The UH team is 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. Photo via Getty Images

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.

The research outfit says North America leads global AI growth in oil and gas, with Houston playing a pivotal role. Photo via Getty Images

Report: Houston rises as emerging hub for $6B global AI in oil and gas industry

eyes on ai

Houston is emerging as a hub for the development of artificial intelligence in the oil and gas industry — a global market projected to be worth nearly $6 billion by 2028.

This fresh insight comes from a report recently published by ResearchAndMarkets.com. The research outfit says North America leads global AI growth in oil and gas, with Houston playing a pivotal role.

“With AI-driven innovation at its core, the oil and gas industry is set to undergo a profound transformation, impacting everything from reservoir optimization to asset management and energy consumption strategies — setting a new standard for the future of the sector,” says ResearchAndMarkets.com.

The research company predicts the value of the AI sector in oil and gas will rise from an estimated $3.2 billion in 2023 and $3.62 billion in 2024 to $5.8 billion by 2028. The report divides AI into three categories: software, hardware, and hybrids.

As cited in the report, trends that are sparking the explosion of AI in oil and gas include:

  • Stepped-up use of data
  • Higher demand for energy efficiency and sustainability
  • Automation of repetitive tasks
  • Optimization of exploration and drilling
  • Enhancement of safety

“The oil and gas industry’s ongoing digitization is a significant driver behind … AI in the oil and gas market. Rapid adoption of AI technology among oilfield operators and service providers serves as a catalyst, fostering market growth,” says ResearchAndMarkets.com.

The report mentions the Open AI Energy Initiative as one of the drivers of increased adoption of AI in oil and gas. Baker Hughes, C3 AI, Microsoft, and Shell introduced the initiative in February 2021. The initiative enables energy operators, service providers, and vendors to create sharable AI technology for the oil and gas industry.

Baker Hughes and C3 AI jointly market AI offerings for the oil and gas industry.

Aside from Baker Hughes, Microsoft, and Shell, other companies with a significant Houston presence that are cited in the AI report include:

  • Accenture
  • BP
  • Emerson Electric
  • Google
  • Halliburton
  • Honeywell
  • Saudi Aramco
  • Schlumberger
  • TechnipFMC
  • Weatherford International
  • Wood

Major AI-related trends that the report envisions in the oil and gas sector include the:

  • Digital twins for asset modeling
  • Autonomous robotics
  • Advanced analytics for reservoir management
  • Cognitive computing for decision-making
  • Remote monitoring and control systems

“The digitization trend within the oil and gas sector significantly propels the AI in oil and gas market,” says the report.

The project will focus on testing 5G networks for software-centric architectures. Photo via Getty Images

Rice lands federal funding for new 5G testing framework

money moves

A team of Rice University engineers has secured a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to develop a new way to test 5G networks.

The project will focus on testing 5G networks for software-centric architectures, according to a statement from Rice. The funds come from the NTIA's most recent round of grants, totaling about $80 million, as part of the $1.5 billion Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund. Other awards went to Virginia Tech, Northeastern University, DISH Wireless, and more.

The project at Rice will be led by Rahman Doost-Mohammady, an assistant research professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Ashutosh Sabharwal, the Ernest Dell Butcher Professor of Engineering and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Santiago Segarra, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and an expert in machine learning for wireless network design, is also a co-principal investigator on this project.

"Current testing methodologies for wireless products have predominantly focused on the communication dimension, evaluating aspects such as load testing and channel emulation,” said Doost-Mohammady said in a statement. “But with the escalating trend toward software-based wireless products, it’s imperative that we take a more holistic approach to testing."

The new framework will be used to "assess the stability, interoperability, energy efficiency and communication performance of software-based machine learning-enabled 5G radio access networks (RANs)," according to Rice, known as ETHOS.

Once created, the team of researchers will use the framework for extensive testing using novel machine learning algorithms for 5G RAN with California-based NVIDIA's Aerial Research Cloud (ARC) platform. The team also plans to partner with other industry contacts in the future, according to Rice.

“The broader impacts of this project are far-reaching, with the potential to revolutionize software-based and machine learning-enabled wireless product testing by making it more comprehensive and responsive to the complexities of real-world network environments,” Sabharwal said in the statement. “By providing the industry with advanced tools to evaluate and ensure the stability, energy efficiency and throughput of their products, our research is poised to contribute to the successful deployment of 5G and beyond wireless networks.”

Late last year, the Houston location of Greentown Labs also landed funds from the Department of Commerce. The climatetech startup incubator was named to of the Economic Development Administration's 10th cohort of its Build to Scale program and will receive $400,000 with a $400,000 local match confirmed.

Houston-based nonprofit accelerator, BioWell, also received funding from the Build to Scale program.
After winning CodeLaunch last year, Matt Bonasera, enterprise architect at E360, looks forward to the future of the energy tech company. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Growing Houston energy tech company aims to improve building energy efficiency, air quality

A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

Houston-based energy efficiency company Energy 360 is working to balance what is often viewed as a tradeoff between high quality clean air and energy efficiency within corporate buildings.

E360 is a subsidiary of InTech Energy, a software company that provides a variety of energy efficiency solutions for commercial spaces. The enterprise architect of E360, Matt Bonasera, says the platform functions as an energy management system as it monitors air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and can adjust electricity usage among a host of other outputs.

“We are trying to holistically look at each building instead of just looking at it purely from the energy efficiency perspective or purely from looking at it from a health perspective,” Bonasera says.

Bonasera says E360 is the “last mile” in the energy transition, ensuring companies stick to their cost and energy-saving tactics after implementing them via consistent monitoring. E360 also helps users acquire energy efficiency grants from the U.S. government, using the platform to keep corporations accountable to their energy-saving goals.

“The market is really desperate for energy efficiency and there’s a lot of low hanging fruit out there. Only 10 percent of buildings have any energy efficiency mechanisms whatsoever,” Bonasera shares.

Bonasera says E360 predominantly works with corporations that own their own commercial space, particularly charter schools, churches, and Native American reservations. Though the platform is designed to save building-owners money and can assist commercial subletters, Bonasera says E360’s users tend to have a personal interest in their own air quality and emissions, prompting them to use the system.

Bonasera says E360 has the potential to dramatically improve the learning environment in schools since contracting with Stafford ISD and several charter schools. After implementing E360’s air quality monitoring and purifying system, Bonasera said schools experienced a significant drop in absenteeism.

“If you just improve the air quality in the building, students will do better, they will have better grades and we will have better outcomes,” Bonasera says.

After initially rolling their product out in California, Bonasera says E360 is gaining serious traction in the South, particularly in Texas. Following the devastating Winter Storm Uri, Bonasera says there has been increased interest in systems like E360 as Texans are hyper-aware of the delicate state of the energy grid.

“In Texas people are looking for ways to be more energy efficient and self-sufficient and this is a way that we help them,” Bonasera shares.

E360 won the top prize at CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, in March 2023 and Bonasera says he is excited about what the future holds as they continuously release new updates to the platform.

“I think we’re at an inflection point in the company and I think this is going to be a really pivotal year for us in growth,” Bonasera says.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Meet the new arrivals at Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Greentown Labs

9 startups join Houston climatech accelerator to tackle carbon capture, energy efficiency, and more

new to hou

Greentown Labs closed out the second quarter with the addition of 17 startups, and just over half are collaborating with the Houston location.

The technology represented by the new additions span the industries of energy, agriculture, and manufacturing, with a focus on carbon capture, electrical usage efficiency, and resource accessibility.

Carbon capture

Two of the newest Houston members, Capture6 and C-Quester, are also part of the Carbon2Value Initiative, a global partnership between the Greentown Labs, Urban Future Lab in New York, and Fraunhofer, headquartered in Michigan. C2V focuses on accelerating technology solutions that capture carbon dioxide for conversion into value-adding products and services.

Similar to the way a sponge is moistened and later wrung out, C-Quester pulls CO2 from flue gas into a temperature-sensitive material that can be heated later to release carbon, making the storage and transport of CO2 easier to manage.

Capture6 uses CO2 pulled from the atmosphere through their Direct Air Capture technology in combination with water treatment methodologies to remove excess salinity from saltwater and brine, resulting in greater freshwater recovery, usable elements for a variety of industries, and carbonates transformed into mineralized form to prevent continued carbon emissions.

Energy efficiency

The Helix MICRA filters created by Helix Earth Technologies can remove CO2 from power plants and other pollutants commonly encountered in the shipping industry. The filtering technology, initially developed for NASA, also dehumidifies air conditioning systems for more efficient energy use.

H2PRO uses its water-splitting technology, E-TAC, to produce green hydrogen in a two-step process that requires less energy to perform than the more common process of electrolysis with improved safety aspects.

Steam production and distribution get an upgrade with Imperium Technologies, the first electromechanical solution that enables previously unseen systems monitoring for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, on average.

With a keen focus on predictive insights, eologix deploys smart sensors to give operators advance warning of situations that could cause rotor imbalances to keep wind turbines – and the energy they produce – optimized.

Resource accessibility

NW NA supports the goals of stability, predictability, and accessibility of electric-powered vehicle use with its high-power EV-charging station, mobile electricity storage units, and renewable energy measurement and forecasting tool.

From the Metaversity under development, to its oil and gas line leak detection systems, Kauel goes all-in on AI for its clients, even helping children with kinesthetic rehabilitation through augmented and virtual reality programs.

Finally, SkyH2O brings fresh, clean water to areas with limited access to existing infrastructure or natural water resources for commercial, military, and industrial use.

Another eight startups join the cohort named above as members of the Greentown Labs Boston location: Capro-X, Carbon2Stone, Cottage, Dioxycle, enaDyne, Global Algae Innovations, Terrafixing, and Thola.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

DivInc is bringing another new accelerator program to Houston — this one is focused on clean energy. Photo via DivInc.com

Chevron, Microsoft back Houston-based clean energy program for BIPOC and female founders

ready to grow

A Texas-based accelerator is bringing its third diversity-focused program to Houston.

DivInc, a startup accelerator originating in Austin and established for people of color and women entrepreneurs, has announced that the title sponsors for the inaugural Clean Energy Accelerator are Chevron and Microsoft. The new program will join DivInc's existing accelerators — Women in Tech and Sports Tech — at the Ion.

"With Houston known as the energy capital of the world, DivInc has the opportunity to provide a pipeline of women, black, and latino-led high-growth, high-impact startups focused on clean energy," says Ashley DeWalt, DivInc Houston's managing director, in a news release. "We see this initiative ultimately driving a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive ecosystem within this clean energy transition sector for generations to come."

Applications for the Spring 2023 Clean Energy Accelerator are due today, February 10, according to the website. Startups accepted into the program should be led by BIPOC and women founders committed to working 10 to 15 hours per week during the 12 week program, which will start April 10.

The founders should be "working to shift the energy sector in the areas of clean energy production, energy storage and transmission, energy efficiency, carbon economy, and sustainable cities," per the release. In addition to the two title sponsors, the new program is also supported by Houston Premier Partners, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Verizon, The Ion, and Mercury.

"With a booming startup industry, a commitment to innovation, and a diverse workforce, Houston and organizations like DivInc are poised to play a vital leadership role and operate as a powerful force for energy progress," says Jim Gable, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, in the release.

The cohort, which will accept up to 10 companies, will work one-on-one with both the Microsoft and Chevron teams, as well as have access to DivInc's network of mentors and curriculum. Once the selected companies have completed the program, they will each receive $10,000 in non-dilutive seed funding.

"We are committed to enabling organizations in the clean energy transition while mindful of millions still without access to energy," said Darryl Willis, Corporate Vice President, Energy Industry at Microsoft. "This collaboration with DivInc and Chevron to support underserved entrepreneurs advancing the world's clean energy needs speaks to this climate commitment as well as diversity, equity and inclusion."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.