Houston-based companies, Fervo Energy and Sage Geosystems, have been tapped for a new geothermal exploration efforts. Photo via Getty Images

Two clean energy companies in Houston have been recruited for geothermal projects at U.S. military installations.

Fervo Energy is exploring the potential for a geothermal energy system at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada.

Meanwhile, Sage Geosystems is working on an exploratory geothermal project for the Army’s Fort Bliss post in Texas. The Bliss project is the third U.S. Department of Defense geothermal initiative in the Lone Star State.

“Energy resilience for the U.S. military is essential in an increasingly digital and electric world, and we are pleased to help the U.S. Army and [the Defense Innovation Unit] to support energy resilience at Fort Bliss,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage, says in a news release.

A spokeswoman for Fervo declined to comment.

Andy Sabin, director of the Navy’s Geothermal Program Office, says in a military news release that previous geothermal exploration efforts indicate the Fallon facility “is ideally suited for enhanced geothermal systems to be deployed onsite.”

As for the Fort Bliss project, Michael Jones, a project director in the Army Office of Energy Initiatives, says it’ll combine geothermal technology with innovations from the oil and gas sector.

“This initiative adds to the momentum of Texas as a leader in the ‘geothermal anywhere’ revolution, leveraging the robust oil and gas industry profile in the state,” says Ken Wisian, associate director of the Environmental Division at the U.S. Bureau of Economic Geology.

The Department of Defense kicked off its geothermal initiative in September 2023. Specifically, the Army, Navy, and Defense Innovation Unit launched four exploratory geothermal projects at three U.S. military installations.

One of the three installations is the Air Force’s Joint Base San Antonio. Canada-based geothermal company Eavor is leading the San Antonio project.

Another geothermal company, Atlanta-based Teverra, was tapped for an exploratory geothermal project at the Army’s Fort Wainwright in Alaska. Teverra maintains an office in Houston.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Yaxin Wang is director of THI's Innovative Device & Engineering Applications Lab. Photo via texasheart.org

Houston health tech innovator collaborates on promising medical device funded by DOD

team work

The United States Department of Defense has awarded a grant that will allow the Texas Heart Institute and Rice University to continue to break ground on a novel left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that could be an alternative to current devices that prevent heart transplantation and are a long-term option in end-stage heart failure.

The grant is part of the DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP). It was awarded to Georgia Institute of Technology, one of four collaborators on the project that will be designed and evaluated by the co-investigator Yaxin Wang. Wang is part of O.H. “Bud” Frazier’s team at Texas Heart Institute, where she is director of Innovative Device & Engineering Applications Lab. The other institution working on the new LVAD is North Carolina State University.

The project is funded by a four-year, $7.8 million grant. THI will use about $2.94 million of that to fund its part of the research. As Wang explained to us last year, an LVAD is a minimally invasive device that mechanically pumps a person’s own heart. Frazier claims to have performed more than 900 LVAD implantations, but the devices are far from perfect.

The team working on this new research seeks to minimize near-eventualities like blood clot formation, blood damage, and driveline complications such as infection and limitations in mobility. The four institutions will try to innovate with a device featuring new engineering designs, antithrombotic slippery hydrophilic coatings (SLIC), wireless power transfer systems, and magnetically levitated driving systems.

Wang and her team believe that the non-contact-bearing technology will help to decrease the risk of blood clotting and damage when implanting an LVAD. The IDEA Lab will test the efficacy and safety of the SLIC LVAD developed by the multi-institutional team with a lab-bench-based blood flow loop, but also in preclinical models.

“The Texas Heart Institute continues to be a leading center for innovation in mechanical circulatory support systems,” said Joseph G. Rogers, MD, the president and CEO of THI, in a press release.

“This award will further the development and testing of the SLIC LVAD, a device intended to provide an option for a vulnerable patient population and another tool in the armamentarium of the heart failure teams worldwide.”

If it works as hypothesized, the SLIC LVAD will improve upon current LVAD technology, which will boost quality of life for countless heart patients. But the innovation won’t stop there. Technologies that IDEA Lab is testing include wireless power transfer for medical devices and coatings to reduce blood clotting could find applications in many other technologies that could help patients live longer, healthier lives.

Texas A&M University signed an agreement with NASA's Johnson Space Center last month, and the American Center for Manufacturing and Innovation signed a similar agreement a few weeks later. Photo via nasa.gov

NASA signs 2 public-private lease agreements at Houston campus to promote human space research

ready to launch

NASA and the American Center for Manufacturing and Innovation signed an agreement Thursday, Feb. 29 to lease underutilized land in a 240-acre Exploration Park at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The deal comes after a similar lease with the Texas A&M University System.

ACMI will enable the development of facilities to enable commercial and defense space manufacturing, while A&M reports that it will develop a facility for human spaceflight research and development.

These two public/private lease agreements allow industry and academia to use NASA Johnson land to create facilities for a collaborative development environment that increases commercial access and enhances the United States' commercial competitiveness in the space and aerospace industries.

“For more than 60 years, NASA Johnson has been the hub of human spaceflight,” NASA Johnson Director Vanessa Wyche says in a news release. “Exploration Park will be the next spoke in the larger wheel of a robust and durable space economy that will benefit not only exploration of the Moon, Mars and the asteroids, but all of humanity as the benefits of space exploration research roll home to Earth.”

Calling it the Space Systems Campus, ACMI plans to incorporate an applied research facility partnered with multiple stakeholders across academia, state and local government, the Department of Defense and regional economic development organizations.

"This Space Systems Campus will be a significant component within our objectives for a robust and durable space economy that will benefit not only the nation's efforts to explore the Moon, Mars and the asteroids, but all of humanity as the benefits of space exploration research roll home to Earth," Wyche says of the ACMI deal.

As the home of Mission Control Center for the agency's human space missions, astronaut training, robotics, human health and space medicine, NASA Johnson leads the way for the human exploration. Leveraging this unique role and location, Exploration Park will play a key role in helping the human spaceflight community attain U.S. goals for the commercialization and development of a robust space economy by creating an infrastructure that fosters a multi-use environment where academic researchers, aerospace companies and entrepreneurs can collaborate with NASA. Exploration Park will create an infrastructure that allows for a multi-use space hardware development environment, where academic researchers, aerospace companies and entrepreneurs can collaborate on space exploration's greatest challenges.

"ACMI Properties will develop this Campus to serve the needs of our future tenants, aerospace industry, the Department of Defense and other significant stakeholders that comprise our ecosystem approach," said Simon Shewmaker, head of development for ACMI Properties. "Our aim is to support human spaceflight missions for the next 40 years and beyond."

NASA issued an announcement for proposals for use of the undeveloped and underutilized land near Saturn Lane on June 9, 2023, and has just completed negotiations with ACMI to formalize the lease agreement. The parcel is outside of Johnson's controlled access area and adjacent to its main campus. NASA will lease the land for 20 years with two 20-year extension options, for a potential of up to 60 years.

In the coming years, NASA and its academic, commercial, and international partners will see the completion of the International Space Station Program, the commercial development of low Earth orbit, and the first human Artemis campaign missions establishing sustainable human presence on the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars.

Johnson already is leading the commercialization of space with the commercial cargo and crew programs and private astronaut missions to the space station. The center also is supporting the development of commercial space stations in low Earth orbit, and lunar-capable commercial spacesuits and lunar landers that will be provided as services to both NASA and the private sector to accelerate human access to space. Through the development of Exploration Park, the center will broaden the scope of the human spaceflight community that is tackling the many difficult challenges ahead.

Scott Schneider of HTX Labs joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how his VR software is helping to train Department of Defense pilots. Photo via htxlabs.com

Houston software startup is tapping into the military sector with VR training tools

Houston innovators podcast episode 127

For years, the idea of virtual and augmented reality has been growing in use and popularity from a consumer perspective. VR art experiences are popping up in every major city, and Snapchat and Instagram filters are flooding our phone screens daily. But one Houston company had the foresight to tap this tech in the business world.

"Our real mission around HTX Labs was to take what we felt was amazing technology — virtual reality, augmented reality, extended reality, and immersive technology in general — and take it from a primary consumer focus into enterprise," Scott Schneider says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

A VR headset is different from your usual office appliance — it's not a printer or a desktop computer. So, addressing this technology and how companies deal with network security and identity management — plus the software designing itself — has been HTX Labs' bread and butter since it was founded in 2017.

"It's always been around how do we elevate training — and that's really been our mission for the past five years," Schneider says.

Over the years, the startup has had the opportunity to enter a new sector, and it's represented a pretty big pivot for the company. Now, 95 percent of HTX Labs's focus is on the Department of Defense.

"Around 2018, we were approached by the U.S. Air Force," Schneider says. "Three and a half years later, we are fully engaged with the DoD – Air Force, Navy, Army. Our big focus is around training aircraft pilots and maintainers — if you fly them or you fix them, they are using our technology."

HTX Labs has tripled its team over the past few years, and is looking to hire another 20 people to support its growth — specifically looking for sales, business development, and operational positions.

"In 2021, we were all about building capability and building our platform," Schneider says, "and 2022 is all about adoption. It's a land grab out there for doing what we're doing. We're trying to drive adoption within the government and outside in the commercial and private sector."

Schneider shares more on what he's focused on this year and how HTX Labs has grown alongside the Houston innovation ecosystem on the podcast episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Houston-based Pulmotect announced a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense that will fund two COVID-19 drug trials. Photo via Getty Images

Houston biotech receives up to $6M federal grant for COVID-19 treatment

DOD delivered

The Pentagon is putting its financial power behind two COVID-19 clinical trials led by Houston-based biotech company Pulmotect Inc.

The U.S. Department of Defense is pumping as much as $6 million into the pair of Phase 2 trials, which involve a total of 300 U.S. participants, according to a January 27 news release from Pulmotect. When it's inhaled, Pulmotect's drug, PUL-042, stimulates the lungs' immune system to fight bacteria, viruses, or fungi that cause respiratory illnesses.

Pulmotect joins a number of Houston organizations that have tapped into Department of Defense funding for research into COVID-19 therapies.

In January, for instance, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) collected $5.1 million from the department to evaluate whether an investigational oral drug, vadadustat, can help prevent acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in COVID-19 patients.

"It's wonderful that we have COVID-19 vaccinations available now, but they won't directly help patients who are already sick in the hospital or who will become sick in the future," Dr. Holger Eltzschig, chairman of Department of Anesthesiology at UTHealth's McGovern Medical School, says in a news release.

Also in January, Houston-based clinical research organization Pharm-Olam LLC sealed a $36.3 million deal with the Department of Defense to conduct a clinical trial of an antibody treatment for inflammatory problems associated with COVID-19.

So far, Pulmotect's PUL-042 has shown promise in battling the coronaviruses that trigger MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). The current trials related to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 are evaluating PUL-042's effect on prevention of infections and reducing the severity of the disease.

Pulmotect initially designed PUL-042 to treat and prevent respiratory complications in cancer patients. But once the coronavirus pandemic set in, the company pivoted to testing the effectiveness of its drug in combatting the virus that causes COVID-19. Last May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Pulmotect's COVID-19 trials.

Pulmotect says PUL-042 someday could be a therapy that's deployed during pandemics, epidemics, and bioterrorism attacks.

Invented at Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center and at Texas A&M University, PUL-042 has earned patents in 10 countries. The National Institutes of Health, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, and other organizations have supported R&D for PUL-042.

Founded in 2007, Pulmotect emerged from Houston's Fannin Innovation Studio, which nurtures early stage companies in the life sciences sector. In September 2019, the company brought aboard Dr. Colin Broom as CEO. He previously was CEO of an Irish biopharmaceutical company.

Thus far, Pulmotect has garnered about $18 million in equity and about $20 million in other funding.

Before the pandemic, Pulmotect was evaluating the effectiveness of PUL-042 in treating patients with mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who've been exposed to a respiratory virus.

COPD, which affects 30 million Americans, is the No. 3 cause of death in the U.S., according to the COPD Foundation. Pulmotect says 40 percent of COPD-related costs could be avoided by heading off complications and hospitalizations, which usually result from COPD problems caused by a bacterial or viral infection. In this context, the drug is meant to treat cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy whose weakened immune systems make them susceptible to pneumonia.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.