The 12-week program received a record number of applications, that spanned the campus' degree offerings. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, or Lilie, has named eight teams to the second cohort of the Lilie Summer Venture Studio, and two have sustainability as a goal.

According to Rice, the 12-week program received a record number of applications, that spanned the campus' degree offerings.

“We are thrilled to see such a high level of interest and excitement from Rice students for a high-growth venture accelerator,” Kyle Judah, executive director of Lilie, said in a statement. “The diversity and creativity in this year's applications were truly inspiring, and we’re excited to support these promising ventures with the resources and mentorship they need to hit escape velocity and create the next generation of pillar companies for Houston, Texas and the world.”

The selected teams will receive $15,000 in non-dilutive funding from the accelerator, along with access to coworking space and personalized mentorship in the Liu Idea Lab.

Coflux Purification, a patent-pending in-stream module that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, was named to the cohort, as was Solidec, a technology platform that extracts molecules from water and air, transforms them into pure chemicals and fuels without any carbon emissions.

Here are the rest of the teams for the 2024 Lilie Summer Venture Studio:

  • Docflow, focused on streamlining residency shift scheduling
  • JewelVision, building virtual fitting rooms for jewelry e-commerce retailers using generative AI
  • Levytation, using data science and AI to answer critical questions about sales and customers for coffee shop management
  • OnGuard, a marketplace to book off-duty police officers and security professionals
  • Roster, leverages data on athletes in the NCAA Transfer Portal to automatically send updates on players to coaches
  • Veloci, a running shoe venture that addresses common pains through shoe design

Lilie launched the Summer Venture Studio last year. According to Rice, two out of the six teams selected, Helix Earth Technologies and Tierra Climate, which both also tackle sustainability challenges, raised venture capital funds after completing the accelerator program.

Helix Earth Technologies also went on to earn the inaugural TEX-E Prize at CERAWeek in 2023.

“The track record of our Summer Venture Studio Accelerator speaks for itself, despite being early in our second year," Taylor Anne Adams, head of venture acceleration programs at the Liu Idea Lab, said in a statement. "This is the power of entrepreneurship programming that is designed by founders, for founders, that happens at the Liu Idea Lab.”

Last year, Lilie also named 11 successful business leaders with ties to Houston to its first Lilie’s Leadership Council. Each agreed to donate time and money to the university’s entrepreneurship programs.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

HEXASpec was founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program. Photo courtesy of Rice

3 Houston sustainability startups score prizes at Rice University pitch competition

seeing green

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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New Houston study shows health impacts of full vehicle electrification in major U.S. cities

what could be

A new study from the University of Houston shows that there's no one-size-fits-all strategy for full vehicle electrification in America's largest U.S. cities.

The study by Ali Mousavinezhad and Yunsoo Choi considered changes in air pollution, specifically PM2.5 and ozone levels, in Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago under different electrification scenarios and how the changes could impact public health.

“Our findings indicate vehicle electrification generally contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and lowering the mortality rate associated with exposure to toxic air pollutants,” Mousavinezhad said in a statement.

However, Mousavinezhad and Choi found that full electrification in Los Angeles could have negative impacts on public health.

Switching fully to electric vehicles could prevent 157 premature deaths each month in Houston, 796 deaths in New York and 328 in Chicago, according to the study. But in Los Angeles, full electrification would increase mortality.

Additionally, full electrification would save between $51 million to $249 million per day for New York, Chicago, and Houston in health-related costs. But Los Angeles would face economic losses of up to $18 million per day.

This was largely due to the unique weather and geography in Los Angeles that can trap air pollutants that harm the lungs. The study found that full electrification would lead to increases in PM2.5 and MDA8 ozone. According to UH, the study reveals the importance and "complexity of air quality management."

“The four largest U.S. cities have distinct anthropogenic sources of air pollutants and greenhouse gases, “Choi added. “Each city requires unique regulations or strategies, including different scenarios for the adoption of electric vehicles, to reduce concentrations of these pollutants and greenhouse gases effectively.”

Mousavinezhad, lead author, is a recent Ph.D. graduate from UH. Choi is a professor of atmospheric chemistry, AI deep learning, air quality modeling and satellite remote sensing. The study, titled “Air quality and health co-benefits of vehicle electrification and emission controls in the most populated United States urban hubs: insights from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston,” was published in the journal Science of the Total Environment earlier this year.

Earlier this year, Texas ranked low in a study that looked at the closest EV charging stations equivalent to a trip to the gas station. However, another study showed that Texas is among the top of the pack for states with the most electric vehicle registrations, but Houston fell behind other large metros in the state for EV friendliness. Click here to read more about both reports.

Things to know: New lithium-focused JV, events not to miss, and more in Houston energy

take note

Editor's note: Dive headfirst into the new week with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: a podcast episode with a biotech leader, a big oil and gas deal, and events not to miss.

Podcast to stream: Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon, CEO of Gold H2, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast

Photo courtesy of Gold H2

Using microbes to sustainably unlock low-cost hydrogen sounds like the work of science fiction, but one Houston company is doing just that.

Gold H2, a spin-off company from Cemvita, has bioengineered subsurface microbes to use in wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen. The technology was piloted two years ago by Cemvita, and now, as its own company with a new CEO, it's safe to say Gold H2's on its way.

"First of all, that was groundbreaking," Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon, CEO of Gold H2, says of the 2022 pilot in the Permian Basin, "to be able to use bugs to produce hydrogen within a couple of days."

"2024 is supposed to be the year where Gold H2 takes off," Sekhon, who joined the company in April, tells the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It was one of those opportunities that I couldn't turn down. I had been following the company. I thought, 'here is this innovative tech that's on the verge of providing a ground-breaking solution to the energy transition — what better time to join the team.'" Read more.

Events not to miss

Put these Houston-area energy-related events on your calendar.

  • The Energy Drone & Robotics Summit is coming to Houston June 10 to 12. Join for the ultimate event in the world for UAVs, Robotics & Data/AI, 3D Reality Capture, Geospatial and Digital Twins focused on the business and technology in energy & industrial operations, inspections, maintenance, surveying & mapping. Register now.
  • Argus Clean Ammonia North America Conference will take place on June 12 to 14 at the Hyatt Regency Houston. Over the three days of the conference, explore the big questions many producers are facing around where demand is coming from, expect to hear perspectives from key domestic consumers as well as international demand centres for clean ammonia. Register now.
  • Join the over 150 senior energy and utilities leaders from June 17 to 18 in Houston for AI in Energy to unlock the potential of AI within your enterprise and delve into key areas for its development.Register now.
  • Energy Underground (June) is a group of professionals in the Greater Houston area that are accelerating the Energy Transition that connect monthly at The Cannon - West Houston. Register now.
  • CCS/Decarbonization Project Development, Finance and Investment, taking place July 23 to 25, is the deepest dive into the economic and regulatory factors driving the success of the CCS/CCUS project development landscape. Register now.

Big deal: Oxy launches JV to demonstrate, deploy promising lithium technology

Houston-based Oxy has opted into a joint venture with BHE Renewables, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. The partnership will demonstrate and deploy direct lithium extraction technology from TerraLithium, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Oxy.

TerraLithium's DLE technology extracts and commercially sustainably produces lithium compounds from geothermal brine. Lithium has been a vital part of batteries for electric vehicles, and energy grid storage, which both areas have seen continued demand. The battery lithium demand is expected to increase tenfold over 2020–2030 according to the International Renewable Energy Agency

“Creating a secure, reliable and domestic supply of high-purity lithium products to help meet growing global lithium demand is essential for the energy transition,” President and General Manager of TerraLithium Jeff Alvare says in a news release. “The partnership with BHE Renewables will enable the joint venture to accelerate the development of our Direct Lithium Extraction and associated technologies and advance them toward commercial lithium production.” Read more.

Houston clean fuels producer reaches milestone on South Texas hydrogen-powered refinery

hi to hydrogen

Houston-based Element Fuels has completed the pre-construction phase of its hydrogen-powered clean fuels refinery and combined-cycle power plant in the Port of Brownsville.

Element Fuels, which has contracted with Houston-based McDermott to provide front-end engineering design services for the project, has designed the plant to produce and recycle hydrogen that will generate and deliver cleaner, higher-quality fuels, including much-needed high-octane gasoline and electricity for commercial and consumer consumption.

“Element Fuels has received the necessary permitting to construct and operate a refinery capable of producing in excess of 160,000 barrels, or approximately 6.7 million gallons, per day of finished gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel,” Founder and Co-CEO of Element Fuels John Calce says in a news release. “A permit for a greenfield refinery of this size, scope, and functionality has not been granted in the United States since the 1970s. This speaks to the innovative approaches we are taking to address climate and sustainability concerns in cleaner, greener ways that are new to the refinery space.”

The project is expected to go online in 2027 and will produce enough low-carbon hydrogen to supply approximately 100 percent of the refinery’s fuel requirements, essentially eliminating CO2 emissions, per the news release. More than 100 megawatts of excess electricity generated from the power plant will be provided to the Energy Reliability Council of Texas for the surrounding community’s needs.

“Element Fuels is not only ushering in the next generation of clean fuels, we’re also proving that, without a doubt, there is a way to produce higher quality, cleaner, higher-octane fuels that significantly advance the energy transition," Calce continues. "This changes everything – for the industry, for consumers, and for the well-being of the planet.”

The plant is located in South Texas and built on more than 240 acres within the Port of Brownsville. Element Fuels is reportedly collaborating with local and Port officials "to advance the Justice40 initiative established by the U.S. Department of Commerce to contribute to a climate-positive environment that provides residents of the Brownsville area and Rio Grande Valley with clean energy and affordable and sustainable housing," per the release.

“Building on our successful collaboration during early project phases, we believe we are uniquely positioned to leverage our expertise and knowledge to further support Element Fuels throughout the next stages of this unique project,” adds Rob Shaul, senior vice president at Low Carbon Solutions at McDermott. “We remain focused on the delivery of low carbon pathway projects and are committed to advancing the landscape of energy production.”