From software and IoT to decarbonization and nanotech, here's what 10 energy tech startups you should look out for. Photo via Getty Images

This week, energy startups pitched virtually for venture capitalists — as well as over 1,000 attendees — as a part of Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship's 18th annual Energy and Clean Tech Venture Forum.

At the close of the three-day event, Rice Alliance announced its 10 most-promising energy tech companies. Here's which companies stood out from the rest.

W7energy

Based in Delaware, W7energy has created a zero-emission fuel cell electric vehicle technology supported by PiperION polymers. The startup's founders aim to provide a more reliable green energy that is 33 percent cheaper to make.

"With ion exchange polymer, we can achieve high ionic conductivity while maintaining mechanical strength," the company's website reads. "Because of the platform nature of the chemistry, the chemical and physical properties of the polymer membranes can be tuned to the desired application."

Modumetal

Modumetal, which has its HQ in Washington and an office locally as well, is a nanotechnology company focused on improving industrial materials. The company was founded in 2006 by Christina Lomasney and John Whitaker and developed a patented electrochemical process to produce nanolaminated metal alloys, according to Modumetal's website.

Tri-D Dynamics

San Francisco-based Tri-D Dynamics has developed a suite of smart metal products. The company's Bytepipe product claims to be the world's first smart casing that can collect key information — such as leak detection, temperatures, and diagnostic indicators — from underground and deliver it to workers.

SeekOps

A drone company based in Austin, SeekOps can quickly retrieve and deliver emissions data for its clients with its advance sensor technology. The company, founded in 2017, uses its drone and sensor pairing can help reduce emissions at a low cost.

Akselos

Switzerland-based Akselos has been using digital twin technology since its founding in 2012 to help energy companies analyze their optimization within their infrastructure.

Osperity

Osperity, based in Houston's Galleria area, is a software company that uses artificial intelligence to analyze and monitor industrial operations to translate the observations into strategic intelligence. The technology allows for cost-effective remote monitoring for its clients.

DroneDeploy

DroneDeploy — based in San Francisco and founded in 2013 — has raised over $92 million (according to Crunchbase) for its cloud-based drone mapping and analytics platform. According to the website, DroneDeploy has over 5,000 clients worldwide across oil and gas, construction, and other industries.

HEBI Robotics

Pittsburgh-based HEBI Robotics gives its clients the tools to build custom robotics. Founded 2014, HEBI has clients — such as NASA, Siemens, Ericsson — across industries.

CarbonFree Chemicals

CarbonFree Chemicals, based in San Antonio and founded in 2016, has created a technology to turn carbon emissions to useable solid carbonates.

SensorUp

Canadian Internet of Things company, SensorUp Inc. is a location intelligence platform founded in 2011. The technology specializes in real-time analysis of industrial operations.

"Whether you are working with legacy systems or new sensors, we provide an innovative platform that brings your IoT together for automated operations and processes," the company's website reads.

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University of Houston engineer's research hopes to help detect cancer cells faster and easier

future of health

Early stage cancer is hard to detect, mostly because traditional diagnostic imaging cannot detect tumors smaller than a certain size. One Houston innovator is looking to change that.

Wei-Chuan Shih, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering, recently published his findings in IEEE Sensors journal. According to a news release from UH, the cells around cancer tumors are small — ~30-150nm in diameter — and complex, and the precise detection of these exosome-carried biomarkers with molecular specificity has been elusive, until now.

"This work demonstrates, for the first time, that the strong synergy of arrayed radiative coupling and substrate undercut can enable high-performance biosensing in the visible light spectrum where high-quality, low-cost silicon detectors are readily available for point-of-care application," says Shih in the release. "The result is a remarkable sensitivity improvement, with a refractive index sensitivity increase from 207 nm/RIU to 578 nm/RIU."

Wei-Chuan Shih is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering. Photo via UH.edu

What Shih has done is essentially restored the electric field around nanodisks, providing accessibility to an otherwise buried enhanced electric field. Nanodisks are antibody-functionalized artificial nanostructures which help capture exosomes with molecular specificity.

"We report radiatively coupled arrayed gold nanodisks on invisible substrate (AGNIS) as a label-free (no need for fluorescent labels), cost-effective, and high-performance platform for molecularly specific exosome biosensing. The AGNIS substrate has been fabricated by wafer-scale nanosphere lithography without the need for costly lithography," says Shih in the release.

This process speeds up screening of the surface proteins of exosomes for diagnostics and biomarker discovery. Current exosome profiling — which relies primarily on DNA sequencing technology, fluorescent techniques such as flow cytometry, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) — is labor-intensive and costly. Shih's goal is to amplify the signal by developing the label-free technique, lowering the cost and making diagnosis easier and equitable.

"By decorating the gold nanodisks surface with different antibodies (e.g., CD9, CD63, and CD81), label-free exosome profiling has shown increased expression of all three surface proteins in cancer-derived exosomes," said Shih. "The sensitivity for detecting exosomes is within 112-600 (exosomes/μL), which would be sufficient in many clinical applications."

High-tech art exhibit pops up alongside Houston innovation hub

immersive art

A traveling art immersion experience has officially opened its doors in Houston. The tech-enabled show picked a particularly innovative spot, too.

The new "Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Houston," opened Thursday, October 14, at Lighthouse Artspace Houston, a converted, 16,500-square-foot warehouse space (1314 Brittmore Rd.) directly next to The Cannon's West Houston innovation and entrepreneurial hub in The Founders District. The show has sold more than 3 million tickets sold nationwide, the show has outsold Taylor Swift.

Not to be confused with the current Van Gogh interactive offering, this stunning — and original — show animates some of the most iconic works for Van Gogh, who is considered one of humanity's most important and notable artists.

Equally a star player in the production is the music, some by Italian composer Luca Longobardi, along with a classic from Edith Piaf, and even a tune from Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke.

Masterpieces come alive via some 60,600 frames of video, totaling 90,000,000 pixels and more than 500,000 cubic feet of projections. But as anyone who's studied the master's works can attest, that detail is necessary to truly capture his creations.

Giant walls dance with images of workers in fields, which then wipe to floral settings, or memorable imagery from Van Gogh's instantly recognizable pieces such as Mangeurs de Pommes de Terre (The Potato Eaters, 1885), Les Tournesols (Sunflowers,1888), La Chambre à coucher (The Bedroom, 1889), and the unforgettable Nuit étoilée (Starry Night, 1889).

Even the floor — lined with circles to stand or sit on for social distancing — is a piece of art. Visitors can stroll (highly recommended), space permitting, or sit, awash in Van Gogh's dreamscape.

"It's really interesting you comment that this could be Van Gogh's dream," Vito Iaia, co-founder of Impact Museums and the event's co-producer, tells CultureMap. "This is what Massimiliano Siccardi, the protection artist who created the work you see on the walls, believes went through Van Gogh's head — right before he died."

Part art exhibit, part animated film, "Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Houston" marries the work of three different artists: Van Gogh (of course), aforementioned projection artist Siccardi, and Rowan Doyle, the creative director who created the scenic elements surrounding the venue.

Those scenic elements include:

  • Sunflower pickup truck: A vintage Ford truck, parked outside the venue, gets a splash of sunflower yellow.
  • Van Gogh Chapel: Meant to be a love letter to Houston and specifically Rothko Chapel, this design is meant to be a contemplative space before entering the main gallery.
  • Van Gogh Timeline: As the name implies, this installation features pivotal moments of Van Gogh's career, with symbols harking to his short life.
  • Texas sunflower sign: Sunflowers dot the Texas state display, perfect for IG selfies.

A bar and gift shop also add to the experience.

At once stirring, playful, and poignant — even emotional — the experience is fitting for now, despite the artwork dating back to the late 1800s.

"People ask why Massimiliano chose Van Gogh right now," says Iaia. "And part of the answer is there's probably no better time to tell Van Gogh's story than right now. This is a reflection of what he went through as a troubled soul and the struggles people are going through today."

But it's not all dark. "The bright side is, this is a great way to remember his work. The reception has been amazing. It's giving him a new life."

Prepare for a serene, honest moment, but don't be surprised to be affected — especially with the final imagery. "People are driven to joys, or tears, or thought," says Iaia. I had someone come out and say, 'I just saw God.'"

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.