HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 133

Houston cleantech company prepares to move into new facility, scale to meet global demand

Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Syzygy

When it comes to hardtech, not a lot of startups get the chance to say they're doing things cheaper than they're expected to, but Trevor Best and his clean tech startup, Syzygy Plasmonics, are in the minority there.

"One of the good things about our technology, because we use light instead of heat, we're able to build our reactors out of very low-cost materials — like aluminum and glass. So, we are continually under budget," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We actually only recently started spending the $23 million we raised over a year ago."

Syzygy, founded in Houston based off research from Rice University, is a chemical company that's developed a photocatalyst-powered hydrogen fuel cell technology that produces a cheaper source of energy that releases fewer carbon emissions. The company has scaled its reactor up in size and hopes the product hits the market next year. The device allows operators of plans power their facilities with a much smaller carbon footprint — at a competitive price, too.

Despite the benefits of being under budget, Best says it's not keeping him from running a full court press on fundraising and scaling for the future. Syzygy has grown its team to 60 people and is preparing to move into a new 45,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Pearland this summer.

"We're about to go out and fundraise more though," Best says on the show. "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 he's 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.

"The reason hydrogen is having a moment is because it is like a swiss army knife for fighting climate change," Best says. "There are a lot of applications for using hydrogen — to the point where I would say that I don't think planet Earth can truly decarbonize without it. That has resulted in a lot of interest in Syzygy's technology."

Best shares more about what else he's watching closely in clean tech — including carbon accounting and inconsistency in green energy solutions — as well as how the Houston innovation ecosystem has evolved over the years on the podcast episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

Cemvita reported a successful pilot program on its gold hydrogen project in the Permian Basin. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.

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