A new initiative from the city of Houston and Hertz aims to boost Houston's electric vehicle rental fleet. Photo via Mayor Sylvester Turner/Facebook

A new partnership between The Hertz Corp. and the City of Houston will bring 2,100 rental electric vehicles to Houston, according to an announcement from the organizations earlier this week.

Dubbed Hertz Electrifies Houston, the program aims to boost Houston's EV rental fleet, as well add to the city's charging infrastructure and EV education and training opportunities.

The new vehicles will come from automakers Tesla, Polestar, and GM and can be rented to leisure and business customers, as well as rideshare drivers.

In partnership with bp pulse, Hertz Electrifies Houston will also bring a new EV fast-charging hub to Hobby Airport that's designed to serve ride-hail, taxi fleets and the general public.

"Our goal is to convert all non-emergency, light-duty municipal vehicles to electric by 2030," Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a statement. "This partnership with Hertz will provide an invaluable boost to achieve this goal and the goal of our Climate Action Plan for Houston to be a net-zero city by 2050."

In addition to the new fleet and charging hub, Hertz announced it will also donate an EV to Lone Star College-North Harris to help the college provide EV training to students in its auto servicing curriculum.

"Lone Star College-North Harris houses one of top automotive programs in Texas," Archie Blanson, president of Lone Star College-North Harris, says in the statement. "To make our students competitive and meet industry demand, we must ensure we are bringing the latest technologies, including a diversified fleet of EVs into the classroom.”

Earlier this month, Hertz also launched a Hertz Electrifies program in Denver. The initiative aims to bring 5,200 rental EVs to Denver. In 2022, the company first announced its plan to partner with bp pulse to install a national network of EV charging solutions for its customers.

Houston also has grown into a hub for EV and EV charging innovation recently. Houston-based Zeta Energy is leading efforts to develop efficient EV batteries, and received $4 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's ARPA-E Electric Vehicles for American Low-Carbon Living, or EVs4ALL, program earlier this year.

Houston's Revterra has also created a kinetic energy storage system that enables rapid EV charging. The company’s founder and CEO, Ben Jawdat, spoke about the energy transition on the Houston Innovators Podcast last month.
Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

How this Houston innovator's tech is gearing up to impact EV charging, energy transition

houston innovators podcast episode 172

With more and more electric vehicles on the road, existing electrical grid infrastructure needs to be able to keep up. Houston-based Revterra has the technology to help.

"One of the challenges with electric vehicle adoption is we're going to need a lot of charging stations to quickly charge electric cars," Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "People are familiar with filling their gas tank in a few minutes, so an experience similar to that is what people are looking for."

To charge an EV in ten minutes is about 350 kilowatts of power, and, as Jawdat explains, if several of these charges are happening at the same time, it puts a tremendous strain on the electric grid. Building the infrastructure needed to support this type of charging would be a huge project, but Jawdat says he thought of a more turnkey solution.

Revterra created a kinetic energy storage system that enables rapid EV charging. The technology pulls from the grid, but at a slower, more manageable pace. Revterra's battery acts as an intermediary to store that energy until the consumer is ready to charge.

"It's an energy accumulator and a high-power energy discharger," Jawdat says, explaining that compared to an electrical chemical battery, which could be used to store energy for EVs, kinetic energy can be used more frequently and for faster charging.

Jawdat, who is a trained physicist with a PhD from the University of Houston and worked as a researcher at Rice University, says some of his challenges were receiving early funding and identifying customers willing to deploy his technology.

Last year, Revterra raised $8.5 million in a series A funding round. Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures and At One Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

The funding has gone toward growing Revterra's team, including onboarding three new engineers with some jobs still open, Jawdat says. Additionally, Revterra is building out its new lab space and launching new pilot programs.

Ultimately, Revterra, an inaugural member of Greentown Houston, hopes to be a major player within the energy transition.

"We really want to be an enabling technology in the renewable energy transition," Jawdat says. "One part of that is facilitating the development of large-scale, high-power, fast-charging networks. But, beyond that, we see this technology as a potential solution in other areas related to the clean energy transition."

He shares more about what's next for Revterra on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Students created models and renderings of their designs. Courtesy of University of Houston

New UH exhibit showcases cutting-edge student electric vehicle design

on display

Students at the the University of Houston’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design are showing off ideas that could shape the future of transportation. The school’s Mashburg Gallery is hosting a new exhibition that shows off 16 projects designed to show interior and exterior for future electric vehicles.

Sponsored by Photon Auto, an EV company from Houston, the competition provides juniors and seniors in the college’s industrial design program with the opportunity to receive feedback from people in the automotive industry.

Attendees will see both 3D scaled models and high resolution digital renderings of the designs.

“Through our program, students in the past have designed other modes of transportation, such as bicycles and electric scooters, but we’ve never done a car,” associate professor of industrial design Mark Kimbrough said in a statement. “The timing for this project is amazing, because the electric vehicle industry is moving to Texas. This is an opportunity to position our design program and be ready for the industry.”

Judges will use criteria such as innovation, originality, and quality of execution to pick a winner. That student will receive $1,000 and an internship at Photon Auto.

Houston’s Photon Auto aims to help shape the future of automobiles. Its name stems from the company’s use of LIDAR systems that will identify objects in the road and aid advanced craft protection. Ultimately, it plans to develop luxury vehicles with more than 500 miles of range.

Other sponsors include TexPower EV Technologies Inc, a company that develops battery technology, and IQP Inc. (Integrated Quantum Photonics), a company that develops sensors for use in electric vehicles. Working together, they show how Houston could become part of America’s automotive future.

“The city is rapidly transitioning to a hub of innovation in electric vehicle technologies, including car design, batteries and photonics," Photon Auto CEO John Houghtaling said. “I’m very pleased see to how young designers diligently incorporated the ideas of luxury, comfortable and safe autonomous riding which Photon Auto envisions in our coming electric vehicles.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Electric vans will now be delivering to Houston. Photo courtesy of Amazon

Amazon rolls out hundreds of new electric vans for Houston's holiday delivery season

Electric avenue

Amazon CEO/occasional space traveler Jeff Bezos is doing his best to supplant a certain jolly fellow from the North Pole as tops for holiday gift delivery.

His latest move: Amazon is rolling out more than 1,000 electric delivery vehicles, designed by electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian, ready to make deliveries in more than 100 cities across the U.S. On the Texas good list: Houston, Austin, and Dallas. Bezos' juggernaut began deliveries in Dallas in July, along with Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Nashville, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, and St. Louis.

These zero-emissions vans have delivered more than 5 million packages to customers in the U.S., according to Amazon. The latest boost in vehicles now includes Houston and Austin; Boston; Denver; Indianapolis; Las Vegas; Madison, Wisconsin; Newark, New Jersey; New York, Oakland, California; Pittsburgh, Portland, Oregon; Provo, Utah; and Salt Lake City.

Plans for the Amazon and Rivian partnership call for thousands of vehicles on the road by the end of the year and 100,000 vehicles by 2030.

“We’re always excited for the holiday season, but making deliveries to customers across the country with our new zero-emission vehicles for the first time makes this year unique,” said Udit Madan, vice president of Amazon Transportation, in a statement. “We’ve already delivered over 5 million packages with our vehicles produced by Rivian, and this is still just the beginning—that figure will grow exponentially as we continue to make progress toward our 100,000-vehicle goal.”

This all comes as part of Amazon's commitment to reaching net-zero carbon by 2040, as a part of its The Climate Pledge; Amazon promises to eliminate millions of metric tons of carbon per year with it s commitment to 100,000 electric delivery vehicles by 2030, press materials note.

Additionally, Amazon announced plans to invest more than $1 billion over the next five years to further electrify and decarbonize its transportation network across Europe. This investment is meant to spark innovation and encourage more public charging infrastructure across the continent.

“Fleet electrification is essential to reaching the world’s zero-emissions goal,” said Jiten Behl, chief growth officer at Rivian, in a statement. “So, to see our ramp up in production supporting Amazon’s rollout in cities across the country is amazing. Not just for the environment, but also for our teams working hard to get tens of thousands of electric delivery vehicles on the road. They continue to be motivated by our combined mission and the great feedback about the vehicle’s performance and quality.”

A little about the vans: Drivers’ favorite features include a spacious cabin and cargo area, superior visibility with a large windshield and 360-degree cameras, and ventilated seats for fast heating and cooling — a must for Bayou City summers ... or winters, for that matter.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

All aboard the bus to greener transportation. Photo via Unsplash

HISD receives millions in funding from EPA for clean school buses

seeing green

Houston Independent School District is hopping on the city's net-zero carbon emissions bus, so to speak, thanks to more than $6.2 million in funding from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The funds are part of the EPA's Clean School Bus Program Fiscal Year 2022 rebate competition, which will award nearly $51 million in funds from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to Texas school districts, and $965 million in total to districts around the country.

Houston's $6.2 million will go toward 25 new school buses, according to a statement from the EPA. Fifteen of the vehicles will be brand-new electric buses.

"Taking steps to make our school buses greener while remaining safe and effective is not only imperative for the wellbeing of students and bus drivers, but also for the public at large,” Houston Congressman Al Green said in a statement. “I applaud this announcement by the EPA under President Biden’s leadership. I look forward to seeing the positive impact that this outstanding award to purchase electric and propane school buses will have on reducing our carbon footprint.”

HISD must now submit Payment Request Forms with purchase orders that shows the district has ordered the new buses and eligible infrastructure.

The district is among 13 Texas school districts to receive funding. Dallas ISD, the second largest school district in the state behind HISD, was awarded roughly $7.6 million. Killeen ISD and Socorro ISD received the largest sums among the districts, totalling nearly $9.9 million in funding each.

At the time of the statement, the EPA had selected 389 applications across the country totaling $913 million to support the purchase of 2,463 buses, mainly in areas serving low-income, rural, and/or Tribal students. More applications are under review, and the EPA plans to announce additional districts that will receive funding, bringing the total investment to the full $965 million, in the coming weeks, according to a statement.

The EPA intends to make available another $1 billion for clean school buses in Fiscal Year 2023.

At an event last week, Evolve Houston celebrated its relaunch, a new leader, and its microgrant program. Photo courtesy of Evolve

Houston nonprofit relaunches, names new leader, and introduces electromobility initiative

evolve evolves

A Houston organization focused on promoting electromobility in Houston has announced some big updates.

Evolve Houston, founded in 2019 through Houston's Climate Action Plan, has relaunched as of its event Thursday, August 18. The nonprofit has also named Casey Brown as the new president and executive director. Formerly at Halliburton and Coretrax, Brown's appointment went into effect this month.

"I am honored to have been appointed by the board to lead Evolve into the next phase of our electric vehicle journey," says Brown. "I look forward to working with our partners to get more electric cars, buses, and bikes on the road, and to publish Evolve's electrification roadmap 2.0 early next year."

Additionally, thanks to funding from Evolve Corporate Catalysts General Motors and bp, the organization has introduced the eMobility Microgrant Initiative, which will facilitate a peer-review process to award microgrants to local electromobility projects. Applications for the grants are now open online and will be accepted through September 16 at 6 pm.

"Evolve Houston is committed to supporting a just transition to a more sustainable transportation system, so all residents can receive the benefits of eMobility," says Grace Millsap, Evolve Houston director of equity and investment, in a news release. "The Greater Houston area has made significant progress in improving livability. We must continue and bring the eMobility revolution to Houston's communities that remain disproportionately in need of a cleaner environment, better services, and diversified economic development.

"Evolve's eMobility Microgrant Initiative will empower and elevate residents' voices, drive further community investment, and prioritize the communities who are most impacted by climate and mobility challenges," she continues.

A community-focused initiative, the Equity Program has been established to address poor air quality and limited access to public transportation in vulnerable communities, per the release. This fall, Evolve will invest the microgrants into community-led efforts that are increasing access to all forms of electric mobility and EV charging stations.

"The Complete Communities Initiative bridges the gap between equity and opportunity for our city's most under-resourced and underserved neighborhoods. Residents living in the Complete Communities have made it clear that its past time to address the transportation and climate change challenges that impact their quality of life," says Shannon Buggs, director of the Mayor's Office for Complete Communities, in the release.

"Increasing chronic air pollution and lack of equitable mobility has disproportionately affected low-to-moderate income neighborhoods," she continues. "With the help of community leaders, the Evolve Houston Equity Program provides a pathway for our City to ensure that every resident lives in a healthy, sustainable and thriving community."

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Houston startup recognized for inclusivity on journey to commercialize next-gen therapeutics

future of medicine

A new Houston biotech company won a special award at the 16th Annual SXSW Pitch Award Ceremony earlier this month.

Phiogen, one of 45 companies that competed in nine categories, was the winner for best inclusivity, much to the surprise of the company’s CEO, Amanda Burkhardt.

Burkhardt tells InnovationMap that while she wanted to represent the heavily female patient population that Phiogen seeks to treat, really she just hires the most skilled scientists.

“The best talent was the folks that we have and it ends up being we have three green card holders on our team. As far as ethnicities, we have on our team we have Indian, African-American, Korean, Chinese Pakistani, Moroccan and Hispanic people and that just kind of just makes up the people who helped us on a day-to-day basis,” she explains.

Phiogen was selected out of 670 companies to be in the health and nutrition category at SXSW.

“We did really well, but there was another company that also did really well. And so we were not selected for the pitch competition, which we were a little bummed about because I killed the pitch,” Burkhardt recalls.

But Phiogen is worthy of note, pitch competition or not. The new company spun off from research at Dr. Anthony Maresso’s TAILOR Labs, a personalized phage therapy center at Baylor College of Medicine, last June.

“Our whole goal is to create the next generation of anti-infectives,” says Burkhardt.

That means that the company is making alternatives to antibiotics, but as Burkhardt says, “We’re hoping to be better than antibiotics.”

How does it work? Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria.

“You can imagine them as the predators in the bacteria world, but they don't infect humans. They don't affect animals. They only infect bacteria,” Burkhardt explains.

Phiogen utilizes carefully honed bacteriophages to attack bacteria that include the baddies behind urinary tract infection (UTI), bacteremia (bacteria in the blood), and skin wounds.

The team’s primary focus is on treatment-resistant UTI. One example was a male patient who received Phiogen’s treatment thanks to an emergency-use authorization from the FDA. The gentleman had been suffering from an infection for 20 years. He was treated with Phiogen’s bacteriophage therapy for two weeks and completely cleared his infection with no recurrence.

Amanda Burkhardt is the CEO of Phiogen. Photo via LinkedIn

But Phiogen has its sights set well beyond the first maladies it’s treated. An oft-quoted 2016 report projected that by 2050, 10 million people a year will be dying from drug-resistant infections.

“A lot of scientists call it the silent pandemic because it's happening now, we're living in it, but there's just not as much being said about it because it normally happens to people who are already in the hospital for something else, or it's a comorbidity, but that's not always the case, especially when we're talking about urinary tract infections,” says Burkhardt.

Bacteriophages are important because they can be quickly trained to fight against resistant strains, whereas it takes years and millions of dollars to develop new antibiotics. There are 13 clinical trials that are currently taking place for bacteriophage therapy. Burkhardt estimates that the treatment method will likely gain FDA approval in the next five years.

“The FDA actually has been super flexible on progressing forward. Because they are naturally occurring, there's not really a safety risk with these products,” she says.

And Burkhardt, whose background is in life-science commercialization, says there’s no better place to build Phiogen than in Houston.

“You have Boston, you have the Bay [Area], and you have the Gulf Coast,” she says. “And Houston is cheaper, the people are friendlier, and it’s not a bad place to be in the winter.”

She also mentions the impressive shadow that Helix Park will cast over the ecosystem. Phiogen will move later this year to the new campus — one of the labs selected to join Baylor College of Medicine.

And as for that prize, chances are, it won’t be Phiogen’s last.

Houston student selected for prestigious health care research program

bright future

A Houston-area undergraduate student has been tapped for a prestigious national program that pairs early-career investigators with health research professionals.

Mielad Ziaee was selected for the National Institutes of Health’s 2023-2024 All of Us Research Scholar Program, which connects young innovators with experts "working to advance the field of precision medicine," according to a statement from UH. Ziaee – a 20-year-old majoring in psychology and minoring in biology, medicine and society who plans to graduate in 2025 — plans to research how genomics, or the studying of a person's DNA, can be used to impact health.

“I’ll be one of the ones that define what this field of personalized, precision medicine will look like in the future,” Ziaee said in a statement. “It’s exciting and it’s a big responsibility that will involve engaging diverse populations and stakeholders from different systems – from researchers to health care providers to policymakers.”

Ziaee aims to become a physician who can use an understanding of social health conditions to guide his clinical practice. At a young age, he was inspired to go into the field by his family's own experience.

According to UH, Ziaee is the oldest child of Iranian American immigrants. He saw firsthand the challenges of how language and cultural barriers can impact patients' access to and level of care.

“I think a lot of people define health as purely biological, but a lot of other factors influence our well-being, such as mental health, financial health, and even access to good food, medical care and the internet,” he said in a statement. “I am interested in seeing the relationship among all these things and how they impact our health. So far, a lot of health policies and systems have not really looked beyond biology.”

"I want everyone to have an equal chance to access health care and take charge of their well-being. We need to have the systems in place that let people do that,” he added.

Ziaee is already on his way to helping Houston-based and national health systems and organizations make headway in this area.

He was named as a student regent on the UH System Board of Regents last year, sits on the board of the Houston chapter of the American Red Cross, and is an Albert Schweitzer Fellow.

Last year he was a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention John R. Lewis scholar, for which he presented his research project about predicting food insecurity in pediatric clinical settings and recommendations to improve the assessment based off his summer research with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Prior to this, he completed a 10-week guided research experience using data visualization and predictive modeling techniques to assess food insecurity in the Third Ward.

“I just took every opportunity that came to me,” Ziaee said. “All my experiences connect with my central desire to increase health access and improve health care. I am very intentional about connecting the dots to my passion.”

Earlier this year, three UH student researchers were named 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). The projects were each awarded between about $750,000 to up to $1.5 million.

Houston tech entrepreneur expands energy data co. in Europe, continues to scale

houston innovators podcast episode 229

The technology that Amperon provides its customers — a comprehensive, AI-backed data analytics platform — is majorly key to the energy industry and the transition of the sector. But CEO Sean Kelly says he doesn't run his business like an energy company.

Kelly explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that he chooses to run Amperon as a tech company when it comes to hiring and scaling.

"There are a lot of energy companies that do tech — they'll hire a large IT department, they'll outsource a bunch of things, and they'll try to undergo a product themselves because they think it should be IP," he says on the show. "A tech company means that at your core, you're trying to build the best and brightest technology."

To Kelly, Amperon should be hiring in the same field as Google and other big tech companies that sit at the top of the market. And Kelly has done a lot of hiring recently. Recently closing the company's $20 million series B round last fall led by Energize Capital, Amperon has tripled its team in the past 14 months.

With his growing team, Kelly also speaks to the importance of partnerships as the company scales. Earlier this month, Amperon announced that it is replatforming its AI-powered energy analytics technology onto Microsoft Azure. The partnership with the tech giant allows Amperon's energy sector clients to use Microsoft's analytics stack with Amperon data.

And there are more collaborations where that comes from.

"For Amperon, 2024 is the year of partnerships," Kelly says on the podcast. "I think you'll see partnership announcements here in the next couple of quarters."

Along with more partners, Amperon is entering an era of expansion, specifically in Europe, which Kelly says has taken place at a fast pace.

"Amperon will be live in a month in 25 countries," he says.

While Amperon's technology isn't energy transition specific, Kelly shares how it's been surprising how many clean tech and climate tech lists Amperon has made it on.

"We don't brand ourselves as a clean tech company," Kelly says, "but we have four of the top six or eight wind providers who have all invested in Amperon. So, there's something there."

Amperon, which originally founded in 2018 before relocating to Houston a couple of years ago, is providing technology that helps customers move toward a lower carbon future.

"If you look at our customer base, Amperon is the heart of the energy transition. And Houston is the heart of the energy transition," he says.