Algenesis bills its patented Soleic technology as the world’s first renewable, high-performance, fully biodegradable, and backyard-compostable polyurethane made from plants and algae. Photo via AlgenesisMaterials.com

Houston-based venture capital firm First Bight Ventures led a $5 million seed round for Encinitas, California-based startup Algenesis, a developer of biodegradable plastics.

Algenesis bills its patented Soleic technology as the world’s first renewable, high-performance, fully biodegradable, and backyard-compostable polyurethane made from plants and algae. Each year, 25 million tons of hard-to-recycle polyurethane are produced for the footwear, medical, and textile industries. Polyurethane, typically made from petroleum, usually ends up as landfill waste or environmental microplastics.

Algenesis says Soleic can biodegrade in compost within a matter of months and does not contain harmful PFAS chemicals found in other plastics.

Algenesis says the new funding will enable it to expand beyond soft-foam applications, such as midsoles and insoles for footwear, and into injection-molded products such as smartphone cases along with waterproof textiles.

Aside from First Bight Ventures, investors in the seed round are Singapore-based Circulate Capital, India-based MIH Capital, Chesapeake, Virginia-based Diamond Sports Group, and France-based Rhinoshield.

The investment comes on the heels of a $5 million grant Algenesis received from the U.S. Department of Energy to scale up production of biochemicals.

“To save our planet and ourselves, we must move away from petroleum-based plastics and toward bio-based alternatives. Algenesis is clearly at the forefront of making this possible,” says Veronica Wu, founder of First Bight Ventures.

First Bight, which launched in 2022, invests in early-stage startups working on synthetic biology.

“First Bight is investing to bring the best and the brightest — and most promising — synthetic biology startups from around the country to Houston,” Wu said last year.

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Houston tech co. to build powerful supercomputer for global energy business to help reach net-zero goals

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A Houston tech company is building a next-generation supercomputer for one of the world’s largest energy providers.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise announced its plans to build HPC6 for Italian energy company Eni. Eni will use the system to advance scientific discovery and engineering toward accelerating innovation in energy transition to help aid its goal in getting to net zero. HPC6 is expected to be one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers owned by an enterprise.

HPC6 will be built with the same innovations that power the world’s fastest supercomputer to support data and image-intensive workloads across artificial intelligence, modeling, and simulation. According to a news release from HPE, the system will “augment Eni’s existing research that is focused on studying and identifying new energy sources, including renewable energy.”

Eni’s HPC6 will be installed in the company’s energy Green Data Center in Italy. The center will be upgraded to support HPE’s direct liquid-cooling (DLC) capabilities.

"Businesses are finding themselves balancing the huge business opportunities enabled by their AI investments with the responsibility of mitigating the environmental impact of these powerful systems," Antonio Neri, president and CEO of HPE, says in a news release.

"As the leader in developing energy efficient AI and supercomputing solutions, HPE is uniquely positioned to help organizations minimize power consumption while maximizing business outcomes," he continues. "We are excited to play a role in Eni’s commitment to decarbonization supported by digitalization and innovation."

Originally announced in 2020, HPE moved its headquarters to Houston in 2022.

TotalEnergies shares big circular economy win at Texas plant

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For the first time in the United States, a global energy company has converted plastic waste into circular polymers.

TotalEnergies announced its milestone that took place at its polypropylene plant in La Porte, Texas. The plant, according to the company, will produce sustainably certified polymers for a wide range of purposes, including food grade packaging.

"After Europe, this first production of circular polymers from advanced recycling in the United States is a new step forward in our commitment to meeting the global market's growing demand for more innovative and sustainable plastics, as well as in our ambition to produce one million tons of circular polymers a year by 2030," Heather Tomas, Vice President Polymers Americas, says in the news release.

New Hope Energy's recycling facility in Tyler, Texas, provided the feedstock, which was converted into monomers at BASF TotalEnergies Petrochemicals facility in Port Arthur, Texas. BTP is a joint venture between BASF and TotalEnergies.

"We are excited to partner with TotalEnergies in our mutual effort to transform plastic for a cleaner world," Rusty Combs, CEO of New Hope Energy, says in the release. "This supply agreement is an important step towards achieving New Hope's goal of creating pyrolysis projects at a scale that will materially improve the nation's plastic recycling performance. We are honored by the confidence TotalEnergies has placed in both our team and our robust technology."