texas innovator

Houston entrepreneur launches new venture to shine light on sustainability

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo by Pixabay

A Houston nuclear engineer and entrepreneur wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid.

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. An experienced entrepreneur, Childress also serves as founder and CEO of technology software company Macorva.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

With energy demand skyrocketing, and the push toward renewable solutions, solar seems like a safe bet for Childress, a former competitive high-stakes poker player. Childress cites a recent Yale University study that says 63 percent of Americans “feel a personal responsibility to help reduce global warming.”

But some studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” he says.

“They’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action,” says Childress, who has called Houston home for 25 years. He received his doctorate in medical physics at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he worked on software that provided radiation therapy for patients.

The initial Kickstarter fundraising round, which will be launched soon, will finance the construction of one utility-scale solar farm, on about five to 10 acres, which would produce about 1 megawatt, or 1,000 kilowatts, of clean energy. The plant would make enough energy to power about 200 average homes.

Childress says interest has been strong, with several thousand signed up on the Kickstarter launch list. Some who are signed up expressed interest in a subscription, he said, and that may be offered later. Initially, though, for a one-time purchase of $95, a Solar Slice client can purchase one virtual 50W slice of solar power, produced by the farm. Over its lifetime, Childress says, that one purchase can offset three tons of carbon dioxide.

The app tracks carbon offsetting, and energy production for the slice, showing a client “exactly how much I have helped the climate, here’s exactly how (many) emissions I have prevented from putting in the atmosphere,” he says.

The energy produced by five slices can offset the average American’s carbon footprint for a year, and the power generated by the solar farm will be sold to the electric grid. As clients purchase more slices, they can earn eco-credits to donate to other climate-friendly partners, to plant trees or create pollinator habitats.

While Solar Slice is a for-profit venture, contributors won’t get rich or even make money from their purchase. Rather, it provides validation.

“Our focus is maximizing the real world impact, not for financial gain. This is not something people sign up (for) to make money. We’re really clear about that,” Childress says. “I want to show that it’s possible to have a for-profit company that is sustainable, that does good work.

“And hopefully, we can be part of the spirit…for a bigger movement, and for consumers and business, especially, to do things that matter.”

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo courtesy

The largest U.S. solar plants are in Nevada and California, and those states are sites under consideration, but Childress says Texas is the most likely home for the initial project. The ten largest utility-scale solar plants in Texas by capacity are all in far west or central parts of the state, according to the state comptroller’s office.

Childress has a team of four, who are handling the marketing, plant design and site scouting, and hopes to hire five to 10 more, depending on response and growth. He says the Solar Slice consumer can directly connect in real time to the contribution that their purchase will make toward a green energy future.

“That was our inspiration..let’s start something that is really making a difference..and making really clear to the individuals what’s being done,” he says.

Solar energy has become a growing source of power for Texas, comprising about 6 percent of the state’s energy generation, as of 2022, the comptroller’s office says.

The state ranks first in projected growth of solar energy over the next five years, with more than 9,500 operating solar plants, and many thousands more announced, according to the state Public Utility Commission.

“We would absolutely love to make this into something where we are building plants around the nation, around the world,” Childress he says.

However, resistance to alternative energy projects like solar and wind, especially on a large scale, remains in some quarters.

Obtaining site permits for swaths of land can be also a challenge. For example, a recent survey by Berkeley Lab of 123 professionals from 62 unique, large-scale wind and solar energy facilities showed that about one-third of wind and solar siting applications in the past five years were canceled.

Half of the projects experienced delays of six months or longer. And according to the survey, developers expect the trend to continue, and become more expensive to address.

However, another Berkeley Lab survey of residents who live within three miles of a solar power plant showed that most view the plant positively. The larger the plant, the more negative the response in the survey. The smaller the farm, the more positive the reactions.

Childress says many of the common objections to utility-scale solar farms are misguided, and incorrect. For example, the concern that they would take over available farmland or take up too much space.

He says that even if the entire U.S. power grid relied solely on solar power, the plants would occupy not even a half percent of available land, which is about one percent farmland.

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A View From HETI

Nádia Skorupa Parachin joined Cemvita as vice president of industrial biotechnology. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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