Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics secured finalists spots in XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions. Photo via Getty Images

Twenty promising climatetech companies were selected to advance to the final stage of a global competition backed by Elon Musk's foundation — and three of the finalists hail from Houston.

Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics secured finalists spots in XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions. XPRIZE Carbon Removal will offer $100 million to innovators who are creating solutions that removes carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or the oceans, and then sequester it sustainably.

"For the world to effectively address greenhouse gas emissions, carbon removal is an essential element of the path to Net Zero. There's no way to reverse humanity's impact on the climate without extracting carbon from our atmosphere and oceans," Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE, says in a news release. "We need a range of bold, innovative CDR solutions to manage the vast quantities of CO2 released into our environment and impacting our planet.

"The teams that have been competing for this Prize are all part of building a set of robust and effective solutions and our 20 teams advancing to the final stage of XPRIZE Carbon Removal will have an opportunity to demonstrate their potential to have a significant impact on the climate," Ansari continues.

The finalists — categorized into four sections: air, rocks, oceans, and land — were selected based upon their performance in three key areas: operations, sustainability, and cost. The full list of 20 finalists is available online.

Around 20 Houston-area companies were initially identified by the challenge. Here's a look at the three that are advancing to the finals:

  • Mati, in the Rocks category, durably removes carbon from the atmosphere using basalt based enhanced rock weathering (ERW) in smallholder rice paddy farms. This process, which is being demonstrated in India, removes atmospheric CO2 while adding key nutrients in the soil helping to restore degraded soils to benefit smallholder farmers.
  • Climate Robotics, in the Land category, enables broad-scale agriculture adoption of biochar which builds soil health and removes excess carbon from the atmosphere. The company's mobile technology converts crop residues into durable biochar on the fly and in the field, making the economics work for farmers and our ecosystems.
  • Vaulted Deep, also in the Land category, delivers scalable, permanent, carbon removal by geologically sequestering carbon-filled organic wastes. Their patented slurry sequestration, which involves the geological injection of minimally processed wastes for permanent (10,000+ year) carbon removal.

"This cohort of exceptional teams represents a diversity of innovations and solutions across a range of CDR pathways, and shows the significant progress the industry is making in a short period of time," Nikki Batchelor, executive director of XPRIZE Carbon Removal, says in the release. "Over the past three years, this competition has helped accelerate the pace of technology development for a whole new industry of high-potential solutions aimed at reversing climate change."

Here's 1PoinFive's newest customer on its Texas CCUS project. Photo via 1pointfive.com

AT&T makes deal with Oxy for carbon credits

seeing green

Telecommunications giant AT&T has agreed to purchase carbon removal credits from 1PointFive, the carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration (CCUS) subsidiary of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum.

Financial details weren’t disclosed.

The carbon credits will be tied to STRATOS, 1PointFive’s first large-scale direct air capture (DAC) facility. The billion-dollar project is being built near Odessa.

“AT&T’s carbon removal credit purchase is another proof point of the vital role that [DAC] can play in providing a high-integrity and durable solution to help organizations address their emissions,” Michael Avery, president and general manager of 1PointFive, says in a news release.

The AT&T deal comes just one month after 1PointFive announced a similar agreement with Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation, which specializes in industrial automation and digital transformation.

In November, Occidental announced that New York City-based investment manager BlackRock was chipping in $550 million as part of a joint venture to build STRATOS. The project, set to be completed in 2025, is designed to capture up to 500,000 metric tons of carbon emissions once it’s fully online.

Under 1PointFive’s deal with Dallas-based AT&T, CO2 underpinning the removal credits will be sucked out of the air and stored in underground salt-water formations.

In conjunction with the DAC deal, 1PointFive has joined AT&T’s Connected Climate Initiative, an effort aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by one gigaton by 2035.

Two Rice University lab-stage innovations focused on clean energy are receiving fresh funding to get them closer to commercialization. Photo courtesy of Rice University

2 Houston cleantech research projects score grants from new program

fresh funding

Four Houston research projects are splitting hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding from Rice University, and two specifically are targeting energy tech solutions.

After announcing the One Small Step Grant program in September to support Rice-developed, lab-stage innovations, the university has named its inaugural recipients. After receiving nearly 30 applicants, four research projects were selected to share $360,000 in grant funding.

“Being able to fund near-commercial projects represents a leap forward in our mission of supporting the cutting-edge work of our faculty and students and helping bring those to market,” Adrian Trömel, assistant vice president for strategy and investments, says in a news release. “Feedback from industry and investors show that they’re excited on how the One Small Step grants help derisk these technologies, getting them ready to launch. Watch this space for the next generation of leading deeptech companies.”

The selected projects include two focused on clean energy solutions:

  • Solidec, founded by Ryan Duchanois and Yang Xia from Rice Professor Haotian Wang's Lab, is a room temperature, solid-state direct air capture technology. The project received a $100,000 award.
  • HornetX, led by Rice Professor Aditya Mohite's Lab, aims to produce highly stable green hydrogen using a perovskite-based photoelectrochemical cell with leading efficiency. The project received a $80,000 award.

The Office of Innovation created an investment advisory committee — made up of entrepreneurs, investors and corporate executives across industries — to select these recipients. The grant program was funded by the Office of Innovation, with support from Breakthrough Energy Fellows for climate and energy projects

“The inaugural winners of the One Small Step Grant represent the innovative spirit and dedication to excellence that defines our students and faculty," Rice Chief Innovation Officer Paul Cherukuri says. "We are proud to support these groundbreaking projects on their journey from lab to market."

The other two funded projects include a novel, hydrogel-encapsulated engineered "cell factories" for the minimally invasive treatment of endometriosis and covalent organic framework-based photocatalysts for instream remediation of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) from water.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Oxy, which broke ground on its DAC project Stratos earlier this year, has secured a $550 million commitment from a financial partner. Photo via 1pointfive.com

Oxy subsidiary gets $550M boost to form new CCUS joint venture

howdy, partner

Occidental Petroleum’s direct air capture (DAC) initiative just got a more than half-a-billion-dollar investment from Blackrock, the world’s largest asset management company.

Houston-based Occidental announced November 7 that on behalf of its investment clients, BlackRock has agreed to pump $550 million into the DAC facility, called Stratos, that Oxy is building in the Midland-Odessa area. The investment will be carried out through a joint venture between BlackRock and Oxy subsidiary 1PointFive, which specializes in carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration (CCUS).

A groundbreaking ceremony for Stratos — being billed as the world’s largest DAC operation — was held in April 2023. Construction is scheduled to be completed in mid-2025. The facility is expected to capture up to 500,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Among the organizations that have agreed to buy carbon removal credits from 1Point5 are Amazon, Airbus, All Nippon Airways, TD Bank, the Houston Astros, and the Houston Texans.

Occidental says 1PointFive plans to set up more than 100 DAC facilities worldwide by 2035.

Vicki Hollub, president and CEO of Oxy, says the joint venture with BlackRock demonstrates that DAC is “becoming an investable technology.”

“We believe that BlackRock’s expertise across global markets and industries makes them the ideal partner to help further industrial-scale [DAC],” she says.

DAC removes CO2 from the atmosphere then stores it in underground geological formations.

“Occidental’s technical expertise brings unprecedented scale to this cutting-edge decarbonization technology,” says Larry Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock.

He adds that Stratos “represents an incredible investment opportunity for BlackRock’s clients to invest in this unique energy infrastructure project and underscores the critical role of American energy companies in climate technology innovation.”

1PointFive, Oxy's CCUS subsidiary, has secured a deal that's being billed as among the largest carbon removal credit deals. Photo via oxy.com

Oxy's CCUS subsidiary inks massive carbon removal credit deal

making moves

Canada’s TD Securities investment bank has agreed to buy 27,500 metric tons of carbon removal credits from the 1PointFive subsidiary of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum.

The four-year deal involves 1PointFive’s first direct air capture (DAC) plant, called Stratos, which is under construction in the Midland-Odessa area. The Occidental Petroleum subsidiary specializes in carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration (CCUS). Under this agreement, the captured CO2 underlying the carbon credits will be stored through geologic sequestration.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Stratos will be capable of capturing and removing up to 500,000 metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year, 1PointFive says.

Michael Avery, president and general manager of 1PointFive, says in a November 1 news release that TD Securities’ purchase of carbon removal credits demonstrates how DAC “can become a vital tool in an organization’s sustainability strategy and help further net-zero goals.”

“Carbon removal credits from [DAC] will be measurable, transparent, and durable, with the goal of providing a solution for organizations to address their emissions,” Avery adds.

The 1PointFive deal is part of TD Securities’ broader decarbonization initiative.

“As the need to move from climate commitments to action intensifies, corporations across all sectors are looking for tangible ways to achieve their net-zero goals,” says Amy West, global head of ESG solutions at TD Securities.

In September, 1PointFive announced a 10-year deal with e-commerce giant Amazon to purchase 250,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide removal credits via Stratos.

GigaDAC's technology, as it scales, should reduce the cost of construction by two thirds. Photo courtesy of Victory Over Carbon

Houston company scores NSF grant for DAC tech

fresh funding

A Houston startup that's using aerospace engineering in the direct air capture space has received funding to continue research and development on its technology.

Victory Over Carbon Inc. received a Small Business Innovation Research grant for $272,488 from U.S. National Science Foundation. The company, which is based out of Greentown Labs in Houston, has created its GigaDAC system that uses a spray to aerodynamic separator model, reducing costs while maintaining efficacy, according to a news release from the company.

“NSF accelerates the translation of emerging technologies into transformative new products and services,” Erwin Gianchandani, NSF assistant director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, says in the release. “We take great pride in funding deep-technology startups and small businesses that will shape science and engineering results into meaningful solutions for today and tomorrow.”

GigaDAC's technology, as it scales, should reduce the cost of construction by two thirds, per the company, while optimizing current DAC operations.

“DAC is a critical pillar to solving climate change, and an immense undertaking as society gets serious about scaling in a way that is both technologically sound as well as commercially viable,” Harrison Rice, CEO of Victory Over Carbon, says in the release “Today’s leading DAC contactor designs are largely an offshoot of cooling tower technology. As a positive, these systems work — but they’re not optimized to scale. For GigaDAC, we went to a blank slate and started with scalability as the first principal; both to build, and to operate efficiently.

"Getting this right means winning in a market expected to grow to over $1 trillion in annual revenue,” he continues.

Since the company has secured funding from the America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF, it can apply for additional funding totaling up to $2 million.

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Houston company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

results are in

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

Barge hits bridge connecting Galveston and Pelican Island, causing partial collapse and oil spill

A barge slammed into a bridge pillar in Galveston, Texas, on Wednesday, spilling oil into waters near busy shipping channels and closing the only road to a small neighboring island. No injuries were reported.

The impact sent pieces of the bridge, which connects Galveston to Pelican Island, tumbling on top of the barge and shut down a stretch of waterway so crews could clean up the spill. The accident knocked one man off the vessel and into the water, but he was quickly recovered and was not injured, said Galveston County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Ray Nolen.

Ports along the Texas coast are hubs of international trade, but experts said the collision was unlikely to result in serious economic disruptions since it occurred in a lesser-used waterway. The island is on the opposite side of Galveston Island’s beaches that draw millions of tourists each year.

The accident happened shortly before 10 a.m. after a tugboat operator pushing two barges lost control of them, said David Flores, a bridge superintendent with the Galveston County Navigation District.

“The current was very bad, and the tide was high," Flores said. “He lost it.”

Pelican Island is only a few miles wide and is home to Texas A&M University at Galveston, a large shipyard and industrial facilities. Fewer than 200 people were on the campus when the collision happened, and all were eventually allowed to drive on the bridge to leave. The marine and maritime research institute said it plans to remain closed until at least Friday. Students who live on campus were allowed to remain there, but university officials warned those who live on campus and leave “should be prepared to remain off campus for an unknown period of time.”

The accident came weeks after a cargo ship crashed into a support column of the Francis Key Bridge in Baltimore on March 26, killing six construction workers.

The tugboat in Texas was pushing bunker barges, which are fuel barges for ships, Flores said. The barge, which is owned by Martin Petroleum, has a 30,000-gallon capacity, but it's not clear how much leaked into the bay, said Galveston County spokesperson Spencer Lewis. He said about 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) of the waterway were shut down because of the spill.

The affected area is miles away from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which sees frequent barge traffic, and the Houston Ship Channel, a large shipping channel for ocean-going vessels. Aside from the environmental impact of the spill, the region is unlikely to see large economic disruption as a result of the accident, said Marcia Burns, a maritime transportation expert at the University of Houston

“Because Pelican Island is a smaller location, which is not in the heart of commercial events, then the impact is not as devastating," Burns said. “It’s a relatively smaller impact.”

At the bridge, a large piece of broken concrete and debris from the railroad hung over the side and on top of the barge that rammed into the passageway. Flores said the rail line only serves as protection for the structure and has never been used.

Opened in 1960, the Pelican Island Causeway Bridge was rated as “Poor” according to the Federal Highway Administration’s 2023 National Bridge Inventory released last June.

The overall rating of a bridge is based on whether the condition of any of its individual components — the deck, superstructure, substructure or culvert, if present — is rated poor or below.

In the case of the Pelican Island Causeway Bridge, inspectors rated the deck in “Satisfactory Condition,” the substructure in “Fair Condition” and the superstructure — or the component that absorbs the live traffic load — in “Poor Condition.”

The Texas Department of Transportation had been scheduled in the summer of 2025 to begin construction on a project to replace the bridge with a new one. The project was estimated to cost $194 million. In documents provided during a virtual public meeting last year, the department said the bridge has “reached the end of its design lifespan, and needs to be replaced.” The agency said it has spent over $12 million performing maintenance and repairs on the bridge in the past decade.

The bridge has one main steel span that measures 164 feet (50 meters), and federal data shows it was last inspected in December 2021. It’s unclear from the data if a state inspection took place after the Federal Highway Administration compiled the data.

The bridge had an average daily traffic figure of about 9,100 cars and trucks, according to a 2011 estimate.

___

Lozano reported from Houston. Associated Press reporters Christopher L. Keller in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen, Texas; Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas; and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.