Cemvita Factory is working on a pilot plant with Oxy to scale its biotechnology. Photo via OxyLowCarbon.com

Occidental's venture arm — Oxy Low Carbon Ventures — has announced its plans to construct and operate a one metric ton per month bio-ethylene pilot plant featuring Houston-based Cemvita Factory's technology that biomimics photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into feedstocks.

The new plant will scale the process, which was jointly developed between Cemvita and OLCV, and is expected sometime next year, according to a press release from Oxy.

"Today bio-ethylene is made from bio-ethanol, which is made from sugarcane, which in turn was created by photosynthesizing CO2. Our bio-synthetic process simply requires CO2, water and light to produce bio-ethylene, and that's why it saves a lot of cost and carbon emissions," says Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory, in the release. "This project is a great example of how Cemvita is applying industrial-strength synthetic biology to help our clients lower their carbon footprint while creating new revenue streams."

Oxy and Cemvita have been working together for a while, and in 2019, OLCV invested an undisclosed amount into the startup. The investment, according to the release, was made to jointly explore how these advances in synthetic biology can be used for sustainability efforts in the bio-manufacturing of OxyChem's products.

"This technology could provide an opportunity to offer a new, non-hydrocarbon-sourced ethylene product to the market, reducing carbon emissions, and in the future benefit our affiliate, OxyChem, which is a large producer and consumer of ethylene in its chlorovinyls business," says Robert Zeller, vice president of technology at OLCV, in a news release.

Moji Karimi founded the company with his sister and Cemvita CTO, Tara, in 2017. The idea was to biomimic photosynthesis to take CO2 and turn it into something else. The first iteration of the technology turned CO2 into sugar — the classic photosynthesis process. Karimi says the idea was to create this process for space, so that astronauts can turn the CO2 they breathe out into a calorie source.

"Nature provided the inspiration," noted Dr. Tara Karimi, co-founder and CTO of Cemvita Factory. "We took a gene from a banana and genetically engineered it into our CO2-utilizing host microorganism. We are now significantly increasing its productivity with the goal to achieve commercial metrics that we have defined alongside OLCV."

A couple weeks ago, Moji Karimi joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss growth and challenges Cemvita Factory faced.

"We're defining this new category for application of synthetic biology in heavy industries for decarbonization," he shares on the show. Stream the episode below.

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory, is offering energy execs an innovative way to meat their climate change pledge goals. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Growing Houston biotech startup is capturing a new way for oil and gas to get to carbon negative

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 76

As more and more energy companies are focusing on reducing their carbon footprint ahead of lofty clean energy goals, Moji Karimi, CEO and co-founder of Houston-based Cemvita Factory, is doing his oil and gas clients one better. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, Cemvita provides an additional revenue stream for its clients.

Karimi founded the company with his sister and Cemvita CTO, Tara, in 2017. The idea was to biomimic photosynthesis to take CO2 and turn it into something else. The first iteration of the technology turned CO2 into sugar — the classic photosynthesis process. Karimi says the idea was to create this process for space, so that astronauts can turn the CO2 they breathe out into a calorie source.

"While we were doing that, we realized the big picture is not just the space application. If we could apply the same technology for other chemicals made in energy-intensive way, then we could actually help with climate change," Karimi says on the podcast.

Now, Cemvita has 30 different molecules its technology can produce and works with the likes of BHP, Oxy, and more energy clients to take their carbon emissions and turn it into something useful.

"It's not just for sustainability reasons — it's part of the reinvention of the company to maintain its legacy for the next few decades to come," Karimi adds.

While 2020 was a chance for Cemvita to reset, by Q4 of last year the company was in growth mode and got back to the lab. The company's teams were divided between two spots — one being an R&D team in larger office at JLABS @ TMC — and Karimi says later this year that will change. Cemvita is moving into a larger, combined space in Upper Kirby in May.

But Karimi says one of the biggest challenges Cemvita is facing is that its doing something that's never been done before. There's a huge learning curve for clients and oil and gas stakeholders.

"There weren't biotech companies working with oil and gas companies for this use case that we have now," Karimi says. "We're defining this new category for application of synthetic biology in heavy industries for decarbonization."

There are other companies in the carbon capture and neutralization fields, though they are taking slightly different approaches. Rather than being competitive, companies in this space are working together for a greater good.

"The more successful that some of these other companies are in opening up the market, that also helps us the same way we're doing for them," Karimi says. "It's an interesting and collaborative area, because at the end of the day, the outcome is good for the world."

Karimi shares more about what Cemvita's growth plans on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Texas lands in top 10 states expected to be most financially affected by weather events

report

Texas — home to everything from tornadoes to hurricanes — cracks the top 10 of a new report ranking states based on impact from weather-related events.

SmartAsset's new report factored in a myriad of data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify which states face the most financial risk due to various weather events. In the report, the states were ranked by the total expected annual financial losses per person. Texas ranked at No. 10.

"With a variety of environmental events affecting the wide stretch of the United States, each state is subject to its own risks," reads the report. "Particularly, tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, landslides, lightning and drought, among other events, can cause damage to buildings, agriculture and individuals alike. When considering insurance, residents and business owners in each state should account for historic and projected losses due to environmental events in their financial plans."

In Texas, the total expected annual loss per person is estimated as $283.15. The report broke down each weather event as follows:

  • Coastal flooding: $1.49
  • Drought: $3.48
  • Earthquake: $1.71
  • Heat wave: $8.16
  • Hurricane: $89.22
  • Riverine flooding: $66.05
  • Strong wind: $5.37
  • Tornado: $71.04
  • Wildfire: $8.26
  • Winter weather: $1.96
Louisiana ranked as No. 1 on the list with $555.55 per person. The state with the lowest expected loss per person from weather events was Ohio with only $63.89 estimated per person.


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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Exclusive: Houston hydrogen spinout names energy industry veteran as CEO

good as gold

Cleantech startup Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based energy biotech company Cemvita, has named oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as its CEO.

Sekhon previously held roles at companies such as NextEra Energy Resources and Hess. Most recently, he was a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team.

Gold H2 uses microbes to convert oil and gas in old, uneconomical wells into clean hydrogen. The approach to generating clean hydrogen is part of a multibillion-dollar market.

Gold H2 spun out of Cemvita last year with Moji Karimi, co-founder of Cemvita, leading the transition. Gold H2 spun out after successfully piloting its microbial hydrogen technology, producing hydrogen below 80 cents per kilogram.

The Gold H2 venture had been a business unit within Cemvita.

“I was drawn to Gold H2 because of its innovative mission to support the U.S. economy in this historical energy transition,” Sekhon says in a news release. “Over the last few years, my team [at NextEra] was heavily focused on the commercialization of clean hydrogen. When I came across Gold H2, it was clear that it was superior to each of its counterparts in both cost and [carbon intensity].”

Gold H2 explains that oil and gas companies have wrestled for decades with what to do with exhausted oil fields. With Gold H2’s first-of-its-kind biotechnology, these companies can find productive uses for oil wells by producing clean hydrogen at a low cost, the startup says.

“There is so much opportunity ahead of Gold H2 as the first company to use microbes in the subsurface to create a clean energy source,” Sekhon says. “Driving this dynamic industry change to empower clean hydrogen fuel production will be extremely rewarding.”

In 2022, Gold H2 celebrated its successful Permian Basin pilot and raised early-stage funding. In addition to Gold H2, Cemvita also spun out a resource mining operation called Endolith. In a podcast episode, Karimi discussed Cemvita's growth and spinout opportunities.

Rice University's student startup competition names 2024 winners, awards $100,000 in prizes

taking home the W

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

The rest of the winners included:

  • Second place and $25,000: CoFlux Purification
  • Third place and $15,000: Bonfire
  • Outstanding Achievement in Social Impact Award and $1,500: EmpowerU
  • Outstanding Achievement in Artificial Intelligence and $1,000: Sups and Levytation
  • Outstanding Achievement in Consumer Goods Prize and $1,000: The Blind Bag
  • Frank Liu Jr. Prize for Creative Innovations in Music, Fashion and the Arts and $1,500: Melody
  • Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes and $1,000: Solidec and HEXASpec
  • Outstanding Undergraduate Startup Award and $2,500: Women’s Wave
  • Audience Choice Award and $2,000: CoFlux Purification

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

HEXASpec was founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program. Photo courtesy of Rice