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

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.

A new six-month accelerator program is looking to move the needle on the energy transition. Photo via greentownlabs.com

Houston organizations team up to accelerate startups with low-carbon solutions

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Attention, innovators: A new initiative in Houston is searching for startups whose offerings can help reduce global carbon emissions.

The Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator is a partnership involving Greentown Labs, the Electric Power Research Institute, Shell Oil, the City of Houston, and New York University's Urban Future Lab. The accelerator is seeking applications from startups that are advancing low-carbon hydrogen production, enhancing hydrogen storage and distribution, or providing business models for management of hydrogen supply chains. Applications are due February 9, 2022.

"If we can improve the devices and processes that will be used to make, transport, and store clean hydrogen in the future, it can become a cost-competitive fuel. At the same time, these advances can improve the capacity factor of renewable generation, producing multiple economic and climate benefits," Pat Sapinsley, managing director of cleantech initiatives at the Urban Future Lab, says in a news release.

The six-month accelerator will enable startups to collaborate with the Electric Power Research Institute, utilities, and Shell on tech development, feasibility studies, pilot projects, and other low-carbon efforts.

The institute and Shell will provide startups two routes within the accelerate: a path for validation of their technology and a path for demonstration of their technology.

"Accelerating low-carbon hydrogen technologies is essential to achieving global net-zero targets by 2050," says Neva Espinoza, the institute's vice president of energy supply and low-carbon resources.

Shell foresees hydrogen playing a bigger role in hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as heavy-duty trucking, marine, aviation, chemicals, steel, and cement. Julie Ferland, vice president of innovation excellence at Houston-based Shell Oil, says programs such as the new accelerator will be critical to fostering low-carbon energy.

Earlier this year, after visiting Greentown Labs' Houston location, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Hydrogen Energy Earthshot to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80 percent to $1 per kilogram by 2030.

"As the Energy Capital of the World, I believe it is our responsibility to continue Houston's legacy of energy innovation and develop the technologies and practices needed to decarbonize the global energy sector," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says. "Houston has the skilled workforce and infrastructure to develop clean hydrogen at scale, and Greentown Labs' Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator is a great example of the kind of partnerships we need to make it happen."

Greentown Labs is the largest climatech startup incubator in North America. The Somerville, Massachusetts-based incubator recently opened its Houston location.

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Houston university teams up with angel group to reach, upskill future investors

Through a new partnership with the Houston Angel Network and Houston Exponential, the University of Houston will help cultivate startup investors among UH alumni.

The partnership will bolster accredited early-stage investors and accelerate opportunities for aspiring startup investors, the university says in a news release.

“Investors play a vital role in the startup ecosystem and this initiative gives our alumni a rapid path to becoming angels. Our vision is to activate more investors with deep connections to UH who support world-class innovation in our community and beyond,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the university’s vice president for energy and innovation.

The partnership is based at UH’s Technology Bridge. Tech Bridge promotes tech commercialization, industrial partnerships, and startup development.

“Our founders are launching many exciting new companies, but they need better access to capital,” says Tanu Chatterji, associate director of startup development at UH. “This partnership will help us mobilize angel investors who want to support these innovators with knowledge and financial resources.”

UH alumni interested in participating in the new partnership should contact Chatterji at tchatte@uh.edu.

The angel network will lend its investing expertise to early-stage businesses in tech, energy, life sciences, consumer, and aerospace sectors. Meanwhile, tech startup incubator Houston Exponential will provide support for entrepreneurs and the startup ecosystem.

“This relationship is a testament to the collaborative spirit of Greater Houston’s business and academic communities,” says Mitra Miller, vice president of the Houston Angel Network, an organization for early-stage investors. “By leveraging the combined expertise and resources of our three organizations, we can increase the flow of early-stage capital in our region in support of great innovators and high-growth enterprises.”

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential, says the new initiative “promises to be a roadmap for investment education, and support for aspiring investors and entrepreneurs alike.”

“An active and educated investor base is an essential component of a thriving startup ecosystem,” says Branch.

Houston lab sees progress with breakthrough light-harvesting processes

Hi, tech

A groundbreaking Rice University lab has made further strides in its work to make harvesting light energy more efficient and stable.

Presented on the cover of a June issue of Science, a study from Rice engineer Aditya Mohite's lab uncovered a method to synthesize a high-efficiency perovskite solar cell, known as formamidinium lead iodide (FAPbI3), converting them into ultrastable high-quality photovoltaic films, according to a statement from Rice. Photovoltaic films convert sunlight into electricity.

The new process makes solar cells that are about 10 times more durable than traditional methods.

“Right now, we think that this is state of the art in terms of stability,” Mohite said in a statement. “Perovskite solar cells have the potential to revolutionize energy production, but achieving long-duration stability has been a significant challenge.”

The change come from "seasoning" the FAPbI3 with 2D halide perovskites crystals, which the Mohite lab also developed a breakthrough synthesis process for last year

The 2D perovskites helped make the FAPbI3 films more stable. The study showed that films with 2D perovskites deteriorated after two days of generating electricity, while those with 2D perovskites had not started to degrade after 20 days.

“FAPbI3 films templated with 2D crystals were higher quality, showing less internal disorder and exhibiting a stronger response to illumination, which translated as higher efficiency," Isaac Metcalf, a Rice materials science and nanoengineering graduate student and a lead author on the study, said in the statement.

Additionally, researchers say their findings could make developing light-harvesting technologies cheaper, and can also allow light-harvesting panels to be lighter weight and more flexible.

"Perovskites are soluble in solution, so you can take an ink of a perovskite precursor and spread it across a piece of glass, then heat it up and you have the absorber layer for a solar cell,” Metcalf said. “Since you don’t need very high temperatures ⎯ perovskite films can be processed at temperatures below 150 Celsius (302 Fahrenheit) ⎯ in theory that also means perovskite solar panels can be made on plastic or even flexible substrates, which could further reduce costs.”

Mohite adds this has major implications for the energy transition at large.

“If solar electricity doesn’t happen, none of the other processes that rely on green electrons from the grid, such as thermochemical or electrochemical processes for chemical manufacturing, will happen,” Mohite said. “Photovoltaics are absolutely critical.”

The Mohite lab's process for creating 2D perovskites of the ideal thickness and purity was published in Nature Synthesis last fall. At the time, Mohite said the crystals "hold the key to achieving commercially relevant stability for solar cells."

About a year ago, the lab also published its work on developing a scalable photoelectrochemical cell. The research broke records for its solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency rate.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

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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 a health tech data scientist, a CEO celebrating an international expansion, and a founder who won a big DOE prize.

Angela Wilkins, chief data scientist at Starling Medical

Angela Wilkins joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the intersection of data and health care. Photo courtesy

When most people hear about Houston startup Starling Medical, they might think about how much potential the medical device company has in the field of urinalysis diagnostics. But that's not quite where Angela Wilkins's head went.

Wilkins explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that when she met the company's co-founders, Hannah McKenney and Drew Hendricks, she recognized them as very promising startup leaders taking action on a real health care problem. Starling's device can collect urine and run diagnostics right from a patient's toilet.

"It was one of those things where I just thought, 'They're going to get a bunch of data soon,'" Wilkins says. "The opportunity is just there, and I was really excited to come on and build their AI platform and the way they are going to look at data."

For about a year, Wilkins supported the startup as an adviser. Now, she's working more hands on as chief data officer as the company grows. Read more.

Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon

Amperon officially expanded in Europe. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston-based, AI-powered electricity forecasting and analytics services company Amperon Holdings is live in Europe. The expansion, which Co-Founder and CEO Sean Kelly previously told InnovationMap about, is official, the company announced this month. In addition to the expansion, Amperon announced Jon Ecker as general manager, Europe, and Kelsey Hultberg as executive vice president, communications, and chief of staff.

Now, European companies that buy and sell energy in the renewable energy producers, financial institutions, and utilities markets can leverage Amperon's platform of AI and machine learning technologies to access short- and long-term forecasts for their individual meters and generation assets.

“As a warmer-than-expected June ushers in a hot summer, and increasing uncertainty looms for the calmer fall months due to the influx of wind and solar generation, we are eager to assist our European customers in navigating the power market volatility caused by heat waves, extreme weather events, and shifts in power usage across the region,” Kelly says in a news release. Read more.

Laureen Meroueh, founder of Hertha Metals

Hertha Metals, based in Conroe, won first place at the 2024 Summer Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Startup Pitch Competition. Photo via LinkedIn

Four startups from across the country won over $160,000 in cash prizes from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions earlier this month, and a Houston-area company claimed the top prize.

Hertha Metals, based in Conroe, won first place at the 2024 Summer Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Startup Pitch Competition. The program honors and supports clean energy innovators nominated by clean technology business incubators.

Hertha Metals was founded by Laureen Meroueh, a mechanical engineer and materials scientist, in 2022. Read more.