Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon, CEO of Gold H2, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Gold H2

Using microbes to sustainably unlock low-cost hydrogen sounds like the work of science fiction, but one Houston company is doing just that.

Gold H2, a spin-off company from Cemvita, has bioengineered subsurface microbes to use in wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen. The technology was piloted two years ago by Cemvita, and now, as its own company with a new CEO, it's safe to say Gold H2's on its way.

"First of all, that was groundbreaking," Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon, CEO of Gold H2, says of the 2022 pilot in the Permian Basin, "to be able to use bugs to produce hydrogen within a couple of days."

"2024 is supposed to be the year where Gold H2 takes off," Sekhon, who joined the company in April, tells the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It was one of those opportunities that I couldn't turn down. I had been following the company. I thought, 'here is this innovative tech that's on the verge of providing a ground-breaking solution to the energy transition — what better time to join the team.'"

Sekhon shares on the show how his previous roles at NextEra Energy Resources and Hess have prepared him for Gold H2. Specifically, as a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team, he says he was tasked with figuring out what the energy industry looks like in the next five, 10, and 20 years.

"Green hydrogen was a huge buzz, but one of the things I realized when I started looking at green hydrogen was that it's very expensive," Sekhon says. "I wanted to look at alternatives."

This journey led him to what Cemvita was doing with gold hydrogen, Sekhon says, explaining that the ability to use biotechnology to provide a new revenue stream from the mostly used up wells struck him as something with major potential.

"The idea of repurposing existing oil and gas assets to become hydrogen assets, leveraging current infrastructure to drive down overall deliver costs — to me I thought, 'wow, if they can make this works, that's brilliant,'" he says.

Now, as CEO, Sekhon gets to lead the company toward these goals, which include expanding internationally. He explains on the show that Gold H2 is interested in expanding to any part of the world where there's interest in implementing their biotech. In order to support the growth, Sekhon says they are looking to raise funding this year with plans for an additional round, if needed, in 2025.

"When we compare our tech to the rest of the stack, I think we blow the competition out of the water," Sekhon says, explaining that Gold H2's approach to gold hydrogen development is novel when you look at emerging technology in the space. "We're using a biological process — cheap bugs that eat oil for a living."

Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon, who previously held roles at companies such as NextEra Energy Resources and Hess, was named CEO of Gold H2. Photo courtesy of Gold H2

Exclusive: Houston hydrogen spinout names energy industry veteran as CEO

good as gold

Cleantech startup Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based energy biotech company Cemvita, has named oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as its CEO.

Sekhon previously held roles at companies such as NextEra Energy Resources and Hess. Most recently, he was a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team.

Gold H2 uses microbes to convert oil and gas in old, uneconomical wells into clean hydrogen. The approach to generating clean hydrogen is part of a multibillion-dollar market.

Gold H2 spun out of Cemvita last year with Moji Karimi, co-founder of Cemvita, leading the transition. Gold H2 spun out after successfully piloting its microbial hydrogen technology, producing hydrogen below 80 cents per kilogram.

The Gold H2 venture had been a business unit within Cemvita.

“I was drawn to Gold H2 because of its innovative mission to support the U.S. economy in this historical energy transition,” Sekhon says in a news release. “Over the last few years, my team [at NextEra] was heavily focused on the commercialization of clean hydrogen. When I came across Gold H2, it was clear that it was superior to each of its counterparts in both cost and [carbon intensity].”

Gold H2 explains that oil and gas companies have wrestled for decades with what to do with exhausted oil fields. With Gold H2’s first-of-its-kind biotechnology, these companies can find productive uses for oil wells by producing clean hydrogen at a low cost, the startup says.

“There is so much opportunity ahead of Gold H2 as the first company to use microbes in the subsurface to create a clean energy source,” Sekhon says. “Driving this dynamic industry change to empower clean hydrogen fuel production will be extremely rewarding.”

In 2022, Gold H2 celebrated its successful Permian Basin pilot and raised early-stage funding. In addition to Gold H2, Cemvita also spun out a resource mining operation called Endolith. In a podcast episode, Karimi discussed Cemvita's growth and spinout opportunities.

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Houston-area schools score spots on of annual list of top universities for patents issued

new report

The University of Houston System reigns as the patent king among colleges and universities in the Houston area.

A new list from the National Academy of Inventors puts UH in a 63rd-place tie — with 27 utility patents issued in 2023 — among 100 recognized schools. As the university explains, utility patents are among the world’s most valuable assets because they give inventors exclusive commercial rights to produce and use their technology.

Other schools in the Houston area that show up on the list are the Texas A&M University System, tied for 30th place with 66 patents, and Rice University, tied for 93rd place with 14 patents.

The University of Rochester in New York shares the No. 63 spot with UH.

“This ranking highlights the commitment of our faculty researchers, who explore frontiers of knowledge to enhance the well-being of our society,” Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at UH, says in a news release. “At UH, we are committed to creating new technologies that drive innovation, to boost Houston’s economy and tackle some of the most perplexing problems facing us.”

Among the UH discoveries that received utility patents last year are:

  • Methods of targeting cancer stem cells
  • Materials, systems, and methods for carbon capture and conversion.
  • A medical device that positions and tracks the muscular activity of legs.

Elsewhere in Texas:

  • University of Texas System, holding the No. 3 spot with 235 patents
  • Texas Tech University System, tied for 74th place with 20 patents
  • Baylor University, tied for 80th place with 17 patents
  • University of North Texas, tied for 90th place with 15 patents

Ahead of the UT System on the list are the University of California (546 patents) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (365 patents).

“As we look at the current and future state of innovation in our nation, we need to ensure that the U.S. is remaining competitive in the international innovation ecosystem,” Paul Sanberg, president of the National Academy of Inventors, says in a news release. “Protecting intellectual property is a key component to this, and the … list allows us to recognize and celebrate universities and their faculty, staff, and students who are not only innovating at high levels but taking the additional step of protecting their IP through patenting.”

Financiers plan to launch a Texas-based stock exchange

yeehaw

A group of financial firms and investors is planning to launch a Texas-based private market stock exchange and offer traders an alternative to the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.

The group, which includes BlackRock, Citadel Securities and about two dozen investors, raised approximately $120 million of capital to create the Texas Stock Exchange, which would be headquartered in Dallas. They are now seeking registration with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to operate as a national securities exchange later this year.

“Texas and the other states in the southeast quadrant have become economic powerhouses. Combined with the demand we are seeing from investors and corporations for expanded alternatives to trade and list equities, this is an opportune time to build a major, national stock exchange in Texas,” said James Lee, founder and CEO of TXSE Group.

Stock exchanges are private institutions where stocks, bonds and other securities are traded. If the SEC clears TXSE to begin operations, it will be the first stock exchange to launch in the country in recent years.

According to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the creation of the new exchange, TXSE promises to be more CEO-friendly than other exchanges and wants to capitalize on discontent over new rules and rising compliance costs at Nasdaq and NYSE.

“If we look at the three states with the largest economy, New York has two stock exchanges. Texas, comparably to California, is growing economically and demographically really fast, and already has a big number of Fortune 500 biggest companies headquarters, so it makes sense Dallas would be an ideal place,” said Steven Pedigo, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs and an expert in economic and urban development.

But it could be difficult for a new exchange to take off in the U.S. listings market, where the Nasdaq and NYSE have dominated for decades. The U.S. exchange business consists of about 16 equities exchanges with NYSE accounting for more than 20% of the volume in equities trading in May and Nasdaq over 15%, according to Bloomberg. Nasdaq acquired the Philadelphia Stock Exchange and Boston Stock Exchange, two of the oldest exchanges in the country, in 2007. The NYSE bought the Chicago Stock Exchange in 2018.

“What makes this project interesting is the big companies that supported and financed the new stock exchange, that is why it could be a serious competitor. But it is a ‘to be continued’ story,” Pedigo said.

TXSE founders said they chose Texas as the home for the new national securities exchange because of the state’s rapid economic and population growth. Texas has been a leader in attracting business relocations and expansions in recent years. More than 7,200 firms relocated to Texas between 2010 and 2019, creating nearly 103,000 jobs, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Businesses that relocated to Texas mostly went to the state’s major metropolitan areas, with Dallas and Houston being the favored destinations.

Major corporations like Tesla and Toyota have chosen the state as their new home base in recent years. Big financial companies like Goldman Sachs have also made big investments lately in Dallas.

Pedigo said this new stock exchange wouldn’t necessarily lead to more jobs being created in the state but would help further bolster the pro-business image Texas has been working on for years.

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This story was originally published by The Texas Tribune and distributed through a partnership with The Associated Press.