A Houston-based initiative has been selected by the DOE to receive funding to develop clean energy innovation programming for startups and entrepreneurs. Photo via Getty Images

Houston has been selected as one of the hubs backed by a new program from the United States Department of Energy that's developing communities for clean energy innovation.

The DOE's Office of Technology Transitions announced the the first phase of winners of the Energy Program for Innovation Clusters, or EPIC, Round 3. The local initiative is one of 23 incubators and accelerators that was awarded $150,000 to support programming for energy startups and entrepreneurs.

The Houston-based participant is called "Texas Innovates: Carbon and Hydrogen Innovation and Learning Incubator," or CHILI, and it's a program meant to feed startups into the DOE recognized HyVelocity program and other regional decarbonization efforts.

EPIC was launched to drive innovation at a local level and to inspire commercial success of energy startups. It's the third year of the competition that wraps up with a winning participant negotiating a three-year cooperative agreement with OTT worth up to $1 million.

“Incubators and Accelerators are uniquely positioned to provide startups things they can't get anywhere else -- mentorship, technology validation, and other critical business development support," DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of OTT Vanessa Z. Chan says in a news release. “The EPIC program allows us to provide consistent funding to organizations who are developing robust programming, resources, and support for innovative energy startups and entrepreneurs.”

CHILI, the only participant in Texas, now moves on to the second phase of the competition, where they will design a project continuation plan and programming for the next seven months to be submitted in September.

Phase 2 also includes two national pitch competitions with a total of $165,000 in cash prizes up for grabs for startups. The first EPIC pitch event for 2024 will be in June at the 2024 Small Business Forum & Expo in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Last fall, the DOE selected the Gulf Coast's project, HyVelocity Hydrogen Hub, as one of the seven regions to receive a part of the $7 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The hub was announced to receive up to $1.2 billion — the most any hub will get.

The DOE's OTT selections are nationwide. Photo via energy.gov

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

For the 2023 budget year, Texas’ total pot of federal money ranked second behind California’s. Photo via Getty Images

Texas attracts big percentage of government clean energy investment, says 2023 report

by the numbers

On a per-person basis, Texas grabbed the third-highest share of federal investment in clean energy and transportation during the government’s 2023 budget year, according to a new report.

Texas’ haul — $6.2 billion in federal investments, such as tax credits and grants — from October 1, 2022, to September 30, 2023, worked out to $204 per person, bested only by Wyoming ($369) and New Mexico ($259). That’s according to the latest Clean Investment Monitor report shows. Rhodium Group and MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research produced the report.

For the 2023 budget year, Texas’ total pot of federal money ranked second behind California’s ($7.5 billion), says the report. Nationwide, the federal government’s overall investment in clean energy and transportation reached $34 billion.

Other highlights of the report include:

  • Public and private investment in clean energy and transportation soared to $239 billion in 2023, up 37 percent from the previous year.
  • Overall investment in utility-scale solar power and storage systems climbed to $53 billion in 2023, up more than 50 percent from the previous year.
  • Overall investment in emerging climate technologies (clean energy, sustainable aviation fuel, and carbon capture) during 2023 surpassed investment in wind energy for the first time. This pool of money expanded from $900 million in 2022 to $9.1 billion in 2023.

The Lone Star arm of the pro-environment Sierra Club says the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which took effect in 2022, “includes a dizzying number of programs and tax incentives” for renewable energy.

“While it will take several years for all the programs to be implemented, billions in tax incentives and tax breaks, along with specific programs focused on clean energy development, energy efficiency, onsite solar, and transmission upgrades, means that Texas could help lower costs and transform our electric grid,” says the Sierra Club.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

The projects are among 16 other early-stage research projects at U.S. colleges and universities to receive a total of $17.4 million from the DOE's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

3 UH projects land $17.4M in DOE funding for early-stage research

follow the money

Three projects from the University of Houston have been awarded funds from the U.S. Department of Energy for research on decarbonization and emissions.

The projects are among 16 other early-stage research projects at U.S. colleges and universities to receive a total of $17.4 million from the DOE's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM).

“These three projects show the relevance and quality of the research at UH and our commitment to making a meaningful impact by addressing society’s needs and challenges by doing critical work that impacts the real world,” Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president for energy and innovation at UH, says in a statement. “The success of these project could attract investment, create jobs, produce clean energy, save costs, reduce carbon emissions, and benefit not only the greater Houston area, but the Gulf Coast and beyond.”

The projects were selected under FECM’s University Training and Research program, which aims to support "research and development opportunities for traditionally underrepresented communities and tap into the innovative and diverse thinking of student researchers," according to an announcement from the DOE.

Here are the projects from UH and their funding amounts:

A Comprehensive Roadmap for Repurposing Offshore Infrastructure for Clean Energy Projects in the Gulf of Mexico, $749,992 — Led by Ram Seetharam, UH Energy program officer, this project looks at ways to prolong the life of platforms, wells and pipelines in the Gulf Coast and will create a plan "covering technical, social, and regulatory aspects, as well as available resources," according to UH.

Houston Hydrogen Transportation Pilot, $750,000— Led by Christine Ehlig-Economides, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen, and managed by Joe Powell, this project will demonstrate the potential for a hydrogen refueling pilot in Houston. The first phase will create a system to optimize hydrogen and the second will create a workforce training network. The project is in collaboration with Prairie View A&M University.

Synergizing Minority-Serving Institution Partnerships for Carbon-Negative Geologic Hydrogen Production, $1.5 million — This project is in collaboration with Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability and Texas Tech. The project will create a visiting scholars program for students from UH and TTU, who will spend one month per year at Stanford for three years. While in the program, students will focus on creating carbon-negative hydrogen from rocks beneath the Earth's surface. Kyung Jae Lee, associate professor in the Department of Petroleum Engineering at UH, is working alongside colleagues at TTU and Stanford on this project.

Other projects in the group come from the University of Texas at El Paso, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Tennessee State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Duke University and more.

Last year the DOE also awarded $2 million to Harris and Montgomery counties for projects that improve energy efficiency and infrastructure in the region. Click here to read about those projects.

The DOE also granted more than $10 million in funding to four carbon capture projects with ties to Houston last summer.
DivInc wrapped its inaugural Clean Energy Tech accelerator this month. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston energy accelerator celebrates inaugural class of diverse startup founders

showcased

DivInc, a Texas-based accelerator focused on uplifting people of color and women founders, recently concluded their inaugural clean energy cohort, catapulting several early-stage companies to major milestones.

The 12-week intensive Clean Energy Tech accelerator program sponsored by Chevron and Microsoft instructed seven clean energy startup founders at the Ion, through a variety of workshops, mentor sessions, and deep dives with VC professionals. DivInc also gave each startup a non-dilutive $10,000 grant to use during the course of the program.

Cherise Luter, marketing director at DivInc, said the Austin-based development program decided to expand from its previous accelerators — Women in Tech and Sports Tech — into clean energy because it is a newer industry with ample potential.

“Clean energy is an emerging space where founders like ours, women and POC founders, can really get in on the ground floor in a great way so that they are building as well as benefiting from this new space,” Luter tells EnergyCapital.

Luter said corporate partners Chevron and Microsoft were similarly on board with prioritizing diversity in the clean energy sector and together they agreed Houston would be the best place to headquarter the accelerator for its expansive resources, particularly VCs.

“Houston, as the energy capital, the resources, connections, and network are here, and we have found that those are the things that are most important for our founders to be able to really take their companies to the next level,” Luter explains.

The participating startups’ focuses ranged from innovations in solar power to electric vehicle charging stations, but these corporations were all united in aiding the clean energy transition.

“It’s so interesting with this particular cohort, how they are really merging the human part of clean energy – how it’s contributing to a better life for people–with a better situation for our environment and our climate,” Luter says.

The inaugural cohort included one to two entrepreneurs from the following companies:

  • BlackCurrant Inc., based in Chicago, is transforming the hydrogen industry by simplifying OTC transactions and offering a comprehensive platform for businesses to seamlessly obtain equipment, fuel, and services essential for hydrogen adoption.
  • Owanga Solar, founded by two Emory University law students in Georgia, delivers sustainable and affordable solar energy solutions to households and businesses in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Maryland-based Pirl Technology Inc. is building next generation electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Houston-based Quantum New Energy has a software platform, called EnerWisely, that helps those who own assets that reduce carbon emissions, like solar panels, generate high quality, verifiable carbon credits that don’t green wash.
  • SOL roofs, founded by Austinite Daniel Duerto, is creating the next generation of solar roofs through innovating existing technologies.
  • WIP International Services LLC, a Houston-based company, is addressing drinking water scarcity with its atmospheric water generators, which produce fresh drinking water from the humidity in the air.

Tracy Jackson, CEO of WIP International Services LLC, announced on the accelerator’s demo day her Houston-based company that produces atmospheric water generators, which transform humid air into clean drinking water, contracted with several schools in El Salvador for a pilot program to send 40 of their smaller models.

“We’re going to continue on our path and we’re looking forward to signing more international contracts and look forward to having any local opportunities that we can develop as well,” Jackson says.

Since the program ended, Luter shared WIP has also secured a “major international contract in Mexico.”

Luter also shared that accelerator participant Quantum New Energy, a climatech Houston-based company, has pre-launched expansion of EnerWisely, their software that tracks carbon credits, for commercial facilities.

Luter says DivInc plans to eventually host another cohort of their clean energy accelerator and they are continuing to accept applications from founders on a rolling basis.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Chevron Technology Ventures, which has an office in the Ion, has applications open for entrepreneurs looking for an opportunity in cleantech. Photo courtesy of Gensler

Q&A: Chevron introduces unique clean energy studio to Houston entrepreneur community

Seeing green

Calling all innovators looking for the next big climate technology — Chevron wants to help you find your next big opportunity.

Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures has applications open for its second Chevron Studio cohort that matches entrepreneurs with promising technologies coming out of universities and labs. The overall goal of the studio — a collaboration between Chevron and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL — is to scale up and commercialize early-stage technologies that have the potential to impact the future of energy.

Applications for entrepreneurs are open through March 14. Once selected, there are three phases of the program. The first includes matching the selected entrepreneurs with the inventors of the selected intellectual properties, which will occur over three to four months. The next phase includes scaling up the product — something that will take one to two years, depending on the tech. The last step would be a trial or a pilot program that includes rolling out a minimum viable product at commercial scale at Chevron or an affiliate.

Gautam Phanse is the strategic relationship manager for Chevron Technology Ventures. He joins InnovationMap for a Q&A to explain more about the opportunity.

Gautam Phanse of Chevron Technology Ventures answers questions about this unique program. Photo courtesy

InnovationMap: What types of technologies is Chevron looking to bring into commercialization through this program? How is the program different from existing accelerators/incubators/etc.?

Gautam Phanse: Chevron Technology Ventures brings external innovation to Chevron. Key focus areas for CTV are industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and the growing circular carbon economy. Chevron Studio is one of the tools to achieve this goal. The current focus areas for Chevron Studio are: carbon utilization, hydrogen and renewable energy, energy storage systems, and solutions for circular economy. These focus areas will be reviewed every year and additional areas could be brought into the mix.

The goal of Chevron Studio is to scale up and commercialize technology developed in the Universities and National Labs. We curate the intellectual property developed at universities and national labs and provide a platform to match entrepreneurs with the IP. The program provides seed funding and a pathway through incubation, pilot and field trials to scale up the technologies. The uniqueness of this program is its target and the breadth of its scope — all the way from incubation to field trials.

IM: How does Chevron Technology Ventures and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory collaborate on this project? What role does each entity play?

GP: CTV has a long history of supporting innovation and the startup community. And over the years we’ve seen the consistent gaps and the struggles that the startup companies have in scaling up technologies. We also have a long history of working with national labs and universities and have seen the challenges in getting these technologies out of the labs. The idea for Chevron Studio grew out of these challenges.

NREL’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center manages Chevron Studio, working closing with entrepreneurs and guiding them through the program while leveraging capabilities at the lab and activating the IEC’s network of cleantech startups, investors, foundations, and industry partners.

IM: What are you looking for from the entrepreneur applicants? Who should apply?

GP: We are looking for entrepreneurs who are seeking their next opportunity. They should have a passion in lower carbon solutions and the patience to work on early-stage technologies to see them through scale up and commercialization. Aspiring entrepreneurs with demonstrated passion are also welcome to apply. The entrepreneurs are expected to build a team, raise funds and grow the business providing competitive solutions to the industry.

IM: Tell me about cohort 1. How did it go and what were the participants able to accomplish?

GP: We were really excited about the response we got from both the entrepreneur community and the universities and national labs. We had a strong pool of entrepreneurs and a great mix of IP and frankly had a tough time making the selection. The first cohort had four entrepreneurs in the initial discovery phase. Some of them have now graduated, and we will be announcing the participants in the next phase — for scaling up — shortly.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

"Houston is literally putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to leading the energy transition," the report reads. Image via Getty Images

Report: Houston sees $250M in cleantech investments so far this year

by the numbers

Houston is cleaning up when it comes to cleantech investments.

Through the first three quarters of 2022, companies in Houston invested a combined $250 million in cleantech, according to new data from professional services firm Deloitte. In terms of the size of ESG deals in Houston this year, 55 percent have been valued at $50 million and above, Deloitte says.

“Houston is literally putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to leading the energy transition,” Deloitte says.

Deloitte notes that this type of investment is critical as companies get their internal “ESG house” in order ahead of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issuing new rules surrounding ESG reporting.

Since the start of 2020, close to $50 billion has been invested through more than 900 expansion-stage deals in the U.S., “with 2022 hardly seeing a slowdown, despite the volatility-inducing factors that currently roil global economies and markets,” Deloitte says in a new report.

“Much of this surge can be attributed to the frontier of technical innovation pushing forward to the point that adoption is growing across multiple sectors, even if at a slow pace in some arenas,” the report says. “For example, aerospace and related parts manufacturers are working on modernizing traffic management to optimize flight patterns and curb emissions, while [R&D] is proceeding quickly in new propulsion technologies … .”

The report goes on to say that the chemical industry could see a surge in demand for decarbonization tech as more companies seek to hit net-zero emissions by 2050 and a decrease in emissions if newer manufacturing processes are adopted.

Houston’s cleantech scene got a big boost in 2021 when Greentown Labs, an incubator for climatetech startups, opened a location here.

The CEO of the Somerville, Massachusetts-based incubator, Emily Reichert, recently stepped down. She will serve as CEO emeritus until her successor is hired. Reichert joined Greentown Labs in 2013 as its first employee.

Kevin Taylor, currently Greentown’s chief financial officer, has been named interim CEO. He came aboard in January as the organization’s first full-time CFO.

“Emily’s impact on the climatetech sector — and on the lives of our past and present startups and Greentown staff members — cannot be overstated,” Taylor says in a news release. “She is a consummate professional and the quintessential example of entrepreneurial excellence.”

In October, Greentown launched the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy (TEX-E), a collaboration among Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and five Texas universities aimed at creating a student-driven entrepreneurship ecosystem in Houston. The five founding schools are Rice University, the University of Houston, Prairie A&M University, Texas A&M University, and the University of Texas at Austin.

“Houston has long been known as the energy capital of the world, but to lead the world’s energy transition, the city must create a strong, vibrant innovation ecosystem to support the next generation of entrepreneurs and energy companies,” Lara Cottingham, chief of staff at Greentown, said in October. “TEX-E will build upon Texas universities’ deep and long-standing connections to the energy industry by helping to attract and retain the world-class talent needed to supercharge Houston’s innovation ecosystem.”

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Accenture, Goodwill-backed cleantech job accelerator celebrates Houston launch

up and running

A major nonprofit and a worldwide corporate leader have teamed up to advance cleantech jobs — and the program has officially celebrated its launch in Houston.

Goodwill Houston, in collaboration with Accenture, BlocPower, and Goodwill Industries International hosted a celebration for the Clean Tech Accelerator, an industry-focused full-time free jobs training program that was originally announced last year. The first cohort graduated earlier this year, and the second is ongoing.

"Through the CTA, we want to shape the future of sustainable energy in Houston by recruiting underrepresented jobseekers and equipping them with technical proficiency, safety and clean tech certifications, and facilitating placement with local employers," a representative from Accenture states in an email. "Following a quiet initial launch, this event was the official kickoff."

The event also demonstrated the opportunities within the CTA program for job seekers to prepare for the most in-demand clean energy careers in Houston. The accelerator is targeting a specific set of advanced energy jobs — the 40 percent that don't require college degrees and and pay more than the median salary in the United States.

According to Accenture and Goodwill, the plan is to grow the program to 20 cities in the next seven years and train an estimated 7,000 job seekers. The program, which was co-designed by Accenture, will be run by Goodwill. Participants identified as under and unemployed individuals and accepted into the program will be compensated as they undergo the training and career placement services.

"As our labor market transitions, we see important opportunities for people to move into more promising roles with better pay. It is essential that we provide the training and other support needed to ensure people capture these opportunities," Steve Preston, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International, says in a news release announcing the program. "The Goodwill Clean Tech Accelerator will open doors for people in an expanding industry and provide support to employers who are helping us transition to a more sustainable world."

Speakers included leaders from the participating organizations. Photo courtesy of Accenture

Houston tech company building a next-generation space station has new investor

interstellar lab

Houston-based Starlab Space, which is developing a commercial space station, has enlisted a high-profile investor — Japanese industrial conglomerate Mitsubishi.

With the addition of Mitsubishi, Starlab now boasts three equity partners. The two others are aerospace company Voyager Space and defense and space product manufacturer Airbus Defense and Space. Financial terms of the Mitsubishi deal weren’t disclosed.

Voyager and Airbus finalized creation of the Starlab joint venture in January 2024. The two companies announced the joint venture in August 2023.

Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager, says the Mitsubishi partnership will help “unlock space technology on a global scale and drive meaningful impact across several industries, from space to ground.”

“We are very pleased to welcome Mitsubishi … as a strategic partner in our joint venture with Voyager Space. This brings Starlab Space to the next level on the way to a truly global endeavor,” Mike Schoellhorn, CEO of Airbus Defense and Space, says in a news release.

The continuously staffed, low-Earth-orbit Starlab space station will serve NASA, other space agencies, businesses, and research organizations.

Starlab announced in January 2024 that it had tapped Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship to launch Starlab’s stainless-steel space station. A launch date hasn’t been revealed, although it’s tentatively set for the late 2020s.

The Starlab station will help fill the gap that’ll be left by the International Space Station, which NASA plans to retire in 2031.

Houston energy innovation leader calls for collaboration to tackle the industry's biggest hurdles

Houston Innovators Podcast Episode 231

When Barbara Burger moved to Houston a little over a decade ago to lead Chevron Technology Ventures, she wondered why the corporate venture group didn't have much representation from the so-called energy capital of the world.

“I had no companies in my portfolio in CTV from Houston, and I wondered why,” Burger says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Much has changed in the ecosystem since then, she says, including growth and development to what the community looks like now.

“There are a few things I’m proud of in the ecosystem here, and one of theme is that it’s a very inclusive ecosystem,” she explains, adding that she means the types of founders — from universities or corporate roles — and the incumbent energy companies. “The worst way to get people to not join a party is to not invite them.”

“No one company or organization is going to solve this. We have to get along,” she continues. “We have to stop thinking that the mode is to compete with each other because the pie is so big and the opportunity is so big to work together — and by and large I do see that happening.”



Burger, who has since graduated from Chevron to act as an adviser, mentor, and philanthropist across her passions, also shares her insider perspective on CERAWeek by S&P Global — from the key topics discussed to who was there this year and, notably, who wasn't. One thing that stood out to here was the practicality problems that were on the agenda.

“We need an energy system that focuses on climate, the economy, security — a lot of this is just the block and tackling of engineering, policy, economics, and community engagement. I think it was a practical discussion,” she says.

Another huge topic was the amount of energy needed in the near future.

“Everybody has woken up and realized that our load growth — our demand — is growing, and because of all kinds of things pointing toward electrification. I think that the big one in the room was AI and the power demands for it,” she says.

In addition to finding the funding to grow these new technologies, scale is extremely important when it comes to making an impact on the energy transition.

“It’s not just about the innovation — it’s really about scaling that innovation and that execution, because that’s when we get impact, when these technologies are actually used in the energy system, and when we create new businesses,” she explains on the show. “It’s going to take investment, capabilities, a real understanding of the marketplace, and, in many cases, it’s going to take a relationship with the government.”