The company, based in Tomball, has developed a mobile, scalable energy source that can be used anywhere, anytime. Image via kaizencleanenergy.com

An innovative Houston-area company is on a mission to make using hydrogen energy easier and cheaper.

A recently announced partnership with investment firm, Balcor Companies, will help make this a reality as Kaizen Clean Energy looks to make hydrogen energy more accessible, reliable and affordable. Announced July 6, Balcor now has an ownership stake in Kaizen. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The company, based in Tomball, has developed a “micro grid” hydrogen power station — a mobile, scalable energy source that can be used anywhere, anytime.

Balcor Companies Founder and Director Chris Balat says his company is looking at their stake in KCE as an investment in shaping a more sustainable world.

“We are thrilled to make our first foray into the energy sector with Kaizen Energy as our trusted partner,” he says in a statement. "Our association with Kaizen is a testament to our commitment towards a sustainable future, driving positive change in the world while delivering value to our stakeholders.”

Kaizen's mission is to succeed where electric grids fail. One fallback source to help strained electric grids has typically been diesel generators. However, diesel generators increase local emissions which produce a significant amount of air pollution and health concerns. Kaizen’s hydrogen generators can be used to power buildings, homes, hospitals, data centers, events, and farm equipment. They are portable, which means it does not require any excessive infrastructure.

“Our system allows customers the ability to have renewable energy anywhere in the world in a very short time frame,” said Eric Smith, co-founder of KCE. “For EV charging, for power generation, to replace a diesel generator.”

Smith tells EnergyCapitalhtx the concept is very attractive to corporations who lease buildings as building out a permanent infrastructure could be costly and time consuming.

Robert Meaney, a Texas Tech engineering graduate, founded Kaizen Clean Energy in 2020, along with Eric Smith and Craig Klaasmeyer. Meaney designed the technology using a mixture of methanol and water to create hydrogen. A 330-gallon tank of the mixture produces about 150 kilograms of hydrogen — or 1.6 megawatt-hours of energy. The mixture lowers the risks of many of the drawbacks of hydrogen usage. For example, it can be stored for longer periods and transported long distances safely.

The microgrid fits into a small container and can be dropped on site at remote locations or in heavily congested grid areas. It also eliminates the cost of hydrogen transportation by generating hydrogen on-site with commonly available methanol, which can be both used for hydrogen fuel and converted to electricity for electric vehicle charging. This microgrid technology can both connect to the grid to supplement available power, or can be used during a power outage.

To put this energy source to use, KCE has partnered with Extreme E, an international off-road racing series that is part of Formula 1 and uses electric SUV’s to race in remote parts of the world. Kaizen’s units are also being used at a fleet-charging location in Los Angeles.

Oceanit's lab, H2XCEL — short for “Hydrogen Accelerator” — aims to integrate hydrogen into the current energy infrastructure, a serious cost-saver for companies looking to make the energy transition. Photo via Getty Images

New lab opens in Houston to help make pipelines safer for hydrogen transport

HOU-DRYGEN

An innovative Hawaii-based technology company is saying aloha to Houston with the opening of a unique test laboratory that aims to increase hydrogen pipeline safety. It is the latest sign that Houston is at the forefront of the movement to hydrogen energy.

The lab, H2XCEL — short for “Hydrogen Accelerator” — aims to integrate hydrogen into the current energy infrastructure, a serious cost-saver for companies looking to make the energy transition. Oceanit, a Honolulu-based technology company, is behind the lab.

H2XCEL will be the only lab in the U.S. capable of testing hydrogen and methane mixtures at high temperatures and pressures. Its aim is to protect pipelines from hydrogen embrittlement — when small hydrogen molecules penetrate pipe walls and damage the metal, potentially causing cracks, leaks, and failures.

The lab uses Oceanit’s HydroPel pipeline nanotechnology, developed with the support of the U.S. Department of Energy. Photo courtesy of Oceanit

“The launch of this testing facility is a major milestone. It is the only lab of its kind in the U.S. and the work underway at H2XCEL will accelerate the transition toward a hydrogen-driven economy,” Patrick Sullivan, the CEO and founder of Oceanit, says in a news release. “We see a toolset emerging that will enable the U.S. to accelerate toward a low-carbon future.”

Houston was the obvious choice to launch the new lab, says Oceanit’s Direct of Marketing James Andrews.

“Houston is the energy capital of the world," Andrews explains. "Oceanit knew that if we wanted to make inroads with decarbonization technologies, we needed to be physically present there.”

H2XCEL uses Oceanit’s HydroPel pipeline nanotechnology, developed with the support of the U.S. Department of Energy. It is a surface treatment that protects metals, eliminating the need to build new pipelines using expensive, hydrogen-resistant metals. The estimated cost of building new hydrogen pipelines is approximately $4.65 million per mile, according to a press release from the company. In contrast, HydroPel can be applied to existing pipelines to prevent damage, and the cost to refurbish one mile of existing steel pipeline is less than 10 percent of the cost per mile for new pipeline construction.

One of the main objectives of the new Houston lab will be to test hydrogen-methane blends under varying conditions to determine how to use HydroPel safely. By enabling the energy sector to reduce its climate impact while continuing to provide energy using existing infrastructure, methane-hydrogen blends capitalize on hydrogen’s carbon-free energy potential and its positive impact on climate change.

“We want to create a situation where we can speed up energy transition,” says Andrews. “By blending it into a safer environment, we can make it attractive to bigger players.”

Oceanit already has a Houston presence where the team is focused on several other technologies related to hydrogen, including HeatX, a water-based technology for heat transfer surfaces in refineries, power plants, and more, as well as their HALO system, which utilizes directed energy to produce clean hydrogen wastewater and other waste byproducts produced in industrial businesses.

A recent report issued by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy about the hydrogen economy

in Texas insists that the Lone Star State is an ideal hub for hydrogen as an energy source. The report explains that with the state’s existing oil and gas infrastructure, Texas is the best spot to affordably develop hydrogen while managing economic challenges. The Houston region already produces and consumes a third of the nation’s hydrogen, according to the report, and has more than 50 percent of the country’s dedicated hydrogen pipelines.

Energy sources are often categorized as renewable or not, but perhaps a more accurate classification focuses on the type of reaction that converts energy into useful matter. Photo by simpson33/Getty Images

How is energy produced?

ENERGY 101

Many think of the Energy Industry as a dichotomy–old vs. new, renewable vs. nonrenewable, good vs. bad. But like most things, energy comes from an array of sources, and each kind has its own unique benefits and challenges. Understanding the multi-faceted identity of currently available energy sources creates an environment in which new ideas for cleaner and more sustainable energy sourcing can proliferate.

At a high level, energy can be broadly categorized by the process of extracting and converting it into a useful form.

Energy Produced from Chemical Reaction

Energy derived from coal, crude oil, natural gas, and biomass is primarily produced as a result of bonds breaking during a chemical reaction. When heated, burned, or fermented, organic matter releases energy, which is converted into mechanical or electrical energy.

These sources can be stored, distributed, and shared relatively easily and do not have to be converted immediately for power consumption. However, the resulting chemical reaction produces environmentally harmful waste products.

Though the processes to extract these organic sources of energy have been refined for many years to achieve reliable and cheap energy, they can be risky and are perceived as invasive to mother nature.

According to the 2022 bp Statistical Review of World Energy, approximately 50% of the world’s energy consumption comes from petroleum and natural gas; another 25% from coal. Though there was a small decline in demand for oil from 2019 to 2021, the overall demand for fossil fuels remained unchanged during the same time frame, mostly due to the increase in natural gas and coal consumption.

Energy Produced from Mechanical Reaction

Energy captured from the earth’s heat or the movement of wind and water results from the mechanical processes enabled by the turning of turbines in source-rich environments. These turbines spin to produce electricity inside a generator.

Solar energy does not require the use of a generator but produces electricity due to the release of electrons from the semiconducting materials found on a solar panel. The electricity produced by geothermal, wind, solar, and hydropower is then converted from direct current to alternating current electricity.

Electricity is most useful for immediate consumption, as storage requires the use of batteries–a process that turns electrical energy into chemical energy that can then be accessed in much the same way that coal, crude oil, natural gas, and biomass produce energy.

Energy Produced from a Combination of Reactions

Hydrogen energy comes from a unique blend of both electrical and chemical energy processes. Despite hydrogen being the most abundant element on earth, it is rarely found on its own, requiring a two-step process to extract and convert energy into a usable form. Hydrogen is primarily produced as a by-product of fossil fuels, with its own set of emissions challenges related to separating the hydrogen from the hydrocarbons.

Many use electrolysis to separate hydrogen from other elements before performing a chemical reaction to create electrical energy inside of a contained fuel cell. The electrolysis process is certainly a more environmentally-friendly solution, but there are still great risks with hydrogen energy–it is highly flammable, and its general energy output is less than that of other electricity-generating methods.

Energy Produced from Nuclear Reaction

Finally, energy originating from the splitting of an atom’s nucleus, mostly through nuclear fission, is yet another way to produce energy. A large volume of heat is released when an atom is bombarded by neutrons in a nuclear power plant, which is then converted to electrical energy.

This process also produces a particularly sensitive by-product known as radiation, and with it, radioactive waste. The proper handling of radiation and radioactive waste is of utmost concern, as its effects can be incredibly damaging to the environment surrounding a nuclear power plant.

Nuclear fission produces minimal carbon, so nuclear energy is oft considered environmentally safe–as long as strict protocols are followed to ensure proper storage and disposal of radiation and radioactive waste.

Nuclear to Mechanical to Chemical?

Interestingly enough, the Earth’s heat comes from the decay of radioactive materials in the Earth’s core, loosely linking nuclear power production back to geothermal energy production.

It’s also clear the conversion of energy into electricity is the cleanest option for the environment, yet adequate infrastructure remains limited in supply and accessibility. If not consumed immediately as electricity, energy is thus converted into a chemical form for the convenience of storage and distribution it provides.

Perhaps the expertise and talent of Houstonians serving the flourishing academic and industrial sectors of energy development will soon resolve many of our current energy challenges by exploring further the circular dynamic of the energy environment. Be sure to check out our Events Page to find the networking event that best serves your interest in the Energy Transition.


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Lindsey Ferrell is a contributing writer to EnergyCapitalHTX and founder of Guerrella & Co.

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Houston startup taps new corporate partner for AI-backed sustainability consumer tech

out of the boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Houston software company to manage IRA compliance for solar, storage company with national presence

tapping into tech

Houston company's Inflation Reduction Act compliance management software has scored a new partner.

Empact Technologies announced a multi-year agreement with Ampliform, which originates, builds, develops, and operates utility-scale solar and solar plus storage projects. The Empact platform uses a combination of software and services to ensure projects meet IRS regulatory requirements, which focus on wage and apprenticeship, domestic content, and energy and low-income community incentives. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed

Empact will partner specifically with Ampliform’s project Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) firms, subcontractors, and key suppliers of steel and iron products. In addition, they will work through a project’s life cycle for EPC’s solar modules, trackers, and inverters to manage prevailing wage & apprenticeship, domestic content, and other tax incentive qualification and compliance.

“The team at Ampliform had the leadership and foresight to recognize the significant risks of IRA non-compliance and the need to have third party compliance management in place prior to construction kick-off," Charles Dauber, CEO and founder of Empact, says in a news release. We look forward to helping Ampliform fully leverage the IRA tax incentives to develop and build their project development pipeline.”

Ampliform has approximately 700MW of projects in short-term development. Ampliform also plans 3GW of projects in its development pipeline. Ampliform’s future expansion plans exceed more than 13GWdc in total. Empact will manage the IRA compliance for these projects. According to a Goldman Sachs report, the IRA is estimated to provide $1.2 trillion of incentives by 2032.

Guest column: Cold weather and electric vehicles — separating fact from fiction

EVs in winter

Winter range loss is fueling this season’s heated debate around the viability of electric vehicles, but some important context is needed. Gasoline cars, just like their electric counterparts, lose a significant amount of range in cold weather too.

According to the Department of Energy, the average internal combustion engine’s fuel economy is 15 percent lower at 20° Fahrenheit than it would be at 77° Fahrenheit, and can drop as much as 24 percent for short drives.

As the world grapples with the implications of climate change and shifts toward sustainable technologies, it's important to put the pros and cons of EVs and traditional gas vehicles in perspective. And while Houston isn't known as the coldest of climates, you still might want to review this information.

The Semantics of Energy Consumption Hide the Real Issue: Cost

First, let's talk about the language. When discussing gas vehicles in cold climates, the conversation often centers around "fuel efficiency." It sounds less threatening, doesn't it? But in reality, this is just a euphemism for range loss, something for which EVs are frequently criticized.

Why does that matter? Because for most drivers who travel less than 40 miles a day, what range loss really means is higher fueling costs. When a gas vehicle loses range, it costs a lot more than the same range loss in an EV. For example, at $3.50 a gallon, a car that gets 30 MPG in warm weather and costs $46.67 to go 400 miles suddenly costs $8.24 more to drive the same distance. By contrast, an EV plugging in at $0.13 per kWh usually costs $13 to go 400 miles and bumps up to a piddly $16.25 even if it loses 20 percent efficiency when the temperature drops.

Some EV models lose 40 percent in extreme cold. OK, tack on another $3. That still leaves almost $30 in the driver’s pocket. Over the course of a year, those savings pile up.

Let’s Call It What It Is: Fear Mongering

Any seismic shift in technology comes with consumer hesitancy and media skepticism. Remember when everyone was afraid to stand in front of microwaves and thought the waves would make the food unsafe to eat? Or how, just a decade or so back everyone was talking about how cell phones could spontaneously explode?

Fear of new technology is a natural psychological response and to be expected. But it takes the media machine to turn consumer hesitation into a frenzy. Any way you slice it, 2023 was one big platform for expressing fears around EVs. Headline-grabbing tales of EV woes often lacked context or understanding of the technology. In a highly partisan landscape where EVs have been dubbed liberal leftist technology, what should be seen as a miraculous pro-American, pro-clean-air, pro-energy independence, pro-cost saving advancement is getting a beating in the press. In this environment, every bit of “bad EV news” spirals out into an echo-chamber of confirmation bias.

For example, Tesla’s recent software update was hyped as a 2 million vehicle “recall” even though the software was updated over the air without a single car needing to leave the driveway. Hertz's recent decision to reduce its Tesla fleet was seen by many as a referendum on the cars’ quality but was actually a decision based on Hertz’s miscalculations around repair costs and a mismatch in their projections of consumer demand for EV rentals.

While the cost of repairs might be higher, maintenance and fuel costs are still much lower than gas vehicles. EVs are better daily-use cars than rentals because while our country’s public charging infrastructure is still lagging, home charging is a huge benefit of EV ownership. Instead, the Hertz move and the negative coverage are further spooking the public.

The Truth About EVs

Despite the challenges, it's crucial to acknowledge the environmental advantages of EVs. For instance, EVs produce zero direct emissions, which significantly reduces air pollution and greenhouse gasses. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EVs are far more energy efficient than gas-powered cars, converting more than 77 percent of electrical energy from the grid to power, compared to 12-30 percent for gasoline vehicles.

This efficiency translates to a cleaner, more sustainable mode of transportation. And stories of EVs stranded in Chicago aside, generally they perform well in cold weather, as clearly demonstrated in Norway. In Norway, the average temperature hovers a solid 10 degrees lower than in the U.S. Yet 93 percent of new cars sold there are electric. The first-ever drive from the north to the south pole was also completed by an electric vehicle. The success story of EVs in Norway and demonstration projects in harsh winter climates serve as a powerful counterargument to the notion that EVs are ineffective in cold weather.

So where does this leave us? The discourse around EVs and gasoline vehicles in cold weather needs a more balanced and factual approach. The range loss in gasoline vehicles is a significant issue that mirrors the challenges faced by EVs. By acknowledging this and understanding the broader context, we can have a more informed and equitable discussion about the future of automotive technology and its impact on our environment.

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Kate L. Harrison is the co-founder and head of marketing at MoveEV, an AI-backed EV transition company that helps organizations convert fleet and employee-owned gas vehicles to electric, and reimburse for charging at home.