Houston-based Fervo Energy shared the results of its commercial pilot project with Google. Photo via fervoenergy.com

A Houston energy startup has announced the news that every early-stage company wants to get to shout from the rooftops: the technology works.

Fervo Energy announced this week that its commercial pilot project has resulted in continuous carbon-free geothermal energy production. The full-scale commercial pilot, Project Red, is in northern Nevada and made possible through a 2021 partnership with Google.

“By applying drilling technology from the oil and gas industry, we have proven that we can produce 24/7 carbon-free energy resources in new geographies across the world," Tim Latimer, Fervo Energy CEO and co-founder, says in a news release. "The incredible results we share today are the product of many years of dedicated work and commitment from Fervo employees and industry partners, especially Google."

The goal of the partnership is to power Google’s Cloud region in Las Vegas with Fervo's geothermal-generated power.

“Achieving our goal of operating on 24/7 carbon-free energy will require new sources of firm, clean power to complement variable renewables like wind and solar,” adds Michael Terrell, senior director for energy and climate at Google. “We partnered with Fervo in 2021 because we see significant potential for their geothermal technology to unlock a critical source of 24/7 carbon-free energy at scale, and we are thrilled to see Fervo reach this important technical milestone.”

In honor of the announcement, Wednesday, July 19, was celebrated as the inaugural Fervo Energy Technology Day.

Fervo Energy celebrated at the Ion. Photo via Fervo Energy/LinkedIn

Fervo’s unique horizontal drilling technology has made an unprecedented accomplishment with Project Red, which has also proven the reliability and capacity of geothermal energy to supply over 20 percent of country's power needs, the company explains in its news release.

“Power systems modeling confirms that geothermal can be a critical player in a fully decarbonized grid," says Jesse Jenkins, assistant professor and leader of the Zero-carbon Energy systems Research and Optimization lab at Princeton University, in the release. "Fervo’s successful commercial pilot takes next-generation geothermal technology from the realm of models into the real world and starts us on a path to unlock geothermal’s full potential.”

Fervo has started work on its first greenfield development in southwest Utah, which is adjacent to the U.S. Department of Energy's Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE).

Last year, Fervo raised $138 million to further develop its technology. The series C round was led by California-based investment firm DCVC, with participation from six new investors. In April, Fervo Energy secured the $10 million strategic investment from Devon Energy Corporation (NYSE: DVN). The deal created a partnership between the two entities.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Criterion Energy Partners is aiming to be a next-gen energy company. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup gears up to deliver geothermal energy

ready to drill

Sean Marshall and Danny Rehg founded Criterion Energy Partners in 2020 with the hope that geothermal energy could be the cleaner, safer wave of the future. Less than three years later, the team is close to making their plan a reality thanks to a geothermal well that they hope to drill this year.

Entrepreneurship wasn’t always part of the plan for either partner. When Marshall enrolled in the MBA program at Rice University’s Jones School of Business in 2016, he had a successful career at Credit Suisse and had his eye set on a future political career. But then he met classmate Rehg, whose background was in petroleum engineering. Their wives were both attorneys in the Houston district attorney’s office and the couples became fast friends. They also realized that, as Marshall now puts it, Rehg knew how to drill wells and he knew how to make deals.

In the ensuing years, both Rehg and Marshall's careers evolved and, eventually, the pair started looking for other opportunities. That’s when they read an article in Rolling Stone about geothermal energy.

“It was really a place where it really felt like this was something we were put here to do,” says Marshall.

Marshall and Rehg spent the ensuing months “like rats in a dumpster” learning about the players and opportunities in the geothermal industry and built from there. They learned about Pleasant Bayou Power Plant, a 1989 geothermal energy project based in Brazoria County that was backed by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Last summer, Criterion Energy Partners, a member of Greentown Houston, closed on a 10,000-acre lease around the site of Pleasant Bayou.

"We hope by the end of this year we will be generating electrons,” says Marshall.

Though the company has a patented technology that connects wells to the grid, called Criterion Geothermal System, Marshall says that some of the best advice he’s gotten was, “Don’t fall in love with your technology; fall in love with the problem.” The 2021 Texas freeze reminded the founders what that was.

“People were looking for cleaner, lower-emission power sources and [there was] a need for energy resiliency,” says Marshall, explaining that the freeze created an ideal situation for the company, as people began to think more outside the grid.

The year 2022 was a big one for Criterion Energy Partners. Oil and gas powerhouse Patterson-UTI invested in the company, followed by funding from the Department of Energy. The money not only allowed Criterion Energy Partners to lease their land, they are also now paying 12 salaries, including those of the founders. The team offices in The Cannon’s Esperson coworking space.

“Our mission is to make geothermal commercially viable everywhere,” says Marshall. “I still believe in that.”

However, Criterion Energy Partners may be even bigger than proving an alternative energy source. Marshall says that geothermal is the foundation on which they are building “a next-generation energy company.” Criterion Energy Partners could be the more stable basis for a whole new energy system.

Sean Marshall and Danny Rehg founded Criterion Energy Partners in 2020. Photos courtesy

The future of geothermal energy is here — and just got a big payday. Photo via Getty Images

Houston company raises $138M for next-generation geothermal energy

seeing green

Houston-based startup Fervo Energy has picked up $138 million in funding to propel its creation and operation of carbon-free power plants fueled by geothermal energy.

Fervos says the series C round will help it complete power plants in Nevada and Utah and evaluate new projects in California, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico, as well as in other countries.

California-based investment firm DCVC led the round, with participation from six new investors:

  • Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPP Investments), which contributed $20 million to the round
  • Liberty Energy
  • Macquarie
  • Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment
  • Impact Science Ventures
  • Prelude Ventures

These six existing investors also chipped in money:

  • Capricorn’s Technology Impact Fund
  • Breakthrough Energy Ventures, led by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates
  • Congruent Ventures
  • 3X5 Partners
  • Helmerich & Payne
  • Elemental Excelerator

Since being founded in 2017, Fervo has amassed $177 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. The company employs 30 people.

Equipped with technology such as horizontal drilling and fiber-optic sensing, Fervo is tapping into reservoirs of hot rock beneath the earth’s surface to produce clean geothermal power.

“Power buyers are interested in geothermal power because they are actively looking for reliable energy sources that can address climate change and rising energy prices,” Tim Latimer, CEO of Fervo, says in a news release. “Our mission is to meet that growing demand by putting gigawatts of 24/7 carbon-free energy on the grid. This latest investment enables us to execute on those ambitious plans.”

In 2021, Fervo announced the world’s first corporate agreement to develop geothermal — a project to power Google’s data centers in Nevada. Also, the company recently signed a purchase agreement with East Bay Community Energy, a California-based provider of clean energy.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, geothermal holds the potential to power tens of millions of American homes and businesses. In 2021, geothermal represented about 0.4 percent of total U.S. electricity generation and about 2 percent of electricity generation from renewable energy, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says.

“Fervo is the right company at the right time,” says Matt Trevithick, a partner at DCVC. “The United States needs 200 [gigawatts] of reliable clean power to achieve a zero-carbon electricity grid. Fervo is poised to make geothermal as important as solar and wind to our energy future.”

Fervo’s partners include Houston-based Schlumberger, the federal Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), and the federal Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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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.