The Center for Houston's Future is a part of a collaboration that has established a hub for hydrogen innovation. Image via Getty Images

A handful of organizations have joined forces to create a new hub for the advancement of clean hydrogen projects in Texas, Southwest Louisiana, and the surrounding Gulf Coast region.

The HyVelocity Hub announced last week that it is applying for U.S. Department of Energy Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub funding. GTI Energy, The Center for Houston’s Future, The University of Texas at Austin, Air Liquide, and Chevron are among the founding members of the HyVelocity Hub.

“The name ‘HyVelocity’ conveys the idea that we have a tremendous opportunity to accelerate the creation of a clean hydrogen market at the pace needed to meet aggressive decarbonization goals for communities in our nation and around the globe,” says Paula A. Gant, president and CEO of Illinois GTI Energy, in a news release. “We need hydrogen deployment at scale, and this hub will lay the foundation with complete end-to-end demonstrations of an integrated network, match supply and demand regionally or locally, and leverage existing infrastructure to deliver resilient, reliable, and sustainable clean energy.”

The Gulf Coast is already a leader in hydrogen production, per the release, and the region is home to a diverse array of energy resources, including hydrogen production facilities and pipelines, a large base of industrial energy consumers, and a skilled, technical workforce.

“We are pleased to be partnering with our colleagues at GTI Energy in creating HyVelocity Hub as the implementation platform for the shared vision of a Texas-sized global clean hydrogen ecosystem created by our collaborative stakeholder process," says Brett Perlman, CEO of The Center for Houston’s Future in the release. “The realization of this vision will be achieved faster with clean hydrogen hub funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”

Earlier this year, the Center for Houston's Future released a report that outlined what it will take for Houston to establish itself as a hub for hydrogen innovation as well as the impact this industry can have on Houston's economy. The HyVelocity Hub will engage environmental and social justice organizations in the Gulf Coast region to grow the local economy and create jobs in disadvantaged communities, according to the release.

“Accelerating clean energy technologies is vital to addressing global climate challenges as well as local air quality, and Port Houston is excited to participate in advancing these efforts with the HyVelocity Hub,” says Rich Byrnes, chief infrastructure officer of Port Houston, in the release. “The Hub will benefit trucking and maritime sectors, and our communities tremendously with cleaner transportation, lower emissions, new jobs, and both social and environmental equity."

There's a lot of clean tech potential in hydrogen — and Houston might be the place to lead the way. Image via Getty Images

New report shows why now is the time for Houston to emerge as a hub for hydrogen innovation

clean energy

Houston, known for being the energy capital of the world, has potential to lead innovation within the hydrogen space, and a new report lays out how.

The report, which was released today by the Center for Houston’s Future, is titled "Houston as the epicenter of a global clean hydrogen hub." The information explains how Houston-based assets can be leveraged to lead a global clean hydrogen innovation.

“The Houston region has the talent, expertise and infrastructure needed to lead the global energy transition to a low-carbon world. Clean hydrogen, alongside carbon capture, use, and storage are among the key technology areas where Houston is set up to succeed and can be an example to other leading energy economies around the world,” says Bobby Tudor, chair of the Greater Houston Partnership’s Houston Energy Transition Initiative, in a news release.

Together, GHP's HETI and over 100 experts representing 70 companies and organizations produced the report, along with McKinsey and Company, which donated significant research and economic analyses. Here are some highlights from the study, according to the release:

  • Clean hydrogen production could grow 5 times over current hydrogen production by 2050.
  • The establishment of a clean hydrogen industry could create 180,000 jobs (direct, indirect and induced) statewide, while adding $100 billion to Texas' GDP growth.
  • Globally, a Houston-led clean hydrogen hub could abate 220 million tons (MT) tons of carbon emissions by 2050.

“This report gives additional weight to the already strong case that Houston is uniquely positioned to lead a transformational clean hydrogen hub with global impact,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We can also deliver economic growth, create jobs and cut emissions across Houston and the Gulf Coast, including in underserved communities.”

The Houston region already produces and consumes a third of the nation’s hydrogen, per the release, and has more than 50 percent of the country’s dedicated hydrogen pipelines. These assets can be utilized to accelerate a transition to clean hydrogen, and the report lays out how.

"Using this roadmap as a guide and with Houston’s energy sector at the lead, we are ready to create a new clean hydrogen economy that will help fight climate change as it creates jobs and economic growth,” says Center for Houston’s Future CEO Brett Perlman. “We are more than ready, able and willing to take on these goals, as our record of overwhelming success in energy innovation and new market development shows.”

Two Houston-based companies made it into this new clean tech accelerator. Photo via greentownlabs.com

Houston clean tech startup accelerator announces 7 companies to inaugural cohort

seeing green

The Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator announced its inaugural class of clean tech startups — two of which hail from right here in Hosuton.

In all, seven startups have been chosen to participate this year in the Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator, which was announced in November. The six-month accelerator program offers collaboration and engagement opportunities with the Electric Power Research Institute and its member utilities, as well as with Shell. Through the accelerator, the institute and Shell will provide startups with two innovation paths: a technology validation track and a technology demonstration track.

The accelerator — part of the Green Go program, affiliated with Greentown Labs — is aimed at coming up with innovations in low-carbon hydrogen production, storage, and distribution.

“Accelerating low-carbon hydrogen technologies is an essential part of achieving global net-zero targets by 2050,” Neva Espinoza, vice president of energy supply and low-carbon resources at the Electric Power Research Institute, says in a news release.

The inaugural LCHA cohort includes:

  • Advanced Ionics, based in Milwaukee, is enabling green hydrogen production without the green premium.
  • Arco Technologies from Bologna, Italy, is developing a proprietary Anion Exchange Membrane electrolyzer with the lowest capital expenditures and operating expenses possible today.
  • Based in Manchester in the United Kingdom, Clean Power is developing a novel, low-cost, highly durable hydrogen polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell delivering zero-emission electricity.
  • Element Resources, based in Houston, is enabling compressed hydrogen storage tank technology.
  • Another local company, Smartpipe Technologies is developing a robust self-monitored repurposed pipeline system for hydrogen with minimal environmental disruption.
  • SPEC Sensors from California is creating a robust and reliable meshed sensor network for hydrogen leak detection and line-monitoring systems.
  • Canadian company RUNWITHIT Synthetics is creating a live, digital twin modeling platform that generates decision-support data for regional hydrogen-demand scenarios.

Element Resources, which produces hydrogen from renewables for mobility, power production, and energy storage, is collaborating with Zhifeng Ren, M.D. Anderson chair professor in physics and director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston.

The other Houston startup, Smartpipe Technologies, announced earlier this month that Canadian pipeline company Enbridge had made a $6.6 million investment in the startup.

For 2022, the accelerator received applications from 88 startups in 18 countries. The five other participants this year are from California; Wisconsin; Alberta, Canada; Italy; and the United Kingdom.

Aside from the Electric Power Research Institute, Shell USA, and Greentown, the accelerator’s partners are the City of Houston and the Urban Future Lab at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering.

“Creating a robust hydrogen economy will require a systems-oriented approach and unparalleled cooperation between corporate partners and emerging companies,” says Ryan Dings, chief operating officer and general counsel at Greentown Labs.

Greentown operates startup incubators in Somerville, Massachusetts, and Houston.

At Greentown Houston's first anniversary event, Mayor Sylvester Turner says he wants Houston to be a hub for hydrogen innovation. Photo via GreentownLabs/Twitter

Houston has all the ingredients to be a major hub for hydrogen innovation, mayor says

seeing green

The government is gearing up to dole out billions of dollars in funding to support innovation within hydrogen — and the city of Houston wants a chunk of that cash.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which was announced by the The U.S. Department of Energy to seek out opportunities in hydrogen, includes $8 billion to go toward establishing Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs. At Greentown Houston's first anniversary event, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced he's determined to position the city as one of those hubs.

"Houston and the Gulf Coast are ideally suited to scale up and become a leader in the hydrogen economy," Mayor Turner says. "We have the knowledge, the workforce, and infrastructure to produce clean hydrogen."

"The Gulf Coast has the nation's largest concentration of hydrogen production assets, dedicated hydrogen pipeline infrastructure, and many industrial hydrogen customers," he continues. "I am confident we have the tools in our toolbox at our disposal right here in Texas — and especially right here in Houston — to lead the global energy transition initiative."

The city has made other efforts to advance Houston as an energy transition leader, including the Greater Houston Partnership establishing the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, led by Executive Director Jane Stricker.

"We have the right assets, the right infrastructure — all of that exists. This is where all of the big investment decisions get made in the energy industry," Stricker says on Greentown's panel that followed Mayor Turner's address.

She continues, adding that something that should be top of mind for the energy industry and local universities is the workforce.

"If we're going to create 600,000 jobs in Houston over the next 30 years through this energy transition — and that's what we need to do — we need to be thinking about what those jobs are," she says on the panel.

Greentown's Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator, which kicked off earlier this month, is another ongoing initiative in collaboration with the city to support innovation within hydrogen and low-carbon technologies.

"In Houston, we dream big, and make big things happen," Mayor Turner says on the future of Houston as a leader in this space. "When we play as a team, we do well."

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Looking back: Top 5 most-read Houston research-focused stories of 2021

2022 in review

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.