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Sustainable startup scores deal with United, Gastech to return to Houston, and more top news from the week

Houston-based Cemvita Factory scored a deal with United Airlines — and more trending news from the week. Photo courtesy of Cemvita Factory

Editor's note: It's been a busy news week for energy transition in Houston, and some of this week's headlines resonated with EnergyCapital readers on social media and daily newsletter. Trending news included updates from Houston energy startups, Gastech's Houston return, and more.

United Airlines signs offtake arrangement with Houston startup for sustainable fuel production

United Airlines is interested in buying Cemvita's sustainable aviation fuel when it's produced. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

An innovative Houston company is celebrating a new deal with a global airline.

Cemvita Corp. announced a new offtake arrangement with United Airlines. Cemvita's first full-scale sustainable aviation fuel plant will provide up to 1 billion gallons of SAF to United Airlines. The 20-year contract specifies that Cemvita will supply up to 50 million gallons annually to United.

It's not the first collaboration Cemvita has had with the airline. Last year, United invested in the biotech company, which used the funding to open its Houston pilot plant. Read more.

Major energy conference announces return to Houston

Next year, Gastech returns to Houston for the first time since 2019. Photo via Gastech Event/LinkedIn

In one year, a global energy industry event will make its return to Houston.

Gastech, billed as the world’s largest exhibition and conference for the natural gas, LNG, hydrogen, low carbon solutions, and climate technologies, will take place in Houston September 17 to 20, 2024, according to the organizer, dmg events. It'll be the first time the event takes place in Houston since 2019.

“Gastech is a global event that draws tens of thousands of attendees and millions of dollars in economic impact to its host city, and we are incredibly excited to have in Houston," Michael Heckman, president and CEO of Houston First Corp., says in a press release. Read more.

Houston-based geothermal energy startup releases promising results of Texas pilot

Houston startup Sage Geosystems released the results of its pilot at a Shell-drilled oil well in the Rio Grande Valley’s Starr County. Photo via sagegeosystems.com

As it seeks an additional $30 million in series A funding, Houston startup Sage Geosystems has released promising results from a test of its technology for underground storage of geothermal energy.

Sage says the pilot project, conducted at a Shell-drilled oil well in the Rio Grande Valley’s Starr County, showed the company’s long-term energy storage can compete on a cost basis with lithium-ion battery storage, hydropower storage, and natural gas-powered peaker plants. Peaker plants supply power during periods of peak energy demand.

Furthermore, Sage’s geothermal technology will provide more power capacity at half the cost of other advanced geothermal systems, the company says. Read more.

Repsol to acquire Houston-based renewable energy platform

Repsol announced that it's buying ConnectGen from Quantum Capital Group, a Houston-based private equity firm that focuses on energy investments. Photo via Getty Images

Spanish energy giant Repsol is breaking into the U.S. market for onshore wind power with its $768 million deal to purchase Houston-based renewable energy startup ConnectGen.

Repsol is buying ConnectGen from Quantum Capital Group, a Houston-based private equity firm that focuses on energy investments, according to a September 8 news release. Quantum’s renewable energy arm, 547 Energy, owns ConnectGen.

ConnectGen, founded in 2018, operates 278 megawatts of solar energy projects in Arizona, California, and Nevada. Its nationwide development pipeline features more than 20,000 megawatts of wind power, solar power, and energy storage projects.

“All of us at Quantum and 547 Energy are looking forward to watching Repsol convert these development projects into operating assets that will help power the American economy with clean renewable electricity over the next decade,” says Wil VanLoh, founder, chairman, and CEO of Quantum. Read more.

Investment banking firm launches cleantech group, names Houston-based co-leader

Moelis hired Arash Nazhad as Houston-based managing director and co-head of its newly formed clean energy technology group. Photo via rice.edu

A Houston investment banker has been tapped as co-leader of a new team at investment bank Moelis & Co. that will mine the energy sector for cleantech deals.

Publicly traded Moelis said September 7 that it hired Arash Nazhad as Houston-based managing director and co-head of its newly formed clean energy technology group. Nazhad joins Moelis from financial services giant Citigroup, where he was managing director of its clean energy investment team. He worked at Citigroup for nine years. Read more.

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A View From HETI

HEXASpec was founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program. Photo courtesy of Rice

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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