Through increasing awareness, affordability, and accessibility, the city of Houston hopes to grow the number of electric vehicles on Houston roads by 2030. Courtesy of EVolve Houston

The city of Houston has taken a major step toward reducing carbon emissions caused by its estimated 1.3 million vehicles that drive the city's streets daily.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced a new partnership between the government, local businesses, and academic leaders that has created EVolve Houston. The coalition is aimed at boosting electric vehicle sales to 30 percent of new car sales in Houston by 2030.

"This new partnership will help solidify Houston's success as a leader in transportation technology and it will help improve air quality for the citizens of Houston and beyond, by reducing reliance on vehicles powered by carbon-based fuels," Mayor Turner says in a release. "Houston will now have a dedicated resource working to increase the adoption of electric vehicles, wherever it makes sense to do so. Nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions in Houston come from transportation. Shifting to zero emission forms of transportation is a key strategy to help us meet our ambitious climate goals and improve our regional air quality."

EVolve Houston, which will contribute to the city's Climate Action Plan that was announced in July, will focus on increasing awareness, affordability, and availability of electric vehicles. The coalition's founding partners include the city, CenterPoint Energy, the University of Houston, NRG Energy, Shell, and LDR.

"Houston has bold goals to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To do that, we must make a major impact on one of the largest sources of emissions, which is transportation" says Dr. Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the chief energy officer at University of Houston.

The partners will focus on launching pilot projects as well as hosting demonstrations and awareness activities to promote EV adoption, according to the release.

"At CenterPoint Energy, we are committed to making a positive difference in the communities we touch, and environmental stewardship is an integral component of our overall corporate responsibility approach," says Scott Prochazka, president and CEO of CenterPoint Energy, in the release. "I am proud to partner with Mayor Turner and other founding members of EVolve Houston to help accelerate clean transportation for Houston."

A oil and gas CEO, a serial entrepreneur, and a retail energy exec walk into the state capital. Getty Images

3 powerhouse Houstonians named to the state's economic development board

Three's company

The Bayou City now wields some high-profile power in the state's economic development efforts.

The Texas Senate recently endorsed Gov. Greg Abbott's appointment of three business leaders with strong ties to Houston to the board of the Texas Economic Development Corp. — including the organization's new chair and vice chair.

Robert Allen, president and CEO of Texas' nonprofit economic development arm, says the Bayou City should feel well-represented on the board with former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane as the new chair, Houston energy executive Vicki Hollub as the new vice chair, and Houston energy executive Scott Prochazka as a new member. That means Houston-connected business leaders hold three of the board's eight seats.

Allen calls McLane "the perfect Texas ambassador."

McLane, who lives in Temple, sold the Astros to Houston businessman Jim Crane in 2011 for $680 million. Forbes estimates McLane's net worth at $2.4 billion.

Today, McLane controls a Temple-based holding company with business interests such as food distribution, car dealerships and sports marketing. In 1991, he sold grocery distributor McLane Co. to Walmart, which later sold it to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

"I can think of no one better to lead our efforts to market the state of Texas as the best state for business than Drayton McLane. He has achieved tremendous success in several areas of business, all while calling Texas home," Allen tells InnovationMap.

McLane also chairs the board of Texas Central Partners, the Dallas company developing high-speed rail service between Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth. In addition, he serves on the boards of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation, Baylor Scott & White Healthcare, and the Cooper Institute.

"I am privileged to be able to give service to our great state of Texas and honored by Gov. Abbott's appointment as chair of the Texas Economic Development Corporation," McLane says in a statement provided to InnovationMap.

"The goal of the corporation is to help market Texas as a place for businesses to grow and prosper," he adds. "Texas is a great state, and we have much to offer businesses in many sectors. I care deeply for Texas and improving the economy that will carry us into the future."

Hollub, president and CEO of Houston-based oil and gas company Occidental Petroleum, is the new vice chair of the Texas Economic Development Corp. She's spent 35 years at Occidental, which just hammered out a $57 billion deal to take over Anadarko Petroleum, an oil and gas company based in The Woodlands.

In addition to the board of the Texas Economic Development Corp., Hollub sits on the boards of Lockheed Martin and the American Petroleum Institute, and she is U.S. chair of the U.S.-Colombia Business Council.

"As the first female to head a major oil and gas company in the world, Vicki defines what it means to be a Texan — hardworking, determined, and incredibly smart," Allen says.

Prochazka, president and CEO of CenterPoint Energy, a Houston-based provider of electric and natural gas service, joins McLane and Hollub on the board of the Texas Economic Development Corp. Aside from his duties at CenterPoint, Prochazka is incoming chairman of the American Gas Association, chairman of Central Houston Inc., and a board member of the Greater Houston Partnership.

Given his roles with Central Houston Inc. and the Greater Houston Partnership, Prochazka knows Houston "intimately well," Allen says.

The Texas Economic Development Corp. is an independently funded and operated nonprofit that promotes economic development, business recruitment, and job creation in Texas. For instance, the nonprofit helped pave the way for a $15 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility in Corpus Christi that recently made its first cargo shipment. Houston-based Cheniere Energy owns the facility.

With Abbott's appointment of eight members, the makeup of the economic development organization's eight-member board is entirely new. The governor appointed them in April, but the state Senate had to give its final approval, which came earlier this month.

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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.