Merichem Company has created a new business unit that's been acquired by a private equity firm. Photo via Getty Images

A New Orleans-based private equity firm has announced the acquisition of a Houston chemical company's technology business unit, the business announced today.

Black Bay Energy Capital acquired a portion of Merichem Company’s business — including its Merichem Process Technologies and Merichem Catalyst Products, which will collectively be renamed Merichem Technologies. Merichem's caustic services business, which handles spent caustic for beneficial reuse, will be maintained by the company.

Cyndie Fredrick has been promoted to CEO of Merichem Technologies. She previously served as Merichem's senior vice president and general manager of Merichem Process Technologies. She's joined by CFO Rene Campos, Senior Vice President of Technology Jeff Gomach, and Senior Vice President of Catalysts William Rouleau, who are all former managers within Merichem.

“The Merichem Technologies team has successfully deployed highly engineered and patented technologies, chemical catalysts, and mechanical solutions to various end markets including liquified natural gas, midstream oil and gas, refining of traditional crude and renewable feedstocks, biogas/landfill/RNG production, geothermal energy production, and chemical manufacturing," Fredrick says in a news release. "Merichem Company has been a fantastic steward of this business for decades, and the entire Merichem Technologies team is excited about our new partnership with Black Bay and the ability to pursue new avenues for growth.”

Additionally, Merichem Company's CEO Kendra Lee will join the Merichem Technologies board. Lee's grandfather founded the company in 1945, and she told EnergyCapital last year that she hopes to continue the legacy of the company, which designs and fabricates equipment for sulfur removal.

“Our reputation has always stood on the principles of proven performance, unsurpassed expertise, and an uncommon commitment to our customers," Lee says in the release. "This divesture is a major milestone for Merichem Company as we continue to execute on our strategic vision, further cementing our leadership position in caustic services.”

Black Bay focuses on the energy and specialty chemical sectors, but the Merichem Technologies acquisition brings a new sulfur-treating platform to the firm.

“Sulfur treatment is a critical path item across many industrial applications around the world. Hydrogen sulfide, mercaptans, carbon dioxide, and other related impurities must be dealt with to ensure environmental compliance, sustainable operations, and a saleable end product," Tom Ambrose, partner of Black Bay, says in the release.

“When we were founded, we were a chemical company. Today, we have morphed into a technology company,” says Kendra Lee, CEO of Merichem. Photo via LinkedIn

How this 78-year-old Houston chemical company is evolving as an energy tech leader

at the helm

Kendra Lee had no designs on running the family business.

“In fact, I never planned on being a part of Merichem,” Lee recalls.

In 1945, Lee’s grandfather, John T. Files, and a pair of business partners founded the company in Houston. Their goal was to take a potential waste product and turn it into something that would benefit the oil and gas industry — an early attempt at sustainability.

What started as a soap and industrial cleaning company began procuring cresylate, which is a waste from the refineries treating gasoline, to recover spent cresylic acids, which are highly caustic, and refine them so they could be sold into the industrial chemicals market.

“When we were founded, we were a chemical company,” says Lee. “Today, we have morphed into a technology company.”

That transformation began in the 1970s. By 1997, when Merichem put the chemical end of their business into a joint venture with Sasol, the focus had transferred to Merichem Process Technology and Merichem Caustic Services, while Sasol took over the chemical branch.

Merichem Process Technology designs and fabricates equipment for sulfur removal, while Merichem Caustic Services works with companies to handle spent caustic for beneficial reuse rather than waste. The innovative company has more than 1,200 units licensed globally for operation in a myriad of applications. Those allow the 78-year-old company to further push sustainability as a priority.

Lee began her career with Merichem more than 20 years ago as an entry-level laboratory technician.

“I’ve never left, and I kept getting opportunities — now here I am,” she says.

Where she is is at the top of the ladder. Lee became chairman of the board in 2012 and CEO in 2014. But doesn’t think of Merichem as a family business. Lee is only the third member of the family to work at the company, including Files and the cousin who followed him as CEO.

Lee says that she seldom spoke to her grandfather about the business. He worked at Merichem until the day he died in 2002, but Lee recalls that, as a low-level employee, she didn’t have a single meeting with him before that time.

“Our interactions were very normal family dinners,” she explains.

Since her transition into leadership, Lee says, “My focus has really been on continuing the legacy my grandfather and cousin created. We’re very employee-focused and community-focused. Part of our role as part of our industry is to provide livelihoods and be good stewards in communities in which we operate.”

She adds that she’s also focused on innovation.

“That was a big part of who my grandfather was. That’s how we transitioned from being a chemical company to a technology company” she says. That means looking for new methods not only in the research facility, but in every segment of the company.

That eye toward the next big discovery will likely see a significant payoff in one to three years, when a new product, designed to improve on hydrogen sulfide removal — with a new catalyst that is regnerable — will be commercially available. But right now, customers can take advantage of the company’s new Standard LO-CAT® system. The product is the result of continuous improvements from the previous system and boasts low operating costs, no liquid waste streams, and significant turndown capability.

And what will follow for the Houston born-and-based company? Merichem has plans to push further into the renewables field, says Lee, adding that there is a continued need for Merichem’s technology as we transition into other types of energy, including geothermal. More than three quarters of a century after its founding, Merichem is still a company on the forefront.

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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.”