Here are the most promising energy tech startups in the market today. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

This week, 39 energy startup companies from all over the world pitched in Houston — and nine were recognized as being the most promising of the batch.

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship returned its Offshore Technology Conference pitch event to its in-person capacity and host the annual event at the Ion Houston for the first time. The event featured three-minute pitches from the companies, and a select group of corporate and venture investors decided on the top nine to honor.

"We asked investors and corporates to look at the companies here today and help us determine the companies most promising — based on those that have an innovative technology that is solving a large problem, has customers willing to pay for it, and has the right team to build and grow their company," Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance says to the crowd at the event on May 3.

Here's which energy tech companies stood out to investors.

EarthEn

EarthEn, a Chandler, Arizona-based company, is a grid-scale energy storage solution. The technology can provide short-term — 6 to 8 hours — and long-term — over 100 hours — storage. The EarthEn pods provide a cheaper alternative and are built using 3D printing.

Echogen Power Systems

Based in Akron, Ohio, Echogen Power Systems has created a technology that captures heat that would otherwise be lost and converts it to a useable power source. The solution allows for any customer that operates at significant levels of heat to have a cost-effective energy option.

FuelX Innovation

Based in Aiken, South Carolina, FuelX Innovation is manufacturing solid-state hydrogen products and power systems, impacting mobile hydrogen fuel cell-powered applications. The company is focused on producing the lowest cost Alane, or aluminum hydride, for the fuel cell.

Lillianah Technologies

Lillianah Technologies, based in the Houston area in Spring, uses algae to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The company sells carbon offsets to corporations.

oPRO.ai

oPRO.ai — which is based in Los Altos, California — is providing its customers with deep learning optimization software for process and responsible operations for oil and gas, petrochemical, chemicals, and metal industries.

Proteum Energy

Phoenix, Arizona-based Proteum Energy provides its customers low-cost, clean hydrogen by reforming renewable ethanol into renewable hydrogen.

Sync Power Solutions

Embracing a clean sheet approach, Sync Power Solutions, based in Abilene, Texas, created a solution involving a redesign of electric motors and generators to increase energy efficiency, save on costs, and more.

Utility Global

Houston-based Utility Global is using high temperature electrolysis without the use of electricity to produce hydrogen from waste gases.

ZL Innovations

Based in Portland, Oregon, ZL Innovations is focused on eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from failed industrial valves. The company's solution is a magnetic actuation assembly that can be better sealed to prevent emissions.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Amazon rolls out hundreds of new electric vans for Houston's holiday delivery season

Electric avenue

Amazon CEO/occasional space traveler Jeff Bezos is doing his best to supplant a certain jolly fellow from the North Pole as tops for holiday gift delivery.

His latest move: Amazon is rolling out more than 1,000 electric delivery vehicles, designed by electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian, ready to make deliveries in more than 100 cities across the U.S. On the Texas good list: Houston, Austin, and Dallas. Bezos' juggernaut began deliveries in Dallas in July, along with Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Nashville, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, and St. Louis.

These zero-emissions vans have delivered more than 5 million packages to customers in the U.S., according to Amazon. The latest boost in vehicles now includes Houston and Austin; Boston; Denver; Indianapolis; Las Vegas; Madison, Wisconsin; Newark, New Jersey; New York, Oakland, California; Pittsburgh, Portland, Oregon; Provo, Utah; and Salt Lake City.

Plans for the Amazon and Rivian partnership call for thousands of vehicles on the road by the end of the year and 100,000 vehicles by 2030.

“We’re always excited for the holiday season, but making deliveries to customers across the country with our new zero-emission vehicles for the first time makes this year unique,” said Udit Madan, vice president of Amazon Transportation, in a statement. “We’ve already delivered over 5 million packages with our vehicles produced by Rivian, and this is still just the beginning—that figure will grow exponentially as we continue to make progress toward our 100,000-vehicle goal.”

This all comes as part of Amazon's commitment to reaching net-zero carbon by 2040, as a part of its The Climate Pledge; Amazon promises to eliminate millions of metric tons of carbon per year with it s commitment to 100,000 electric delivery vehicles by 2030, press materials note.

Additionally, Amazon announced plans to invest more than $1 billion over the next five years to further electrify and decarbonize its transportation network across Europe. This investment is meant to spark innovation and encourage more public charging infrastructure across the continent.

“Fleet electrification is essential to reaching the world’s zero-emissions goal,” said Jiten Behl, chief growth officer at Rivian, in a statement. “So, to see our ramp up in production supporting Amazon’s rollout in cities across the country is amazing. Not just for the environment, but also for our teams working hard to get tens of thousands of electric delivery vehicles on the road. They continue to be motivated by our combined mission and the great feedback about the vehicle’s performance and quality.”

A little about the vans: Drivers’ favorite features include a spacious cabin and cargo area, superior visibility with a large windshield and 360-degree cameras, and ventilated seats for fast heating and cooling — a must for Bayou City summers ... or winters, for that matter.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston low-carbon fuel company scores United investment, plans to IPO via spac

big moves

It’s been a momentous month for Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc.

On November 15, United Airlines Ventures announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the next-generation, low-carbon fuel producing company.

Just a week later, the company revealed it’s going public through a SPAC merger with Industrial Tech Acquisitions II Inc. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, assigns a $666 million equity value to NEXT. The publicly traded company will be named NXTCLEAN Fuels Inc.

NEXT, founded in 2016, produces low-carbon fuels from organic feedstock. The company plans to open a biofuel refinery in Port Westward, Oregon, that’s set to start production in 2026. The refinery could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels.

“West Coast states are demanding a clean fuels conversion of the transportation and aviation industries with aggressive targets necessitating rapid increases in clean fuel supplies,” Christopher Efird, executive chairman and CEO of NEXT, says in a news release. “[The company] is advancing toward becoming one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of clean fuels for these markets, and is investigating and pursuing potential vertical expansion into other clean fuels.”

The proposed public listing of NEXT’s stock on the Nasdaq market and United’s investment are poised to help NEXT reach its goal of becoming a leader in the clean fuel sector. United’s investment appears to be the first equity funding for NEXT.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, says in a news release.

United’s investment arm, launched in 2021, targets ventures that will complement the airline’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.