United Airlines is interested in buying Cemvita's sustainable aviation fuel when it's produced. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

An innovative Houston company is celebrating a new deal with a global airline.

Cemvita Corp. announced a new offtake arrangement with United Airlines. Cemvita's first full-scale sustainable aviation fuel plant will provide up to 1 billion gallons of SAF to United Airlines. The 20-year contract specifies that Cemvita will supply up to 50 million gallons annually to United.

It's not the first collaboration Cemvita has had with the airline. Last year, United invested in the biotech company, which used the funding to open its Houston pilot plant.

“Since our initial investment last year, Cemvita has made outstanding progress, including opening their new pilot plant – an important step towards producing sustainable aviation fuel,” United Airlines Ventures President Michael Leskinen says in a news release. “United is the global aviation leader in SAF production investment, but we face a real shortage of available fuel and producers. Cemvita’s technology represents a path forward for a potentially significant supply of SAF and it’s our hope that this offtake agreement for up to one billion gallons is just the beginning of our collaboration.”

Founded in Houston in 2017 by brother-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi, Cemvita's biotechnology can mimic the photosynthesis process, turning carbon dioxide into feedstock. The company's SAF plan hopes to increase reliability of existing SAFs and lower impact of fuel creation.

“Biology is capable of truly amazing things,” Moji Karimi, CEO of Cemvita, says in the release. “Our team of passionate, pioneering, and persistent scientists and engineers are on a mission to create sustainable BioSolutions that redefine possibilities.”

“We are thrilled to partner with United Airlines in working towards transforming the aviation industry and accelerating the energy transition,” he continues. “This agreement featuring our unique SAF platform is a major milestone towards demonstrating our journey to full commercialization.”

Earlier this year, United, which was reportedly the first airline to announce its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, launched its UAV Sustainable Flight FundSM. The fund, which named Cemvita to its inaugural group of portfolio companies, has raised over $200 million, as of this summer.

Moji and Tara Karimi co-founded Cemvita in 2017. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Cemvita Factory has made a deal with Houston-based Oxy subsidiary. Courtesy of Cemvita Factory

Oxy backs Houston startup's carbon dioxide-transforming technology

Cha-ching

A Houston startup's carbon dioxide conversion technology has impressed Occidental Petroleum's low carbon subsidiary.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures LLC has invested an undisclosed amount of funds into Cemvita Factory, the companies announced on August 15.

"One of OLCV's strategic priorities is to develop and commercialize CO2 utilization technologies that complement Occidental's core businesses and product lines, with the goal of helping Occidental find value in new markets and attain its aspiration of becoming carbon neutral," says Richard Jackson, OLCV president, in a news release. "Cemvita Factory's CO2 utilization platform has the potential to harness the power of nature and create new, sustainable pathways for the bio-manufacturing of our products."

Cemvita was founded by two siblings — Moji Karimi, who has a background in the oil and gas industry, and his sister, Tara, who has a background in biotech. Cemvita's biotechnology can replicate photosynthesis — absorbing CO2 and transforming it into glucose or other substances.

While the amount invested in Cemvita isn't disclosed, Moji previously told InnovationMap that he could run a custom pilot program for an energy company for less than $100,000.

"With the investment received from Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, we plan to demonstrate that our technology can economically scale from test tube to the field," Moji, who is the company's CEO, says in the release.

According to the release, Cemvita has a network of clients it is working with to reduce the industry's carbon footprint.

"We have an ambitious goal to take one gigaton of CO2 out of the carbon cycle in the next decade and are very excited about being a part of Occidental's journey to become a carbon-neutral company," says Tara, co-founder and chief scientist, in the release.

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Houston-based VC secures oversubscribed $160M fund for early-stage startups

show me the money

A Houston venture capital firm has announce big news of its latest fund.

Mercury, founded in 2005 to invest in startups not based in major tech hubs on either coast, closed its latest fund, Mercury Fund V, at an oversubscribed amount of $160 million. Originally expected to raise $150 million, Fund V is the largest fund Mercury has raised to date.

“We are pleased by the substantial support we received for Fund V from both new and existing investors and thank them for placing their confidence in Mercury,” Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury Fund, says in a news release. “Their support is testament to the strength of our team, proven investment strategy, and the compelling opportunities for innovation that exist in cities across America.”

The fund's limited partners include new and existing investors, including endowments at universities, foundations, and family offices. Mercury reports that several of these LPs are based in the central region of the United States where Mercury invests. California law firm Gunderson Dettmer was the fund formation counsel for Mercury.

Fresh closed, Fund V has already made investments in several companies, including:

  • Houston-based RepeatMD, a patient engagement and fintech platform for medical professionals with non-insurance reimbursed services and products
  • Houston and Cheyenne Wyoming-based financial infrastructure tech platform Brassica, which raised its $8 million seed round in April
  • Polco, a Madison, Wisconsin-based polling platform for local governments, school districts, law enforcement, and state agencies
  • Chicago-based MSPbots, a AI-powered process automation platform for small and mid-sized managed service providers

Mercury's investment model is described as "operationally-focused," and the firm works to provide its portfolio companies with the resources needed to grow rapidly and sustainably. Since 2013, the fund has contributed to creating more than $9 billion of enterprise value across its portfolio of over 50 companies.

“Over the past few years there has been a tremendous migration of talent, wealth and know-how to non-coastal venture markets and this surge of economic activity has further accelerated the creation of extraordinary new companies and technology," says Garrou. "As the first venture capital firm to have recognized the attractiveness of these incredible regions a dozen years ago, we are excited to continue sourcing new opportunities to back founders and help these cities continue to grow and thrive.”

Real estate giant taps downtown Houston tower for new smart building tech

hi, tech

Houston-based real estate giant Hines is rolling out a new smart building platform with the goal of better serving workers and workplaces at its buildings across the country, including one building in Houston that's aiming to be an office building of the future.

From the employee perspective, the new Hines app will allow employees and employers to book spaces within buildings, order food from on-site cafes and restaurants, book on-site fitness classes and access the building via their smartphone or smartwatch. For employers and tenants, the app will help them gain insights into building performance, occupancy data, ESG targets and employee satisfaction, according to a statement from Hines.

“We’re committed to a people-centric experience and this investment takes that commitment to the next level,” Ilene Goldfine, chief digital strategy officer at Hines, says in a statement. “The traditional systems were managed building by building and made it difficult or impossible to track performance across a portfolio. This new digital ecosystem, which unites back-end technology with front-end experiences, will deliver long-term cost savings to our investors and clients.

"Our clients will also be able to track employee satisfaction, make informed decisions about their space needs and ensure they’re monitoring their carbon targets,” Goldfine continues.

The new digital platform will be launched at eight Hines buildings across five cities, including 717 Texas Ave., a 33-story Class A office tower in Downtown Houston.

The other buildings where Hines will roll out the app include:

  • Salesforce Tower in Chicago
  • 1144 15th Street in Denver
  • The Kearns Building in Salt Lake City
  • CIBC Square in Toronto
  • T3 Bayside in Toronto
  • Two buildings at T3 Sterling Road in Toronto

The company plans to add more locations across its global portfolio.

Hines' opened its first location of The Square coworking space at 717 Texas Ave. in 2020 as part of its coworking concept Hines². The company, in collaboration with Montreal-based Ivanhoé Cambridge, opened a second Houston location of The Square recently and has a coworking space in The Kearns Building in Salt Lake City where it will roll out the new app.

Earlier this year, Hines also launched a sustainability-focused business unit, known as EXP by Hines. The unit, led by Hines veteran Doug Holte, aims to address “the disruptive changes in the built environment.”

Houston expert encourages energy industry to bridge its generational divides

guest column

What’s the biggest obstacle between us and net-zero? Is it policy? Technology? Financing? All of these are important, yes, but none of them is what is really holding us back from our energy transition goals.

The biggest obstacle is a lack of open-mindedness and an unwillingness of people across the industry and across generations to work together.

In October of 2022, I was invited to speak at Energy Dialogues’s North American Gas Forum, a conference that brings together executives from across the energy industry. Over the two days of the conference, I was amazed by the forward-thinking conversations we were having on decarbonization, the future of clean energy, emissions reduction, and much more. I returned back to campus at Duke University, energized by these conversations and excited to share them. But rather than seeing the same sense of excitement, I was met with doubt, disbelief, even scorn.

There’s a fundamental distrust between generations in this industry, and it goes both ways. Experienced energy professionals often see the younger generation as irrational idealists who are too politicized to be pragmatic, while the younger generation often paints the older generation as uncaring climate denialists who want nothing to do with clean energy. Neither is true.

Over the past two years since founding Energy Terminal, I’ve met hundreds (maybe thousands) of people all across the energy industry, from CEOs of major energy companies to students just getting started on their career journey. Despite being so different on the surface, their goals are strikingly similar. Almost all can agree on three things: we want to reduce emissions, we want to expand energy access, and we want to do so while encouraging economic prosperity. The perceived barrier between generations in the energy industry is exponentially larger than the actual barrier.

For experienced professionals — take a chance to engage in conversations with young energy leaders. Understand their priorities, listen to their concerns, and find the middle ground. We are a generation passionate about impact and growth, and enabled with the right resources, we can do incredible things. The changing energy world presents unbelievable opportunities for both progress and profit, but without the next generation on board, it will never be sustainable.

For the young energy leaders of the future–listen to the experiences of the leaders that have come before us. Understand the balance between energy that is clean with energy that is secure, reliable, and affordable. We have brilliant ideas and an insatiable appetite for progress, but we won’t do it alone. Every person and every company has a valuable role to play in the energy transition, so consider how we can amplify our strengths rather than attack each other’s weaknesses.

If my co-founder, a climate activist from New York, and myself, the son of an oil and gas family from south Texas, can do it, so can you. This is a call to find the middle ground, to open up your mind to new possibilities, and to make real progress by working with each other rather than against each other.

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Michael Wood III is co-founder of Energy Terminal, a platform that aims to build the next generation of energy leaders and to bridge the gap between youth and the energy industry.

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.