broadcasting innovation

Houston podcasters aim to showcase promising local energy tech startups

EnergyTech Startups, a podcast co-hosted by two Houston clean energy experts, exists to shine a spotlight on innovative companies and Houston as a hub for energy transition businesses. Photo via Unsplash

Houston has a bit of a perception problem, according to Jason Ethier, a long-time energy tech innovator and new podcast host.

"Houston isn't viewed as a cool place to build a company if you don't know how good it is to be here," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Ethier, who serves as senior director of membership at Greentown Labs, set out to fix that when he launched the EnergyTech Startups podcast last fall with co-host Lara Cottingham, the vice president of strategy, policy, and climate impact at Greentown Labs. To date, the show has introduced listeners to over 20 energy founders and is continuing to do so on a biweekly basis.

"As an entrepreneur, sometimes you feel a gap in the market in your bones and you just have to do something about it," Ethier explains on the origin of the show.

Jason Ethier and Lara Cottingham co-host the EnergyTech Startups podcast. Photos courtesy

With his background in the Northeast, Ethier has seen first hand how Houstonians are just different — they tackle tough challenges and are heads-down focused on these innovations.

"Houston has a lot going for it as a place to build a business, and we're not going to do it the Silicon Valley. We do things the Houston way — we build new technologies, we build big projects," Ethier says. "The funny thing about Houstonians I find is that they are very understated with what they achieve and accomplish like it's no big deal. But it is a big deal."

That's where Ethier and the podcast can help shine a spotlight on the unique innovation these startup founders are in the process of commercializing.

"The premise of EnergyTech Startups is that we're building an energy ecosystem here, and energy and climate are two sides of the same coin," he says. "People working on these energy technologies made the choice to come to Houston — they made the choice not to go to Silicon Valley or Boston."

The goal is twofold — give these startups the platform to tell their story and showcase Houston as the hub for energy innovation.

"How do we tell this Houston story so that whenever folks look at the map and say, 'where do I want to build my business?' they look at Houston and see it as a place they should end up," he says.

Listen to the full episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast with Jason Ethier.

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A View From HETI

A View From UH

A Rice University professor studied the Earth's carbon cycle in the Rio Madre de Dios to shed light on current climate conditions. Photo courtesy of Mark Torres/Rice University

Carbon cycles through Earth, its inhabitants, and its atmosphere on a regular basis, but not much research has been done on that process and qualifying it — until now.

In a recent study of a river system extending from the Peruvian Andes to the Amazon floodplains, Rice University’s Mark Torres and collaborators from five institutions proved that that high rates of carbon breakdown persist from mountaintop to floodplain.

“The purpose of this research was to quantify the rate at which Earth naturally releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and find out whether this process varies across different geographic locations,” Torres says in a news release.

Torres published his findings in a study published in PNAS, explaining how they used rhenium — a silvery-gray, heavy transition metal — as a proxy for carbon. The research into the Earth’s natural, pre-anthropogenic carbon cycle stands to benefit humanity by providing valuable insight to current climate challenges.

“This research used a newly-developed technique pioneered by Robert Hilton and Mathieu Dellinger that relies on a trace element — rhenium — that’s incorporated in fossil organic matter,” Torres says. “As plankton die and sink to the bottom of the ocean, that dead carbon becomes chemically reactive in a way that adds rhenium to it.”

The research was done in the Rio Madre de Dios basin and supported by funding from a European Research Council Starting Grant, the European Union COFUND/Durham Junior Research Fellowship, and the National Science Foundation.

“I’m very excited about this tool,” Torres said. “Rice students have deployed this same method in our lab here, so now we can make this kind of measurement and apply it at other sites. In fact, as part of current research funded by the National Science Foundation, we are applying this technique in Southern California to learn how tectonics and climate influence the breakdown of fossil carbon.”

Torres also received a three-year grant from the Department of Energy to study soil for carbon storage earlier this year.

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