past time to address the transportation and climate change challenges that impact their quality of life," says Shannon Buggs, director of the Mayor's Office for Complete Communities, in the release.

"Increasing chronic air pollution and lack of equitable mobility has disproportionately affected low-to-moderate income neighborhoods," she continues. "With the help of community leaders, the Evolve Houston Equity Program provides a pathway for our City to ensure that every resident lives in a healthy, sustainable and thriving community."

The former BP executive will lead Houston's role in the energy transition as the executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, a brand new position at the Greater Houston Partnership. Photo courtesy of GHP

Greater Houston Partnership names former BP exec to lead energy transition

seeing green

Jane Stricker, a longtime Houston-based executive at oil and gas giant BP, has been tapped to lead the Greater Houston Partnership's new initiative designed to boost the Bayou City's profile in the shift toward low-carbon energy.

The partnership announced Stricker's hiring November 11. She'll join the organization effective January 1 as executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI) and senior vice president of energy transition.

The Greater Houston Partnership unveiled HETI in June. As the partnership explained then, HETI "aims to drive sustainable and equitable economic growth in the Greater Houston region through a portfolio of technology, policy, and market initiatives that scale and export solutions for realizing a low-carbon energy world."

A report from the University of Houston's Gutierrez Energy Management Institute, UH Energy, and the Center for Houston's Future suggests the region is poised to become the "low-carbon energy capital."

In a business-as-usual scenario, Houston's energy-based economy stands to lose anywhere from 270,000 to 650,000 jobs if it fails to act in response to the low-carbon transition, according to a partnership report published in June. But if Houston takes "decisive action" to lead the energy transition, the region could gain as many as 560,000 jobs.

Among other things, HETI says it will:

  • Jumpstart carbon-reduction efforts, such as carbon capture, hydrogen production, and battery technology.
  • Attract companies operating in spaces like wind energy, solar power, and biofuels.
  • Bolster companies involved in projects like development of electric vehicles, decarbonization of oil and natural gas, and production of geothermal energy.

It now will be Stricker's responsibility to oversee the multifaceted initiative, bringing together industry, academic, and community partners to advance the Houston area's role in global energy transition.

"Jane is a thought leader in the energy industry who brings an extensive knowledge of the global energy ecosystem and the pathways to a low-carbon future," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the partnership, says in a news release. "She understands the importance of collaboration across the ecosystem to get results, and I am confident the work she will facilitate will position Houston as the global hub of the energy transition, driving our region's long-term economic success."

Stricker has spent more than 20 years at BP, most recently as a senior relationship manager working with an array of organizations on issues such as carbon capture and energy decarbonization. While at BP, she spearheaded the National Petroleum Council's 2019 study on carbon capture, use, and sequestration.

"This is an exciting time for Houston and our energy ecosystem as we focus our efforts on leading the global energy transition," Stricker says. "The challenge of our lifetime is addressing this dual challenge of meeting increased global energy demand while confronting global climate change. Houston is known for solving problems that matter. I believe through innovation, collaboration, and focus, our region can lead the way and deliver solutions that change the world."

Aside from her previous role at BP, Stricker is a contributing faculty member for the University of Houston's Sustainable Energy Development Program, an advisory board member of the Energy Industries Council Connect Energy USA, and a graduate of the Center for Houston's 2020 Future Leadership Forum.

Stricker takes the helm of the energy initiative at a critical time.

The International Energy Agency predicts energy-related carbon emissions will soar by more than 1.65 billion tons this year, or nearly 5 percent, driven in large part by coal-fueled generation of electricity. That would be the second largest rise in annual carbon missions in history.

In a report released earlier this year, the International Monetary Fund noted that additional public investments in infrastructure to support the move to net-zero emissions will need to equal roughly 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over the next decade. That would easily amount to billions of dollars in global spending.

Taken together — the jump in carbon emissions and the need for more spending to combat them — the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate conservatively estimated in 2018 that the low-carbon economy could deliver at least $26 trillion in economic benefits through 2030. Lux Research forecasts the global market solely for carbon capture and recycling could reach $70 billion by 2030.

Looking farther down the road, the United Nations Development Programme says a heightened commitment to green energy — propelled largely by low-carbon strategies — could boost global GDP by $98 trillion by 2050.

"The investments needed for low-carbon infrastructure are substantial but manageable, and economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity to speed up the low-carbon transition," the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate observes.

Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert called on members of Houston's energy community to speak at Greentown Houston's grand opening. Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

Overheard: Houston's energy sector welcomes Greentown Labs

eavesdropping in Houston

Greentown Houston is officially open for business, and it's safe to say the energy innovation community is excited about it. The 40,000-square-foot space is expecting to move its inaugural 30 companies in throughout the summer.

The grand opening event, which was streamed online with an outdoor invite-only event, took place on Earth Day and featured speakers from across the energy sector. The speakers represented some of the almost 30 corporate partners Greentown Houston has announced.

Click here to read more about the grand opening and take a peek inside the facility.

Missed the discussion or just want a refresher on on the highlights? Here are some significant overheard moments from the Greentown Houston Grand Opening.

"Houston has all the necessary ingredients and it has momentum."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures. "Let's celebrate. And then let's get busy."

"Houston, as the energy capital of the world, has a moral obligation to reduce carbon emissions."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Mayor Sylvester Turner. "We need to invest in our innovation ecosystem and support the climatech and clean tech entrepreneurs who will be building Houston's new energy economy and creating the new jobs of tomorrow."

"Houston has the talent, know how, and can-do spirit to tackle the dual challenge of leading dual energy demand while aggressively lowering the carbon footprint."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership.

"Houston must remain the center of the future energy industry, and today is an important step in restoring that."

Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

— David Leebron, president of Rice University. "We look forward to our strong partnership."

"We can't solve climate change from the coasts. We need the whole United States to be engaged, and I'm bullish on Houston leading this transition for many reasons."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs. "Houston is home to world-leading energy organizations, incredible engineering strength, talent, and assets, that can, and frankly must, be redeployed to decarbonize resources."

"This is a city that does not stand still."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Ajay Mehta, General Manager of Shell. "At Shell, we have a mission to reach net zero emissions by 2050."

"For bp, partnering with Greentown Labs represents living our purpose to reimagine energy."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Jane Stricker, senior relationship manager, regions, cities and solutions at bp.

"Innovation is like oxygen, and it breathes life into hope and possibility. The work we are doing around the energy transition is hard and challenging, and frankly is going to take all of us."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Darryl Willis, corporate vice president, energy industry, at Microsoft. "We think that the future is all about partnerships and platforms, and our mission is to help from Microsoft's vantage point to accelerate the energy transition and to help the city of Houston around its aspirations around the energy transition as well."

"We appreciate being part of not only maintaining Houston's position as the energy capital of the world but also establishing it as the energy transition capital of the world."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Scott Burns, vice president of retail innovation, customer experience, and market intelligence at NRG.

"[Greentown Houston] will provide this center of gravity for the energy community to come together and work toward the transition plan."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Tim Ong, head of innovation at BHP Petroleum. "


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Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.