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

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.”

A project that would create the largest urban solar farm in the country just got the greenlight. Photo via Getty Images

Houston gets approval to build $70M solar farm on former landfill property

greenlight

A vacant landfill that for decades endangered and diminished Houston’s low-income Sunnyside neighborhood has gotten the green light for conversion into a solar energy farm.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Earth Day, April 22, that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had granted a permit for the $70 million Sunnyside Solar Farm, which was originally announced last year.

The project will be anchored by 70 megawatts of solar panels installed across 224 acres. The farm will produce enough energy to power 5,000 to 10,000 homes. The project also will feature a 2-megawatt community solar installation, an education hub, and an agricultural center

Image courtesy of the city of Houston

City officials say the project will be the largest urban solar farm in the country and will remove an estimated 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year.

“I am optimistic about the future of this land and the people who live in the resilient neighborhood that developed around this environmental injustice,” Turner says in a news release. “Most importantly, it will transform the built environment of a historically under-served and under-resourced community by bringing private investment to Sunnyside, a predominantly Black and brown community that struggles daily with historical inequities that have created present-day disparities.”

In conjunction with the project, 175 Houstonians will be trained at Houston Community College and Lone Star College for solar and solar-related jobs.

“We used an environmental justice lens to reimagine this landfill. And we made equity the central and most critical component of our site redevelopment plans for Sunnyside,” Turner says.

Sunnyside Energy plans to seek permission from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to connect to the electric grid serving the bulk of Texas.

The Sunnyside landfill opened in the 1930s; it was closed in the 1970s after high levels of lead were discovered at the site. The City of Houston owns the land and is leasing it to Sunnyside Energy, which will own and operate the solar farm, for $1. Sunnyside Energy is a subsidiary of Houston-based Wolfe Energy.

A report from RMI, a nonprofit that promotes clean energy, estimated that the more than 10,000 shuttered landfills across the U.S. could host 63 gigawatts of solar capacity, enough energy to power 7.8 million American homes.

The mayor announced the approval on Earth Day. Photo courtesy of the city of 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."

Mayor Sylvester Turner says this new smart city technology partner will help digitize and optimize waste operations. Photo via rubicon.com

City of Houston partners with digital waste, recycling solutions company

smart city tech

The City of Houston announced that it has entered into a three-year partnership with Kentucky-based Rubicon with the goal of improving its waste, recycling, and heavy-duty municipal fleet operations.

According to a statement, the city has installed the company's RUBICONSmartCity platform on the Solid Waste Management Department’s 391 vehicles, and has trained the workforce on using the SaaS software.

“Partnering with Rubicon will help our great city optimize its solid waste operations and make it possible for us to digitize our entire waste and recycling management system,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “The City of Houston is committed to providing the highest level of service to its residents and this partnership will allow us to provide better services, save taxpayer dollars, and deliver a better quality of life for Houstonians.”

RUBICONSmartCity is a cloud-based suite that will allow the department's workforce to track key metrics about pickup, including issues at the curb and recycling contamination, as well as information about its fleet of vehicles. The platform includes a mobile app, an onboard data collection device, and a web-based portal.

The city envisions that information collected by RUBICONSmartCity will enhance reporting tools used by 311 and give the department a better understanding of what's happening in the field.

“The City’s Department of Solid Waste can use this information to advise and educate residents around service scheduling, best practices for waste and recycling management, and reduce costly return trips,” Solid Waste Management Department Director Mark Wilfalk said in a statement. “These insights, alongside route optimization and digitization efforts, are set to deliver an optimal operation to the City of Houston.”

RUBICONSmartCity is used in more than 70 cities across the U.S., including San Antonio. The product was the focus of a 2021 Amazon documentary entitled "The Road to Zero Waste," which focused on Rubicon's work in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“Our partnership with the City of Houston is off to a fantastic start, as we were able to install our products and train the entire Solid Waste Department’s workforce in only 73 days, an incredibly fast turn for such an undertaking,” Michael Allegretti, Chief Strategy Officer at Rubicon, said in a statement. "This partnership comes at a critically important time, as Houston and other cities across the nation look to maintain, and ultimately expand, service levels.”

In August 2021, the City of Houston also launched HTX Collects, a mobile app aimed at helping residents keep track of weekly services, updates, and waste collection days. At that time, the city estimated that it collected curbside service for over 395,000 residential homes within the city limits.

The city tapped key partners for the initiative, including a Houston startup. Photo courtesy

City of Houston launches annual career development and internship program for young adults

for the kids

City officials and business leaders in Houston are recruiting employers to collectively offer at least 12,000 paid jobs and internships this summer for local 16- to 24-year-olds.

Organizers on March 8 kicked off this year’s Hire Houston Youth initiative. It encourages employers in the public, private, and philanthropic sectors to bring aboard youth for summertime jobs and internships.

One of the program's partner is Ampersand, a Houston-based startup and tech platform that has designed a career-readiness curriculum for this age group. In partnership with the City of Houston, Ampersand customized a portion of its curriculum to upskill and prepare young Houstonians for the workforce across 35 lessons, five modules, and four hours of content — all of which provide essential job skills ranging from email best practices to mental health management in the workplace.

Employers can sign up for Hire Houston Youth online. The deadline for youth to apply for jobs or internships through this program has been extended from March 11 to April 8.

“Employment plays a pivotal role in reducing gender, ethnic, racial, and other social inequalities,” Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “Therefore, providing meaningful employment experiences for our youth is in the best interest of all, including young people, their communities, and Houston as a whole.”

In 2021, as the city coped with the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hire Houston Youth offered more than 9,500 opportunities. This year, Turner hopes the program can produce at least 12,000 jobs and internships, and as many as 15,000.

The National League of Cities recently awarded a $150,000 grant to Hire Houston Youth. In addition to the grant, Houston will receive assistance from National League of Cities staff and other experts to advance the city’s efforts to expand STEM career opportunities for marginalized young people.

The unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. ranks as the highest among all age groups. In the pre-pandemic year of 2019, the national unemployment rate for the 16 to 24 age group stood at 8.4 percent. No other age group had an unemployment rate above 4.1 percent in 2019.

The jobless rate for people of color and lower-income people in this age group has historically been higher than the overall rate for that age group.

The pandemic exacerbated unemployment woes for 16- to 24-year-olds in the Houston area around the country. Data compiled by the Schultz Family Foundation and Mathematica shows that during the peak of the pandemic, youth unemployment rates in the Houston area ranged between a low of 12.6 percent from July to December 2020 and a high of 16.1 percent from January to June 2021.

The Measure of America project estimates that more than 4.1 million Americans in the 16-24 group are neither working nor attending school. In Harris County, 13.4 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds in Harris County met that definition in 2017, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

“The years 16-24 are crucial for the development of human capital — through activities such as education and workforce preparation that pay dividends in the form of higher wages, lower unemployment, and other benefits later in life. Yet even before the pandemic, many young people were disconnected from school and work and the economic opportunities that follow,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas says in a 2021 report.

The donation comes from Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund, a roughly $420 million initiative focusing on racially and ethnically diverse small business owners disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Photo via Getty Images

Wells Fargo donates $20M to Houston small businesses in underserved communities

pay day

More than 500 businesses in the Houston area will benefit from a $20 million donation made by Wells Fargo to the Houston Fund for Social Justice and Economic Equity.

The equity fund will distribute the money in the form of grants for the purchase of property, equipment, and other assets to support economic development in underserved communities throughout the region.

“Small businesses play an important role in the Houston economy, and it is a benefit for our city to provide every tool needed to help them succeed,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a Wells Fargo news release. “This Wells Fargo grant program will allow small business owners to innovate, expand, and evolve in a way that improves their investments while also maintaining our reputation as a great place for economic development and company growth.”

For more information about the Houston Equity Fund grants, visit houstonequityfund.com.

The $20 million donation comes from Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund, a roughly $420 million initiative focusing on racially and ethnically diverse small business owners who’ve been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Fostering an inclusive economic recovery and helping small businesses sustain themselves and grow in the wake of COVID-19 is a priority for us,” says Charlie Scharf, CEO of Wells Fargo. “As a company, we have a commitment to make the communities where we operate stronger, and to do it at a very local level.”

In the past, Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund has supported Houston small businesses through grants to LiftFund and the Houston Community College Foundation, and other local grants enabled nonprofits such as the University of Houston Foundation, Texas Black Expo, Impact Hub Houston, and the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans to serve entrepreneurs.

Money from the Open for Business Fund primarily benefits small businesses owned by Black, Hispanic, Asian American, and Native American entrepreneurs.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from cleantech to startup acceleration — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Kerri Smith, managing director of the Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator

Kerri Smith of the Rice Alliance joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Rice's Clean Energy Accelerator. Photo courtesy of Rice

As the managing director for the Rice Alliance for Entrepreneurship and Technology's Clean Energy Accelerator, Kerri Smith is focused not only on the program's cohorts but on supporting the Houston cleantech ecosystem as a whole. CEA works with Greentown Houston, which is just next door to the program's home at The Ion, and the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative.

"Rice Alliance has a strong history of demonstrating collaboration with a number of organizations," Smith says. "I think one of the primary benefits that we have in these collaborative opportunities is to ensure that we are collectively building a capable and diverse pipeline of talent to solve for these problems and provide them with access to experiencing all of the benefits of our ecosystem."

Smith shares more about what she's looking for in the second cohort of CEA on a recent Houston Innovators Podcast episode, as well as what she sees as Houston's role in the energy transition. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Trevor Best, co-founder and CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics

Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the growth of his cleantech startup. Photo courtesy of Syzygy

Trevor Best is gearing up to fundraise for and scale his cleantech startup, Syzygy Plasmonics. The company has also grown its team to 60 people and is preparing to move into a new 45,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Pearland this summer.

"What we're seeing is the market's appetite for our kind of technology — deep tech for decarbonization in energy and chemicals — is really high. If we want to meet global demand for our product, we need to get ready to scale," Best says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Best is keeping a close eye what the market will be looking for, and the interest seems to be in hydrogen as a clean energy solution, which has positioned Syzygy in a great place. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Muriel Foster, director of gBETA Houston

Muriel Foster, a native Houstonian, is the new director of gBETA Houston. Image via LinkedIn

A national startup accelerator has announced its fifth local cohort, which includes five Houston companies participating in the spring 2022 class, and the new leader that will oversee the program. Muriel Foster is the newly named director of gBETA Houston, which is designed to help guide early-stage startups find early customer traction, connect with mentors, and more.

“The five companies selected for the Spring 2022 cohort tackle unique problems that have propelled them to create a business that solves the issues they once faced," Foster says in a news release. "From public speaking, apparel comfort, and food delivery from underrepresented restaurant owners, these founders have found their niche and are ready to continue to make an enormous impact on the Houston ecosystem."

A Houston native, she has her master’s in public administration from Texas Southern University and a bachelor’s in marketing from Oklahoma State University. Her background includes work in the nonprofit sector and international business consulting in Cape Town, South Africa, and she's worked within programming at organizations such as MassChallenge, BLCK VC, and now gener8tor. Click here to read more.

Following $50M gift,Tilman Fertitta reveals goals for eponymous medical school at University of Houston

Q&A

As Houston’s most high-profile billionaire and owner of the posh 5-star Post Oak Hotel and Houston Rockets, Tilman J. Fertitta has become synonymous with over-the-top opulence and big-time entertainment.

But the CEO of the massive Feritta Entertainment empire’s latest move has nothing to do with penthouses or point guards, but rather a legacy, game-changing appropriation meant to aid his home state’s health.

The longtime UH board member and former chairman and his family have just pledged $50 million to the University of Houston College of Medicine. In turn, the new medical school has been christened the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine.

The projected school, upon completion. Rendering courtesy of University of Houston

This landmark gift aims to address the state’s critical primary care physician shortage, (especially in low-income and underserved communities), as well as attract innovation-focused scholars, UH notes.

Additionally, the grant is meant to further clinical and translational research, with an emphasis on population health, behavioral health, community engagement, and the social determinants of health, according to a press release.

Here is how the Fertitta family gift will be distributed:

  • $10 million funds five endowed chairs for faculty hires who are considered national stars in their fields with a focus on health care innovation. This portion of the gift will be matched one-to-one as part of the University’s “$100 Million Challenge” for chairs and professorships, doubling the endowed principal to $20 million.
  • $10 million establishes an endowed scholarship fund to support endowed graduate research stipends/fellowships for medical students.
  • $10 million will cover start-up costs for the Fertitta Family College of Medicine to enhance research activities including facilities, equipment, program costs and graduate research stipends/fellowships.
  • $20 million will create the Fertitta Dean’s Endowed Fund to support research-enhancing activities.

No stranger to writing big checks, Fertitta donated $20 million to UH Athletics — the largest individual donation ever — in 2016 to transform UH’s basketball arena into the now high-tech Fertitta Center.

CultureMap caught up with the CEO (who just sold his Golden Nugget gaming for $1.6 billion), best-selling author, and Billion Dollar Buyer to discuss his landmark gift.

CultureMap: Congratulations on this legacy grant, which has been a long time coming. What does this gift mean to you, now that it’s finally official?

Tilman Fertitta: This was a vision of our chancellors and, you know, I’m on my third, six-year term and not been the chairman for eight years — and we started working on this, seven, eight years ago.

To be able to be in the beginning and the nucleus, and the idea, and what we wanted, and to get the approval from Austin—to watch it come to fruition, how often does somebody get to do a naming gift at the same time they had a lot to do with the creation of the school? So, it was very special in my heart.

CM: Many know you as the CEO of a hospitality empire, author, and even TV personality. But not many know of your commitment to healthcare.


TF: I think there’s one thing in this world that we definitely should always be treated equally on, and that's that’s equal health care for all. This medical school will serve the whole community.

We’re trying to recruit students who want to be primary physicians who will take care of the community that we live in. It’s just something that was very important to me in my whole family.

CM: Academia, scholarship, and research aside, this could essentially be looked at as seed capital for a fledgling operation. Is that a fair assessment?

TF: I know where you’re going with this and yes, it’s no different than business.

I have the vision to know that being in nearly the third largest city in America and a top 100 university in the United States — as University of Houston is according to U.S. News & World Report — that I know what this is going to be in 50 years. It’s no different than looking at another business that you start and you can have the vision to see how successful it'll be in the years to come.

Being on the ground floor of the University of Houston Medical School and being a part of it from its inception, and to help the seed money that will attract other money, I know that in the years to come what a special nationwide medical school this is going to be — because it’s in one of the great cities of America.

So, to be a part of it today and still be a part of it when I’m not here 50 years from now, maybe even sooner than that [laughs], you know, it’s going to be something very special to always be attached to.

CM: Other Houston medical schools here have distinctions in pivotal research or groundbreaking procedures. Is there a specific direction you’d like UH Med to take, going forward?

TF: Honestly, you know, what I’ve been saying? There’s a significant shortage of primary care physicians, not only in the country, but in the state of Texas. We ranked number 47th in the nation.

What we need in the state of Texas, as well in Houston and everywhere, is primary care physicians to take care of your everyday people—and to see them to know if you need a specialist.

I hope that this medical school looks back and we see that they’re graduating more primary care physicians than any other university in the United States and that's our goal. We’re going to be a med school of the community.

CM: You have zero problem with issuing directives, Tilman. What’s your message to the first graduating class, the one that will initially benefit from this $50 million gold mine?

TF: Go out and take care of the people.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Creative Houston art duo unveils dreamy new tech world in downtown's hottest destination

simulation stimulation

Aclever, Houston-based duo has unveiled a new digital art experience at downtown’s hottest hub. Creative technologist Billy Baccam and multidisciplinary artist Alex Ramos, founders of Input Output Creative Media Lab, have launched “Simulation,” the first artist residency at Post Houston. The show runs through June 30.

The creative team has transformed part of POST Houston's X atrium into a creative media lab. There, Baccam and Ramos have experimented with various kinds of emerging technologies to prototype and develop art experiences.

Mediums in the show include projection mapping, 3D printing, body tracking, camera vision, augmented reality, LEDs, and computer simulation, per a press release.

The “Simulation” layout utilizes the glass wall as an interface for the public to experience the art. Internally, viewers can see an amalgamation of machinery, wires, gizmos, and gadgets similar to the inner workings of a computer.

Externally, viewers can explore and interact with the art through the glass wall via body tracking sensors, augmented reality via QR codes, and just by merely watching. Various books, movies, and other memorabilia have been scattered throughout the space to showcase inspiration on the subject matter of simulations and their influence on culture, a release notes.

“We’re super excited to be able to share the art we have diligently been working on for ‘Simulation,’” the team notes in a statement. “We’ve been able to explore a variety of new mediums such as 3D printing and augmented reality while also getting a chance to dive deeper into our previous works based on projection mapping, interactivity, and computer simulations. As we continue to create, learn, and iterate, the pieces will also evolve to reflect our growth. We thank the public for engaging with our work and bringing about moments of joy and wonder.”

For more information on the duo, visit www.inputoutput.space or @1nput0utput on Instagram.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.