Houston is in the running to receive millions from a program from the National Science Foundation. Photo via Getty Images

The National Science Foundation announced 34 semifinalists for a regional innovation program that will deploy up to $160 million in federal funding over the next 10 years. Among the list of potential regions to receive this influx of capital is Houston.

The Greater Houston Partnership and the Houston Energy Transition Initiative developed the application for the NSF Regional Innovation Engine competition in collaboration with economic, civic, and educational leaders from across the city and five regional universities, including the University of Houston, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas Southern University, Rice University, and Texas A&M University.

The proposed project for Houston — called the Accelerating Carbon-Neutral Technologies and Policies for Energy Transition, or ACT, Engine — emphasizes developing sustainable and equitable opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs while also pursuing sustainable and equitable energy access for all.

“The ACT Engine will leverage our diverse energy innovation ecosystem and talent, creating a true competitive advantage for existing and new energy companies across our region," says Jane Stricker, senior vice president of energy transition and executive director for HETI, in a statement. "Texas is leading the way in nearly every energy and energy transition solution, and this Engine can catalyze our region’s continued growth in low-carbon technology development and deployment."

If Houston's proposal is selected as a finalist, it could receive up to $160 million over 10 years. The final list of NSF Engines awards is expected this fall, and, according to a release, each awardee will initially receiving about $15 million for the first two years.

"Each of these NSF Engines semifinalists represents an emerging hub of innovation and lends their talents and resources to form the fabric of NSF's vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere," NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan says in a news release. "These teams will spring ideas, talent, pathways and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation."

The NSF selected its 34 semifinalists from 188 original applicants, and the next step for Houston is a virtual site visit that will assess competitive advantages, budget and resource plans for R&D and workforce development, and the proposed leadership’s ability to mobilize plans into action over the first two years.

"Houston is poised, like no other city, to lead the energy transition. The ACT Engine presents a remarkable opportunity to not only leverage the region's unparalleled energy resources and expertise but also harness our can-do spirit. Houston has a proven track record of embracing challenges and finding innovative solutions,” says Renu Khator, president of the University of Houston, in the statement. “Through the collaborative efforts facilitated by the ACT Engine, I am confident that we can make significant strides towards creating a sustainable future that harmonizes economic growth, environmental protection and social equity."

NSF Engines will announce awards this fall after a round of in-person interviews of finalists named in July. With Houston's track record for building thriving industry hubs in energy, health care, aerospace, and the culinary arts, the region is eager to establish the next generation of leaders and dreamers responding to some of the greatest economic and societal challenges ever seen in America.

“Our energy innovation ecosystem is inclusive, dynamic, and fast growing," says Barbara Burger, energy transition adviser and former Chevron executive, in the release. "The ACT Engine has the potential to increase the amount of innovation coming into the ecosystem and the capabilities available to scale technologies needed in the energy transition. I am confident that the members of the ecosystem — incubators, accelerators, investors, universities, and corporates — are ready for the challenge that the ACT Engine will provide."

The convergence of green banking with evergreen experimentation in support of a growing green economy sounds like just the right shade of green. Photo by micheile henderson/Unsplash

Green banking meets evergreen R&D with recent MOU

MONEY + MATTER

The term “Energy Transition” doesn’t merely imply change, it demands it. And with change comes another kind of change–usually of the dollars and cents kind.

While many aspire to embrace more sustainable and cleaner energy solutions in their communities, the affluence needed to deploy necessary infrastructure often sits just outside of reach. Until now, that is.

With the rise of “green banking,” securing financing for the adoption of energy efficiency, implementation of decarbonization technologies, and broader provision of renewable energy is now more accessible. Funds at green banks, backed by a blend of public and philanthropic contributions, tap into the modern trend of crowdfunding to support egalitarian and climate improvement efforts.

However, green bank financing is structured with repayment of–or a return on–capital expected at the end of the term, meaning approval tends only to be granted to proven and established projects well past the research and development stage. Given the Energy Transition is, for the most part, still in its infancy, clearing such hurdles can be difficult.

But Houston is full of dreamers and doers; researchers and entrepreneurs eager to tackle the next big challenge. It would come as no surprise then, that Texas’ first green bank, the Clean Energy Fund of Texas (“CEFTx”), bucks tradition with a novel Memorandum Of Understanding (“MOU”) co-signed by the Houston Advanced Research Center (“HARC”) to finance efforts staunchly entrenched in R&D activity.

As the Energy Transition foothold grows, Houstonians are compelled not just to invest in green initiatives, but to drive them. Which only makes sense, considering the deep expertise in energy innovation led most recently by the Houston-area shale revolutionaries from Mitchell Energy. Established over 40 years ago by George P. Mitchell himself, HARC plants the seeds of transformation at the intersection of science, resilience, sustainability, and the environment.

Per the March 29 news release from CEFTx, John Hall, President & CEO of HARC says, “We are excited to join forces with the team at Clean Energy Fund of Texas as they drive green investment in low-income and disadvantaged communities. Our research expertise and experience in managing state and federal grants will be a true benefit to Texans.”

The recent MOU brings Energy Transition visionaries the capital necessary to explore, test, develop, and deploy innovative solutions from conception to maturity. Entrepreneurs at all stages of the business lifecycle are encouraged to apply for funding on the CEFTx website or connect with HARC at an upcoming event to discover how the two entities can take ideas from dream to reality.

“It’s an honor to work with the esteemed researchers at HARC, who have been studying sustainability for decades,” says Stephen Brown of CEFTx in the release. “Together we can be even more effective at kickstarting investments in solar power, retrofits, and other technologies that help create the green workforce of tomorrow.”

The fresh approach to funding set up by CEFTx and HARC positions new companies to succeed and enables existing companies to progress in the transition to a more sustainable #futureofenergy. It’s just the sort of sense that is needed to truly drive change.

Kanin Energy set up shop in Greentown Labs last year to grow its impact on the energy transition. Photo via Getty Images

This energy transition startup taps Houston to grow, build its waste-heat-to-power tech

eyes on hou

Waste heat is everywhere, but in Houston, the Energy Capital of the World, it is becoming a hot commodity. What is it? Janice Tran, CEO of Kanin Energy, uses the example of turning ore into steel.

“There’s a lot of heat involved in that chemical process,” she says. “It’s a waste of energy.”

But Kanin Energy can do something about that. Its waste-heat-to-power, or WHP, concept uses a technology called organic rankine cycle. Tran explains that heat drives a turbine that generates electricity.

“It’s a very similar concept to a steam engine,” she says. Tran adds that the best term for what Kanin Energy does is “waste heat recovery.”

Emission-free power should be its own virtuous goal, but for companies creating waste heat, it can be an expensive endeavor both in terms of capital and human resources to work on energy transition solutions. But Kanin Energy helps companies to decarbonize with no cost to them.

“We can pay for the projects, then we pay the customers for that heat. We turn a waste product into a revenue stream for our customer,” Tran explains. Kanin Energy then sells the clean power back to the facility or to the grid, hence decarbonizing the facility gratis. Financing, construction, and operations are all part of the package.

Kanin Energy began at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the spring of 2020.

“We started like a lotus. A lotus grows in mud — you start in the worst conditions and everything is better and easier from there,” says Tran.

That tough birth has helped provide the team with a discipline and thoughtfulness that’s been key to the company’s culture. Remote work has forced the team to get procedures clearly in place and react efficiently.

Back in May of 2020, its inception took place in Calgary. But the team, which also includes CDO Dan Fipke and CTO Jake Bainbridge, began to notice that many of their customers were either based in Houston or had Houston ties.

A year ago, the Kanin team visited Houston to see if the city could be a fit for an office. In July of 2022, Tran opened Kanin Energy offices in Greentown Labs.

“We’re hiring and building our team office out of Greentown. It’s been really great for us,” she says.

With the company now in its commercialization stage, Tran says that becoming part of the Houston energy ecosystem has been invaluable for Kanin.

The investments being made in climate tech and in energy transition make Space City the right place for the company. For Canadian-born Kanin Energy, Houston is now home. Investors across the nation, including Texas, are now helping Kanin to blossom, much like the lotus.

Janice Tran is the CEO and co-founder of Kanin Energy. Photo via LinkedIn

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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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.”