Here's a closer look at why Houston should be pushing for a more rapid transition to EVs. Photo via Getty Images

As urban populations increase and more vehicles hit the roads across the United States, the quality of the air is compromised, directly impacting health, environment, and quality of life ― especially for children, minorities, and other vulnerable populations. A 2023 study by Site Selection Group placed Houston at the vanguard of this trend, projecting the metro area to grow nearly 10 percent by 2028, eclipsing 8 million residents.

According to Evolve Houston, a nonprofit working to accelerate EV adoption by bringing together local public and private organizations, residents, and government, the transportation sector emits 47 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the Houston area.

In this context, electric vehicles offer a practical solution to mitigate the challenges posed by tailpipe emissions. Their adoption in urban settings has the potential to significantly improve air quality and enhance public health. It’s no wonder the upcoming Houston Auto Show will feature a dedicated EV Pavilion.

Here's a closer look at why Houston should be pushing for a more rapid transition to EVs:

  1. Children’s development is at stake: Early childhood is a critical period for brain development. However, toxic air pollutants can significantly inhibit this growth during these formative years. The consequences include impairing children’s cognitive capabilities in reading and math, akin to missing an entire month of elementary school.
  2. EVs counteract historical racial inequalities: Beyond being an environmental challenge, air pollution is a glaring racial and social justice issue. Areas with fewer White residents suffer almost triple the nitrogen dioxide levels compared to predominantly White zones, as highlighted by the National Academy of Sciences. Historically marginalized communities, often near major traffic corridors, endure heightened pollution exposure. Transitioning to EVs can help address these deeply ingrained environmental inequities.
  3. The health benefits are monumental: A brighter future awaits if EVs become mainstream. According to the American Lung Association, if all new vehicles sold by 2035 are zero-emission, the U.S. could see up to 89,300 fewer premature deaths by 2050. Additionally, asthma attacks might decline by 2 million, saving 10.7 million workdays and resulting in an incredible $978 billion in public health savings.
  4. Global success stories prove the benefits: The impact of mass EV adoption has already been demonstrated outside the U.S. For instance, Norway has seen a notable reduction in dangerous particle emissions since 87 percent of its new car sales are now fully electric. Likewise, California’s adoption of electric vehicles correlated with a 3.2% decrease in asthma-related ER visits between 2013 and 2019.
  5. Cities have the power and means to lead the way: Many global cities are trailblazers in the electric transition. New York City, with more than 4,000 government-owned EVs, is a prime example. Moreover, by electrifying their take-home fleets, cities can set a precedent for their communities. Seeing neighbors drive electric vehicles daily serves as a powerful endorsement, motivating nearby residents to make the switch. Incentives like public charging stations, free parking for EVs, rebates for home charger installations, reimbursing for charging at home, and reduced tolls, further bolster this movement.

Houstonians stand at a pivotal juncture. The choices made today concerning transportation will profoundly influence the health and well-being of residents tomorrow. The shift to electric vehicles is more than just an eco-friendly choice; it's a commitment to a brighter, cleaner future. By leading with action and vision, cities can create a legacy that upcoming generations will appreciate and thrive in.

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Kate L. Harrison is the co-founder and head of marketing at MoveEV, an AI-backed EV transition company that helps organizations convert fleet and employee-owned gas vehicles to electric, and reimburse for charging at home.

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Mercedes-Benz HPC North America says it will build EV charging hubs at most Buc-ee’s stores, starting with about 30 hubs by the end of 2024. Buc-ee's/Facebook

Texas gas station favorite plugs into partnership for EV chargers

eyes on ev

Buc-ee’s, the beloved Lake Jackson-based chain of convenience stores, has plugged into a partnership with a Mercedes-Benz business unit to install electric vehicle charging stations at Buc-ee’s locations.

Mercedes-Benz HPC North America says it will build EV charging hubs at most Buc-ee’s stores, starting with about 30 hubs by the end of 2024. Some Buc-ee’s hubs already are being set up and are scheduled to begin supplying EV power by the end of this year.

Mercedes-Benz HPC, a subsidiary of the German automaker, is developing a U.S. and Canadian network of EV charging stations. All of the stations will run solely on renewable energy.

“Buc-ee’s values people and partnerships,” Jeff Nadalo, general counsel at Buc-ee’s, says in a news release. “Our new collaboration with Mercedes-Benz HPC North America will continue our traditions of elevated customer convenience and excellent service that have won the hearts, trust, and business of millions in the South for more than 40 years.”

Buc-ee’s — hailed for its squeaky-clean restrooms, abundance of fuel pumps, and unique food — operates 34 supersized convenience stores in Texas and 12 locations in other states. Another seven locations are under construction in Texas, Colorado, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Missouri.

“Mercedes-Benz HPC North America's collaboration with Buc-ee’s represents an important moment in our pursuit of a national charging network that sets a new standard in both convenience and quality,” says Andrew Cornelia, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz HPC.

“Within a remarkably short period,” Cornelia adds, “we’ve made significant strides towards opening several charging hubs at Buc-ee’s travel centers. Buc-ee’s strategic locations along major travel routes, combined with their commitment to clean and accessible amenities, aligns perfectly with our vision.”

In January 2023, Mercedes-Benz announced plans to install 10,000 EV chargers worldwide, including North America, Europe, and China. Mercedes-Benz drivers will be able to book a charging station from their car, but the network will be available to all motorists.

“The locations and surroundings of the Mercedes-Benz charging hubs will be carefully selected with wider customer needs in mind. Our best possible charging experience will therefore come with food outlets and restrooms situated nearby,” says Mercedes-Benz HPC.

Each hub will feature four to 12 chargers and ultimately as many as 30 chargers.

Mercedes-Benz says more than $1 billion is being invested in the North American charging network, which is set to be completed by 2029 or 2030. The cost will be split between the automaker and solar power producer MN8 Energy, a New York City-based spinoff of banking giant Goldman Sachs.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Cruise is now cruising some Houston streets. The self-driving car service has launched with $5 flat-rate rides. Photo courtesy of Cruise

Exclusive: First self-driving car service for passengers launches in Houston

ready to ride

For the first time, Houstonians can hail an autonomous vehicle to get from point A to point B, thanks to a tech company's latest market roll out.

San Francisco-based Cruise, which has launched in its hometown, Phoenix, and Austin over the past year and a half, previously announced Houston and Dallas as the company's next stops. Dallas, where Cruise is currently undergoing testing, will roll out its service by the end of the year.

As of today, October 12, Houstonians in the Downtown, Midtown, East Downtown, Montrose, Hyde Park, and River Oaks neighborhoods can hail a ride from an autonomous electric vehicle seven days a week between the hours of 9 pm to 6 am.

"We believe that everyone has a right to safer, more accessible and more affordable transportation, and we remain focused on cities first because that’s where our mission will have the greatest impact. Houston follows that city-first strategy with its densely traversed downtown, propensity for ridehail, and vibrant cultural center," Sola Lawal, Cruise's Houston manager, tells InnovationMap. "Cruise also shares in Houston’s Vision Zero mission to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030 and we’re excited to address the transportation needs of Houston communities."

Although today marks the launch to the public, Cruise's employees and their friends and family have been testing out the service since August.

"People love this shift from working for your car as the driver, to the car working for you and the time this gives people back in their days," he explains. "A common reaction from first time riders starts with people being shocked and awed for the first two minutes then the ride becomes so normal that you forget you're in a driverless car."

Founded in 2013 by CEO, CTO, and President Kyle Vogt and Chief Product Officer Dan Kan, Cruise vehicles have self-driven over 5 million miles — 1 million of those miles were cruised on Texas streets. The company's fleet includes 400 electric vehicles powered by renewable energy.

Cruise's plan for Houston is to launch and grow from there, including launching larger passenger vehicles, the Origin fleet, for bigger groups of people.

"We always start small and methodically expand from there. For us it’s all about safety and how we expand in partnership with communities, so we let that be our guide for expansion vs arbitrary timelines," Lawal says. "Our goal is to continue to expand as quickly and safely as possible so we can get folks to the Rodeo when it starts and back home, anywhere in Houston, when it ends. You can expect expanded map areas, increased supply of AVs, and expanded hours until we are 24/7 across Houston."

Cruise has raised $10 billion in capital commitments from investors, including General Motors, Honda, Microsoft, T. Rowe Price, Walmart, and others. Additionally, the tech company has also a $5 billion credit line with GM Financial, giving it the financial support needed to scale. Strategically aligned with General Motors and Honda, Cruise has fully integrated manufacturing at scale.

Cruise, which touts a pricing model competitive to existing rideshares, is launching with $5 flat-rate rides for passengers.

"Houstonians who ride with us have the chance to be part of history in the making," Lawal tells Houston's to-be Cruise riders. "The industry has made incredible progress in the last two years but we are still in the early days of what’s to come as driverless ridehail becomes a reality for more people.

"We are proud of the service we’ve built so far and the safety record we have to show for it, but will always continue to improve. We're excited to launch with the community of Houston and we simply ask that you give it a try," he continues. "And when you do please give us feedback, we’d love to hear about your experience."

Origin, a larger, six-person self-driving vehicle, will also launch in the Houston market once Cruise rolls it out. Rendering courtesy of Cruise

Here's how Houston and Texas fared on a new electric vehicle report. Photo via Getty Images

Texas ranks high on new EV study, but Houston was outpaced by other metros

driving toward progress

A new study shows that Texas is among the top of the pack for states with the most electric vehicle registrations. But Houston falls behind other large metros in the state for EV friendliness.

The March report from StorageCafe, which compiled data from the Federal Transit Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Department of Energy and other sources, showed that Texas had the third-most EV registrations in the county in 2021 at 112,000 vehicles.

California outpaced the rest of the country by a longshot with 878,000 registrations, claiming the number one spot. Florida had the second-most registrations at 128,000.

The report also looked at EV friendliness, which factored in EV registrations as well as the number of charging stations per household, EV exemptions, incentives and various other factors.

Houston was ranked 32nd on the friendliness list. The report found that Bayou City drivers registered 27,251 EVs in 2021. Charging stations are available in about 3.8 percent of rental buildings and there are 0.2 charging stations for every 1,000 households in the city.

Dallas claimed the top spot for the state at No. 15 with more than 29,000 EV registrations in 2021. Though Dallas has the same ratio of EV charging stations per household, there are more charging stations in rental buildings in the city.

Austin, at No. 22, also outranked Houston. Though the capital city only registered 8,730 EVs in 2021 there are much more charging stations per household (0.7 for every 1,000) and in rental buildings (5.5 percent).

San Antonio came in at No. 36, the McAllen area at No. 75, and El Paso at No. 83.

Seattle was named the friendliest place to own an EV. The drivers in the city registered more than 47,000 EVs in 2021.

Doug Ressler, a business intelligence manager at Yardi Matrix, which contributed to the report, weighed in on the findings.

“The electric car movement is gaining momentum, but it isn’t without its challenges. The high price of an EV–although brought down by incentives now – range and charging stations still pose some problems," he said in a statement. "However, with the expansion of the charging network–including in apartment buildings–and the gradual lowering of the EV price, buying and using an EV can become mainstream in the foreseeable future."

He also estimated that EVs will "dominate the car market" by 2045. By 2050, he said EVs could make up about 90 percent of the market.

Earlier this month Hertz announced that it would triple Houston's electric rental fleet, as well as add a fast-charging hub to Hobby Airport that's designed to serve ride-hail, taxi fleets and the general public.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston investor on SaaS investing and cracking product-market fit

Houston innovators podcast episode 230

Aziz Gilani's career in tech dates back to when he'd ride his bike from Clear Lake High School to a local tech organization that was digitizing manuals from mission control. After years working on every side of the equation of software technology, he's in the driver's seat at a local venture capital firm deploying funding into innovative software businesses.

As managing director at Mercury, the firm he's been at since 2008, Gilani looks for promising startups within the software-as-a-service space — everything from cloud computing and data science and beyond.

"Once a year at Mercury, we sit down with our partners and talk about the next investment cycle and the focuses we have for what makes companies stand out," Gilani says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The current software investment cycle is very focused on companies that have truly achieved product-market fit and are showing large customer adoption."



An example of this type of company is Houston-based RepeatMD, which raised a $50 million series A round last November. Mercury's Fund V, which closed at an oversubscribed $160 million, contributed to RepeatMD's round.

"While looking at that investment, it really made me re-calibrate a lot of my thoughts in terms what product-market fit meant," Gilani says. "At RepeatMD, we had customers that were so eager for the service that they were literally buying into products while we were still making them."

Gilani says he's focused on finding more of these high-growth companies to add to Mercury's portfolio amidst what, admittedly, has been a tough time for venture capital. But 2024 has been looking better for those fundraising.

"We've some potential for improvement," Gilani says. "But overall, the environment is constrained, interest rates haven't budged, and we've seen some potential for IPO activity."

Gilani shares more insight into his investment thesis, what areas of tech he's been focused on recently, and how Houston has developed as an ecosystem on the podcast.

Houston startup scores $12M grant to support clinical evaluation of cancer-fighting drug

fresh funding

Allterum Therapeutics, a Houston biopharmaceutical company, has been awarded a $12 million product development grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

The funds will support the clinical evaluation of a therapeutic antibody that targets acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), one of the most common childhood cancers.

However, CEO and President Atul Varadhachary, who's also the managing director of Fannin Innovation, tells InnovationMap, “Our mission has grown much beyond ALL.”

The antibody, called 4A10, was invented by Scott Durum PhD and his team at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Licensed exclusively by Allterum, a company launched by Fannin, 4A10 is a novel immunotherapy that utilizes a patient’s own immune system to locate and kill cancer cells.

Varadhachary explained that while about 80 percent of patients afflicted with ALL have the B-cell version, the other 20 percent suffer from T-cell ALL.

“Because the TLL population is so small, there are really no approved, effective drugs for it. The last drug that was approved was 18 or 19 years ago,” the CEO-scientist said. 4A10 addresses this unmet need, but also goes beyond it.

Because 4A10 targets CD127, also known as the interleukin-7 receptor, it could be useful in the treatment of myriad cancers. In fact, the receptor is expressed not just in hematological cancers like ALL, but also solid tumors like breast, lung, and colorectal cancers. There’s also “robust data,” according to Varadhachary for the antibody’s success against B-cell ALL, as well as many other cancers.

“Now what we're doing in parallel with doing the development for ALL is that we're continuing to do additional preclinical work in these other indications, and then at some point, we will raise a series A financing that will allow us to expand markets into things which are much more commercially attractive,” Varadhachary explains.

Why did they go for the less commercially viable application first? As Varadhachary put it, “The Fannin model is to allow us to go after areas which are major unmet medical needs, even if they are not necessarily as attractive on a commercial basis.”

But betting on a less common malady could have a bigger payoff than the Allterum team originally expected.

Before the new CPRIT grant, Allterum’s funding included a previous seed grant from CPRIT of $3 million. Other funds included an SBIR grant from NCI, as well as another NCI program called NExT, which deals specifically with experimental therapies.

“To get an antibody from research into clinical testing takes about $10 million,” Varadhachary says. “It's an expensive proposition.”

With this, and other nontraditional financing, the company was able to take what Varadhachary called “a huge unmet medical need but a really tiny commercial market” and potentially help combat a raft of other childhood cancers.

“That's our vision. It's not economically hugely attractive, but we think it's important,” says Varadhachary.

Atul Varadhachary is the managing director of Fannin Innovation. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston researcher scores prestigious NSF award for machine learning, power grid tech

grant funding

An associate professor at the University of Houston received the highly competitive National Science Foundation CAREER Award earlier this month for a proposal focused on integrating renewable resources to improve power grids.

The award grants more than $500,000 to Xingpeng Li, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and leader of the Renewable Power Grid Lab at UH, to continue his work on developing ways to use machine learning to ensure that power systems can continue to run efficiently when pulling their energy from wind and solar sources, according to a statement from UH. This work has applications in the events of large disturbances to the grid.

Li explains that currently, power grids run off of converted, stored kinetic energy during grid disturbances.

"For example, when the grid experiences sudden large generation losses or increased electrical loads, the stored kinetic energy immediately converted to electrical energy and addressed the temporary shortfall in generation,” Li said in a statement. “However, as the proportion of wind and solar power increases in the grid, we want to maximize their use since their marginal costs are zero and they provide clean energy. Since we reduce the use of those traditional generators, we also reduce the power system inertia (or stored kinetic energy) substantially.”

Li plans to use machine learning to create more streamlined models that can be implemented into day-ahead scheduling applications that grid operators currently use.

“With the proposed new modeling and computational approaches, we can better manage grids and ensure it can supply continuous quality power to all the consumers," he said.

In addition to supporting Li's research and model creations, the funds will also go toward Li and his team's creation of a free, open-source tool for students from kindergarten up through their graduate studies. They are also developing an “Applied Machine Learning in Power Systems” course. Li says the course will help meet workforce needs.

The CAREER Award recognizes early-career faculty members who “have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” according to the NSF. It's given to about 500 researchers each year.

Earlier this year, Rice assistant professor Amanda Marciel was also

granted an NSF CAREER Award to continue her research in designing branch elastomers that return to their original shape after being stretched. The research has applications in stretchable electronics and biomimetic tissues.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.