San Jacinto College's new Center for Biotechnology at the Generation Park Campus is expected to be completed early next year. Photo courtesy of San Jacinto College

San Jacinto College and McCord Development Inc. broke ground on the new Center for Biotechnology at the Generation Park Campus in Northeast Houston.

The 4,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility is slated to allow for more hands-on training within simulated environments and will allow students to earn associate of applied science degrees in biomanufacturing technology, as well as credentials for those already in the workforce. It's scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2025.

“The Center and the overall components of the Biotechnology program will play a vital role in meeting the growing demand for skilled professionals in the biotechnology sector,” Brenda Hellyer, chancellor of San Jacinto College, says in a statement.

“We are committed to equipping our students with the skills and knowledge necessary for success in the dynamic biopharmaceutical industry," she continues. "Our vision is to not only meet the workforce needs of today but will also shape the future of biotechnology education and training in our region.”

San Jacinto College and McCord Development Inc. celebrated the groundbreaking of the new Center for Biotechnology at the Generation Park Campus in Northeast Houston. Photo courtesy of San Jacinto College

The new Center for Biotechnology curriculum is in partnership with the Ireland-based National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training. It is the only NIBRT-licensed training in the Southwest and Southeast region.

At the groundbreaking, San Jacinto College celebrated the ribbon-cutting for the Biomanufacturing Training Program at the South Campus, the first of the college's comprehensive biotechnology offerings.

The Biomanufacturing Training Program will be a customizable two-week hybrid program that combines theoretical teachings with hands-on experience.

“This program is designed to provide a seamless entry into the field for new professionals, with a focus on practical experience and exposure to industry practices,” Christopher Wild, executive director of San Jacinto College Center for Biotechnology, added in a statement.

The new center is part of Generation Park, a 4,300-acre master-planned development in Northeast Houston. In late 2022, San Jac and McCord, which is developing Generation Park, shared that they had signed a memorandum of understanding with the NIBRT to launch the program and center.

At the time, San Jacinto College was slated to be the institute’s sixth global partner and second U.S. partner.

Last summer, McCord also revealed plans for its 45-acre biomanufacturing campus at Generation Park.
The Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport has broken ground, which means San Jacinto College is a step closer to its EDGE Center becoming a reality. Photo courtesy of San Jacinto College

Houston college system prepares for takeoff of its spaceport training system

Breaking ground

The first phase of the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport broke ground last month, and that means a lot of things for a lot of entities like the Houston Airport System, the Houston City Council, and the Federal Aviation Administration, to name a few. But, to San Jacinto College, it means being one step closer to its on-site training facility, called the EDGE Center.

The facility will offer four training programs to start provided by San Jacinto College, the official education training partner for the Houston Spaceport. The programs include: composites manufacturing and repair technician, aerospace electrical assembly technician, aerospace structures technician, and mechatronics and industrial automation technician.

Aside from these four initial programs, the college will be able to over customized and individualized training as needed.

"We are excited for this opportunity," says Brenda Hellyer, San Jacinto College chancellor, in a release. "We look forward to creating an educational space that will support and enhance the workforce needs of current and future businesses in the Houston Spaceport. We thank the City of Houston, the Houston Airport System, and the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership for working with us to make this EDGE Center a reality."

EDGE is just one part of the 154 acres of development currently in the works at Ellington Airport. The full property includes 450 acres that will all eventually be developed.

"Once completed, Phase 1 will stand ready to encourage even more progress to help companies with development of satellite technologies, drone technology, and urban air mobility initiatives," says Houston Airport System Director Mario Diaz in the release. "And beyond technology, it will help develop the talent to drive innovation forward. San Jacinto College is taking steps to open an aerospace workforce training center here, providing a talent pipeline that will help attract companies to Houston."

Houston's commercial spaceport plans were only the 10th to be approved by the FAA — and the only one to be centrally located to a major city (the site is less than 20 minutes from downtown Houston, according to the website). In October, the city council approved the $18.8 million Phase I budget for the project, which will account for developing the infrastructure of the project and, eventually, even coworking and innovation space for aerospace companies, according to a release.


Photo via fly2houston.com

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

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.