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.

The University of Houston Cougars are seeing green with this news. Photo via UH.edu

Shell commits $10M to UH for new Energy Transition Institute

seeing green

A new clean energy-focused institute emerging on the University of Houston campus has been buoyed by funding from an energy behemoth.

Shell USA Inc. and Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc. has granted UH a $10 million gift to establish the Energy Transition Institute. According to a news release, the institute — focused on three core areas: hydrogen, carbon management, and circular plastics — is expected to receive financial support that will likely exceed $52 million across donations from all parties.

With UH as one of the most ethnically diverse research universities in the country and its founding partner Shell, the initiative will focus on serving vulnerable communities and leading the energy transition in an equitable way.

“Houston is poised, like no other city, to lead the energy transition and the Energy Transition Institute will be essential in pursuit of that goal,” says UH Chancellor and President Renu Khator in the release. “Along with advancing energy equity and social impacts in our communities, Shell’s generous gift will help UH maintain its leadership role in the energy transition.”

Khator says this initiative will work in collaboration with Houston's energy industry and welcomes more partners like Shell to join in on the project.

“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime — and it’s partnerships like this, along with other key drivers such as policy and technology, that together can help the US make progress on its net-zero goals,” says Shell USA President Gretchen Watkins in the release. “When you put brilliant minds together with the resources they need to do the work, amazing things can happen.”

Within the three clean tech verticals, the new institute will target four disciplines, according to the university:

  • Science, engineering, and technology: Recruit faculty energy transition research and technology expertise and drive new on-campus collaborations.
  • Policy and regulation: Develop new public-private partnerships and infrastructure for measuring success, as well as recruit new faculty in policy and regulation.
  • Equity, diversity, and justice: Drive stakeholder engagement across communities, including minority serving institutions universities, as well as research programs across disciplines focused on energy equity and environmental justice.
  • Workforce and talent: Upskill the existing workforce on topics related to sustainable energy development and work closely with Shell and other industrial partners

Shell is no stranger to UH and is founding member of the University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, which is expected to collaborate with the new Energy Transition Institute to innovate all things carbon capture, storage, and utilization — as well as hydrogen commercialization and circular plastics.

“These are important building blocks to transition society to a net zero future while still providing the products and services that people have come to expect and demand in their daily lives,” says Selda Gunsel, president of Shell Global Solutions, in the release. “The Shell technology community looks forward to working with the institute to co-develop crucial technology in these areas, as well as nurturing the diverse talent needed to drive the energy transition into the future.”

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity. Photo via Getty Images

3 businesses join Houston initiative for carbon capture and storage

seeing green

Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”

In addition to the $5 million partnership, Shell also pledged another $1 million to create a career pipeline for PVAMU students. Photo via Wikipedia Commons

Shell forms $5M carbon capture research partnership with Houston-area university

struck a deal

Houston-based Shell Global Solutions and Prairie View A&M University signed a $5 million partnership this week that aims to foster innovative and effective carbon dioxide utilization and carbon capture methods.

The five-year research agreement will be headquartered out of the Historically Black University's College of Agriculture and Human Sciences. A portion of the $5 million will go toward building new infrastructure and state-of-the-art greenhouses on the university's nearly 700 acres of land devoted to farm research.

Shell staff members are also slated to collaborate on research projects developed at the site.

In addition to the $5 million partnership, Shell also pledged another $1 million to create a career pipeline for PVAMU students. The funds will go toward university infrastructure, retention programs, and work experience opportunities.

"[Shell's] comprehensive approach — involving infrastructure, research collaboration, internships and ongoing staff involvement — is especially welcome," Ruth J. Simmons, president of PVAMU, said in a statement.

The new research program is funded through Shell's Projects & Technology organization, which "helps to ensure that neither people nor nature are harmed during the construction and operation of Shell’s facilities, and it supports Shell’s carbon-management activities," according to the company's website.

Shell has launched more than 220 research and development projects through this branch of the organization over the years.

In 2019, the energy giant committed to a $10 million arrangement to launch the Carbon Hub at Rice University, a research initiative aimed at developing zero-emissions technologies. The hub made its first seven seed grants in August.

Shell is also an industry partner on the University of Houston's Data Science for Energy Transition project.

The partnership also marks a milestone for PVAMU as the first significant partnership under the university's new classification as a Research 2 Institution, according to PVAMU's website. The university attained its R2 Carnegie Classification, the second-highest ranking for research and higher education institutions in the country, earlier this month.

Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert called on members of Houston's energy community to speak at Greentown Houston's grand opening. Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

Overheard: Houston's energy sector welcomes Greentown Labs

eavesdropping in Houston

Greentown Houston is officially open for business, and it's safe to say the energy innovation community is excited about it. The 40,000-square-foot space is expecting to move its inaugural 30 companies in throughout the summer.

The grand opening event, which was streamed online with an outdoor invite-only event, took place on Earth Day and featured speakers from across the energy sector. The speakers represented some of the almost 30 corporate partners Greentown Houston has announced.

Click here to read more about the grand opening and take a peek inside the facility.

Missed the discussion or just want a refresher on on the highlights? Here are some significant overheard moments from the Greentown Houston Grand Opening.

"Houston has all the necessary ingredients and it has momentum."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures. "Let's celebrate. And then let's get busy."

"Houston, as the energy capital of the world, has a moral obligation to reduce carbon emissions."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Mayor Sylvester Turner. "We need to invest in our innovation ecosystem and support the climatech and clean tech entrepreneurs who will be building Houston's new energy economy and creating the new jobs of tomorrow."

"Houston has the talent, know how, and can-do spirit to tackle the dual challenge of leading dual energy demand while aggressively lowering the carbon footprint."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership.

"Houston must remain the center of the future energy industry, and today is an important step in restoring that."

Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

— David Leebron, president of Rice University. "We look forward to our strong partnership."

"We can't solve climate change from the coasts. We need the whole United States to be engaged, and I'm bullish on Houston leading this transition for many reasons."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs. "Houston is home to world-leading energy organizations, incredible engineering strength, talent, and assets, that can, and frankly must, be redeployed to decarbonize resources."

"This is a city that does not stand still."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Ajay Mehta, General Manager of Shell. "At Shell, we have a mission to reach net zero emissions by 2050."

"For bp, partnering with Greentown Labs represents living our purpose to reimagine energy."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Jane Stricker, senior relationship manager, regions, cities and solutions at bp.

"Innovation is like oxygen, and it breathes life into hope and possibility. The work we are doing around the energy transition is hard and challenging, and frankly is going to take all of us."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Darryl Willis, corporate vice president, energy industry, at Microsoft. "We think that the future is all about partnerships and platforms, and our mission is to help from Microsoft's vantage point to accelerate the energy transition and to help the city of Houston around its aspirations around the energy transition as well."

"We appreciate being part of not only maintaining Houston's position as the energy capital of the world but also establishing it as the energy transition capital of the world."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Scott Burns, vice president of retail innovation, customer experience, and market intelligence at NRG.

"[Greentown Houston] will provide this center of gravity for the energy community to come together and work toward the transition plan."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Tim Ong, head of innovation at BHP Petroleum. "


Established in 2019, Rice University's Carbon Hub has named its first batch of research grant recipients. Photo via rice.edu

Rice University's Shell-backed hub announces latest research grants

low carbon funding

Several clean energy research teams have been awarded grants from a Rice University hub that focuses on innovating zero-emissions technology.

The Carbon Hub has awarded seven seed grants to research teams working on solutions for clean energy. The selections represent the first from the hub, which was established in 2019 following a $10 million gift from Shell. The hub's goal is to fundamentally change how the world uses hydrocarbons and to lead $100 million of science and engineering initiatives.

"Our starting point is utilizing methane and other light hydrocarbons to co-produce clean hydrogen and high-value materials that can outcompete and displace heavy CO2 emitters like metals, construction ceramics and fertilizers," says Carbon Hub Director Matteo Pasquali in a news release.

The selected proposals, according to the release, are as follows:

  • Cambridge's Adam Boies, Simone Hochgreb, James Elliot and Matthew Juniper will investigate the fundamental kinetics of catalytic reactions that produce carbon nanotubes from methane. The research aims to gather necessary information for the design and scaleup of reactors for high-yield production.
  • UC Berkeley's Roya Maboudian, Paulo Monteiro, Carlo Carraro and Jiaqi Li will use experimental and computational techniques to investigate cement reinforced with carbon fibers. The team will investigate a wide range of fibers and concrete binders to find optimal blends.
  • Rice's Caroline Masiello and Daniel Cohan will use bench-scale experiments and computer models to investigate whether methane-derived carbon could reduce urban smog and/or reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations if added to soil as it is in popular charcoal soil amendments called biochar.
  • IMDEA's Juan Vilatela will address engineering challenges for using non-woven carbon nanotube fabrics in place of lithium battery components made of aluminum and copper. Replacing those metal components could eliminate more than 4 million tons of annual atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Rice's Geoffrey Wehmeyer, Junichiro Kono and Matthew Foster will lay the groundwork for replacing metal power transmission cables with carbon nanotube fibers. To allow side-by-side comparisons, they will investigate fundamental electrical and thermal conductivity at scales ranging from individual nanotubes to bundles of tubes, fibers of bundles and yarns of fibers.
  • Milan Polytechnic's Matteo Maestri and Matteo Pelucchi aim to pave the way for optimized co-production of hydrogen and carbon nanotubes by developing descriptive frameworks for competing catalytic reactions. The information would allow process engineers to minimize production of unwanted soot in large-scale reactors for nanotube production.
  • MIT's Mark Goulthorpe and UDRI's Paul Kladitis will test the performance of carbon nanotube materials in a variety of composites that could be used to construct homes and other buildings. The work complements Goulthorpe's CarbonHouse, a demonstration project supported by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to validate the use of carbon from methane pyrolysis as both structural and non-structural building materials.
Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston innovator joins VC world to increase her social impact

Q&A

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

------

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Houston college system plans to open $30M resiliency-focused center

to the rescue

Houston’s initiative to protect the city from catastrophes is getting a big boost from Houston Community College.

The college is developing the Resilience Center of Excellence to aid the city’s resilience campaign. At the heart of this project is the 65,000-square-foot, $30 million Resiliency Operations Center, which will be built on a five-acre site HCC’s Northeast campus. The complex is scheduled to open in 2024.

HCC estimates the operations center will train about 3,000 to 4,000 local first responders, including police officers and firefighters, during the first three years of operation. They’ll be instructed to prepare for, manage, and respond to weather, health and manmade hazards such as hurricanes, floods, fires, chemical spills, and winter freezes.

According to The Texas Tribune, the operations center will include flood-simulation features like a 39-foot-wide swift water rescue channel, a 15-foot-deep dive area, and a 100-foot-long “rocky gorge” of boulders.

The college says the first-in-the-nation Resilience Center of Excellence will enable residents, employers, civic organizations, neighborhoods, and small businesses to obtain education and certification aimed at improving resilience efforts.

“Our objective is to protect the well-being of our citizens and our communities and increase economic stability,” Cesar Maldonado, chancellor of HCC, said when the project was announced.

Among the programs under the Resiliency Center of Excellence umbrella will be non-credit courses focusing on public safety and rescue, disaster management, medical triage, and debris removal.

Meanwhile, the basic Resilience 101 program will be available to businesses and community organizations, and the emergency response program is geared toward individuals, families, and neighborhoods.

HCC’s initiative meshes with the City of Houston’s Resilient Houston, a strategy launched in 2020 that’s designed to protect Houston against disasters. As part of this strategy, the city has hired a chief resilience and sustainability officer, Priya Zachariah.

“Every action we take and investment we make should continue to improve our collective ability to withstand the unexpected shocks and disruptions when they arrive — from hurricanes to global pandemics, to extreme heat or extreme cold,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said last year. “The time is now to stop doing things the way we’ve always done them because the threats are too unpredictable.”

In an InnovationMap guest column published in February 2021, Richard Seline, co-founder of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub, wrote that the focus of resilience initiatives should be pre-disaster risk mitigation.

“There is still work to be done from a legislative and governmental perspective, but more and more innovators — especially in Houston — are proving to be essential in creating a better future for the next historic disaster we will face,” Seline wrote.