Rice University, which works with Houston-based Moonshot Compost, reported a milestone achievement this month. Photo via Getty Images

Rice University and its campus community have officially diverted over 1 million pounds of food waste from landfills.

The university, which works with Houston-based Moonshot Compost, reported the milestone achievement this month. The program was originally launched in November 2020.

“The genesis of the current composting program was a partnership between Housing and Dining, the Office of Sustainability and an undergraduate student named Ashley Fitzpatrick,” says Richard Johnson, senior executive director for sustainability at Rice, in a news release.

“We spent quite a bit of time developing options for food waste composting at Rice with those efforts really ramping up in 2019. After a pilot project, further reflection and an interruption due to the pandemic, we found Moonshot Compost, and they proved to be the partner we needed.”

Fitzpatrick, the student who started it all went on to graduate and now works for Moonshot Compost. She did leave a legacy of student involvement in the program, and Isabelle Chang now serves as an undergraduate student intern in the Office of Sustainability. The role includes liaising with students and other major players on campus who have feedback for the program.

Rice previously had a composting program, but it never reached the same level of scale, per the news release.

“Many years ago — from the late 1990s to about 2007 — we had an on-campus composting device called the Earth Tub that provided food waste composting at one campus kitchen,” Johnson said. “However, the device failed, and frankly, the process of operating the device, getting the food waste into the device and maintaining it all proved onerous. Interest in composting remained after we decommissioned the Earth Tub, and for years we looked for alternatives [before finding Moonshot Compost].”

Launched in July 2020 by Chris Wood and Joe Villa, Moonshot operates with a team of drivers utilizing its data platform to quantify the environmental benefits of composting. The duo went on to team up with energy industry veteran Rene Ramirez to harness their compost into clean hydrogen power.

Last fall, Moonshot Hydrogen signed a memorandum of understanding with the Purdue Innovates Office of Technology Commercialization. The agreement includes facilitating the first operating commercial pilot that biologically turns food waste into hydrogen.

Moonshot Compost has announced its plans to create green hydrogen at scale. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup launches clean energy business to turn compost into hydrogen

waste to power

You may already know Moonshot Compost, a Houston company devoted to collecting food waste all over Texas. Now, meet Moonshot Hydrogen.

Founders and brothers-in-law Chris Wood and Joe Villa have joined forces with energy industry veteran Rene Ramirez to harness their compost into clean hydrogen power.

Earlier this month, the new branch of the existing company signed a memorandum of understanding with the Purdue Innovates Office of Technology Commercialization. The agreement comes close to a year after Ramirez first began working with Purdue University Northwest professors, Robert Kramer and Libbie Pelter, and Purdue University’s professor, John Patterson. The result is the first operating commercial pilot that biologically turns food waste into hydrogen.

This revelation comes just days after the Biden-Harris administration announced that it had set aside $7 billion to H2Hubs, a collection of seven regional hydrogen power stations, including one in the Houston area.

“We love the timing. There’s just a lot of interest right now,” Wood tells EnergyCapital in a video call with Villa and Ramirez. “It's been fun to watch Rene's long relationship with Purdue come to fruition on behalf of that hydrogen at the same time that the DoD is moving forward with their announcement on the hydrogen hubs.”

Wood and Villa founded Moonshot Compost three years ago.

“The thought was, 'waste is so valuable, and there's so much of it in the trash.' So we wanted to focus on, ‘Let's get our hands on as much food waste as possible,’ and always be focused on doing the best thing with our food waste,” Wood says.

Initially, that meant making compost, which saved the waste from a landfill and produced high-quality, nutrient-rich soil. Customers include both private homes and commercial accounts. Those include heavy hitters like Rice University, Conoco Phillips and Texas Children’s Hospital, as well as beloved restaurants ranging from Bludorn to Tacodeli. And that’s just in Houston. The company now collects from businesses in Austin, Dallas and Waco, too.

That extended footprint will be important to Moonshot Hydrogen.

“Our big dream is ideally that we have one of these hydrogen facilities in almost every city that we can think of. Your city has that ability to charge up or refuel the cars with hydrogen at-location and not have to worry about going 300 miles away,” says Ramirez.

Filling up your car with zero-emission hydrogen made from compost? It could be a reality sooner than you think. According to Wood, Moonshot is already in the preliminary stages of discussions with a facility to pilot just such a program.

“We’ve been thrilled with how receptive people are. There does seem to be a general acknowledgment that this would fit well with Houston’s desire to be the energy transition capital of the world,” he says.

Their patent-protected technology assures that Moonshot is the only company with this novel solution to food waste. Most exciting is the fact that the institutions with which Moonshot already partners could be on the ground floor of being at least partially powered by their own discarded scraps.

“Everyone loves the circularity aspect of it,” says Ramirez. And with a potential launch as soon as next March, it’s one step closer to a reality for the Energy Transition Capital.

This innovative European company has already saved nearly 30,000 meals from being wasted in Houston. Photo via toogoodtogo.com

How this European company is reducing food waste in Houston and Texas

sustainable impact

Since expanding into Houston just over two months ago, an app that combats food waste has saved over 28,000 meals.

By partnering with locally owned vendors like the Village Bakery, as well as larger chains like Tiff’s Treats, Too Good To Go offers Houstonians a variety of discounted goodies. Users can browse a range of stores and sign up for a “surprise bag,” an assemblage of surplus food that typically costs $5.

The free mobile app now connects savvy shoppers to 130 Houston area stores, allowing them to enjoy food that would otherwise be thrown away. Based in Denmark, Too Good To Go previously launched in Texas in Austin in 2021, before its statewide expansion into Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio in July.

"We are excited to expand our app across Texas to partner with the dynamic food scene and culture," says Chris MacAulay, Too Good To Go US Country Director, in a press release. "In partnership with the incredible local food businesses across Texas, we want to make reducing food waste accessible to all. Together, with the great restaurant community and residents in Texas, we know we will have an immediate impact."

Sarah Soteroff, senior PR manager of Too Good To Go’s North American branch, shared the European based corporation’s scaling up of operations in Texas is part of their plan to move across the United States, going into more cities where food waste persists.

“Our goal is to reduce food waste everywhere that it occurs. So in the long term, we want to eliminate food waste globally,” Soteroff says.

The move into U.S. cities has been gradual, as Soteroff said Too Good To Go works to get an initial network of 50 businesses signed up for the app before officially launching. Beyond getting vendors to list their surplus stock on the app, Too Good To Go representatives aid in marketing and educating the stores on how to use the app.

“We want to make sure that we are setting those businesses up for success and ensuring that consumers know about it through PR, through the stories we share. That businesses do feel as though there’s a value to them for being on the app,” Soteroff explains.

Though the surprise bags are typically priced at about one-third their retail values, vendors can still bring in business through these mystery deals. Roughly 8,500 unique users in Houston have made purchases through the app since it debuted, preventing over 28,000 meals from ending up in landfills.

“For us to ensure that we are able to reduce food waste, we do have to be going into markets like Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin–in those larger cities where there’s a larger concentration of stores,” Soteroff shares.

According to the Too Good To Go website, every surprise bag purchased prevents the “CO2e emission of charging one smartphone fully 422 times,” and in 2022 the company averted nearly 200,000 tons of CO2e emissions through its community partnerships.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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Houston's energy industry deemed both a strength and weakness on global cities report

mixed reviews

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

New collaboration to build data center microgrid in Houston

coming soon

Two companies are teaming up to build a natural gas microgrid in Houston that will reduce emissions by 98 percent.

Provider of prime and backup power solutions RPower has teamed up with Houston’s ViVaVerse Solutions to build a 17-megawatt (MW) microgrid at the ViVa Center campus in Houston, which is expected to be commissioned by the end of the year.

The microgrid plans to employ ultra-low emissions and natural gas generators to deliver Resiliency-as-a-Service (RaaS), and this will connect to ViVaVerse's colocation data center operations during utility outages.

RPower will also deploy the microgrid across different ERCOT market programs, which will contribute to assist with essential capacity and ancillary services for the local grid. ERCOT has increased its use of renewable energy in recent years, but still has faced criticism for unstable conditions. The microgrids can potentially assist ERCOT, and also help cut back on emissions.

“RPower's pioneering microgrid will not only deliver essential N+1 resiliency to our data center operations but will also contribute to the local community by supplying necessary capacity during peak demand periods when the electric grid is strained,” Eduardo Morales, CEO of ViVaVerse Solutions and Morales Capital Group, says in a news release.

ViVaVerse Solutions will be converting the former Compaq Computer/HPE headquarters Campus into an innovative technology hub called the ViVa Center, which will host the High-Performance Computing Data Center, and spaces dedicated to mission critical infrastructure and technical facilities . The hub will host 200 data labs.

“We are thrilled to partner with ViVaVerse to deploy this `first of its kind' microgrid solution in the data center space,” Jeff Starcher, CEO of RPower, adds. “Our natural gas backup generation system delivers the same reliability and performance as traditional diesel systems, but with a 98 percent reduction in emissions. Further, the RPower system provides critical grid services and will respond to the volatility of renewable generation, further enabling the energy transition to a carbon free future.”