The high-speed train project, which is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 100,000 tons per year, is back on track. Photo courtesy of JR Central

In the latest chapter in the saga of the high-speed bullet train between Houston and Dallas, Amtrak is now involved.

According to a press release, Texas Central Partners and Amtrak are exploring a partnership to work together on the proposed Dallas-Houston high-speed rail project that's been under consideration for more than a decade.

Amtrak has cooperated with Texas Central on various initiatives since 2016 and the two entities are now evaluating a potential partnership to determine the line's viability.

“If we are going to add more high-speed rail to this country, the Dallas to Houston Corridor is a compelling proposition and offers great potential,” says Amtrak senior VP of High-Speed Rail Development Programs Andy Byford. “We believe many of the country's biggest and fastest-growing metropolitan areas, like Houston and Dallas, deserve more high quality high-speed, intercity rail service, and we are proud to bring our experience to evaluate this potential project and explore opportunities with Texas Central so the state can meet its full transportation needs.”

The route being proposed would span approximately 240 miles, going at 250 mph, resulting in a trip that would take less than 90 minutes between the two cities.

Texas Central has been working towards getting a train rolling since 2013, including lining up a potential builder in 2021. But the project has had pushback from Texas politicians and landowners along the route; a lawsuit against the project was filed by six rural counties in 2021, and the Texas Legislature passed a law prohibiting the state from spending any funds on the project.

Facing a seeming dead end, Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar and its board members resigned in June 2022; Michael Bui, a consultant, has been serving as CEO since then.

Texas Central and Amtrak have submitted applications to several federal programs in connection with further study and design work, including the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements (CRISI) grant program, the Corridor Identification and Development program, and the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail (FSP-National) grant program.

Amtrak previously entered into an agreement with Texas Central to provide through-ticketing using the Amtrak reservation system and other support services for the planned high-speed rail line.

"This high-speed train, using advanced, proven Shinkansen technology, has the opportunity to revolutionize rail travel in the southern U.S., and we believe Amtrak could be the perfect partner to help us achieve that,” says Bui in a statement.

Despite its detractors, the project is forecast to provide social, environmental, employment and economic benefits including reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 100,000 tons per year, saving 65 million gallons of fuel and removing 12,500 cars per day from I-45.

The release from Amtrak has statements from both Dallas Mayor Eric L. Johnson and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who calls the collaboration between Texas Central and Amtrak "an important milestone for the City of Houston and this project."

Byford joined Amtrak in April 2023 to begin developing a team focused on high-speed opportunities throughout the U.S. In his newly created role, he will develop and lead the execution of Amtrak’s long-term strategy for high-speed rail throughout the country, including the extension of the Crescent from Mississippi through Louisiana and Texas; Kansas DOT’s Heartland Flyer Extension Corridor Identification and Development (Corridor ID) connecting Wichita to Oklahoma and Texas, and TxDOT’s applications for the Texas Triangle (Houston — Dallas – Fort Worth – San Antonio) routes.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Chevron, TotalEnergies back energy storage startup's $15.8M series A

money moves

A California startup that's revolutionizing polymer cathode battery technology has announced its series A round of funding with support from Houston-based energy transition leaders.

LiNova Energy Inc. closed a $15.8 million series A round led by Catalus Capital. Saft, a subsidiary of TotalEnergies, which has its US HQ in Houston, and Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures, also participated in the round with a coalition of other investors.

LiNova will use the funds with its polymer cathode battery to advance the energy storage landscape, according to the company. The company uses a high-energy polymer battery technology that is designed to allow material replacement of the traditional cathode that is made up of cobalt, nickel, and other materials.

The joint development agreement with Saft will have them collaborate to develop the battery technology for commercialization in Saft's key markets.

“We are proud to collaborate with LiNova in scaling up its technology, leveraging the extensive experience of Saft's research teams, our newest prototype lines, and our industrial expertise in battery cell production," Cedric Duclos, CEO of Saft, says in a news release.

CTV recently announced its $500 million Future Energy Fund III, which aims to lead on emerging mobility, energy decentralization, industrial decarbonization, and the growing circular economy. Chevron has promised to spend $10 billion on lower carbon energy investments and projects by 2028.

Houston innovation leaders secure SBA funding to start equitability-focused energy lab

trying for DEI

A group of Houston's innovation and energy leaders teamed up to establish an initiative supporting equitability in the energy transition.

Impact Hub Houston, a nonprofit incubator and ecosystem builder, partnered with Energy Tech Nexus to establish the Equitable Energy Transition Alliance and Lab to accelerate startup pilots for underserved communities. The initiative announced that it's won the 2024 U.S. Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, or GAFC, Stage One award.

"We are incredibly honored to be recognized by the SBA alongside our esteemed partners at Energy Tech Nexus," Grace Rodriguez, co-founder and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, says in a news release. "This award validates our shared commitment to building a robust innovation ecosystem in Houston, especially for solutions that advance the Sustainable Development Goals at the critical intersections of industry, innovation, sustainability, and reducing inequality."

The GAFC award, which honors and supports small business research and development, provides $50,000 prize to its winners. The Houston collaboration aligns with the program's theme area of Sustainability and Biotechnology.

“This award offers us a great opportunity to amplify the innovations of Houston’s clean energy and decarbonization pioneers,” adds Juliana Garaizar, founding partner of the Energy Tech Nexus. “By combining Impact Hub Houston’s entrepreneurial resources with Energy Tech Nexus’ deep industry expertise, we can create a truly transformative force for positive change.”

Per the release, Impact Hub Houston and Energy Tech Nexus will use the funding to recruit new partners, strengthen existing alliances, and host impactful events and programs to help sustainable startups access pilots, contracts, and capital to grow.

"SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition Stage One winners join the SBA’s incredible network of entrepreneurial support organizations contributing to America’s innovative startup ecosystem, ensuring the next generation of science and technology-based innovations scale into thriving businesses," says U.S. SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Texas-based Tesla gets China's initial approval of self-driving software

global greenlight

Shares of Tesla stock rallied Monday after the electric vehicle maker's CEO, Elon Musk, paid a surprise visit to Beijing over the weekend and reportedly won tentative approval for its driving software.

Musk met with a senior government official in the Chinese capital Sunday, just as the nation’s carmakers are showing off their latest electric vehicle models at the Beijing auto show.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter, Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country.

Although it's called FSD, the software still requires human supervision. On Friday the U.S. government’s auto safety agency said it is investigating whether last year’s recall of Tesla’s Autopilot driving system did enough to make sure drivers pay attention to the road. Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving Autopilot since the recall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In afternoon trading, shares in Tesla Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas, surged to end Monday up more than 15% — its biggest one-day jump since February 2020. For the year to date, shares are still down 22%.

Tesla has been contending with its stock slide and slowing production. Last week, the company said its first-quarter net income plunged by more than half, but it touted a newer, cheaper car and a fully autonomous robotaxi as catalysts for future growth.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called the news about the Chinese approval a “home run” for Tesla and maintained his “Outperform” rating on the stock.

“We note Tesla has stored all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai since 2021 as required by regulators in Beijing,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “If Musk is able to obtain approval from Beijing to transfer data collected in China abroad this would be pivotal around the acceleration of training its algorithms for its autonomous technology globally.”