Vibhu Sharma founded InnoVent Renewables to make a sustainable impact on tire waste. Photo courtesy

With over a billion cars currently on the road — each with four tires that will eventually end up discarded, one Houstonian is hoping to create the infrastructure to sustainably dispose of tire waste now and into the future.

Announced earlier this month, Vibhu Sharma founded InnoVent Renewables to establish production facilities that utilize a proprietary continuous pyrolysis technology that is able to convert waste tires, plastics, and biomass into fuels and chemicals.

In a Q&A with EnergyCapital, Sharma explains his plans to sustainably impact the tire waste space and his vision for his company.

EnergyCapital: Why did you decide to expand the InnoVent brand to focus on renewable energy?

Vibhu Sharma: InnoVent Technology has been developing and implementing projects in renewable energy, chemicals, and oil and gas. Project examples include an EV battery chemical project for a $9 billion chemical company, municipal solid waste (MSW) to biogas, and of course pyrolysis of waste tires, plastics and biomass. Renewable energy is the calling of our time, and with our expertise in this area, we felt strongly that we must do more. With 1 billion waste tires disposed of every year, we wanted to focus on this vast opportunity, which led us to create a spin-off company called InnoVent Renewables, in order to specifically focus on innovative technologies such as pyrolysis of waste tires. We received overwhelming response from our investors and partners, and we're on our way to the first commercial production facility.

EC: Can you describe the process of converting the materials into fuel? How does it work?

VS: At a high level the process involves shredding of tires into small cubes, which are then fed into the main pyrolysis reactor. They're pre-heated enroute to the reactor, using the pyrolysis gas that's generated in the reactor. The reactor operates at a high temperature, and in the absence of oxygen, and decomposes the tires into various components. These are then separated using various techniques. The gases are treated to remove any sulfur, and then used to preheat the shredded tires. The pyrolysis oil (pyoil), which is one of the main products, is condensed out.

The pyoil is further processed to separate out higher value aromatics, and the remaining pyoil is equivalent to off-road diesel or fuel oil, and can be sold directly. The aromatic stream can be further processed or sold directly. It makes a great feed for petrochemical plants, or carbon black plants.

There are two solid products as well. These are recovered carbon black (rCB) and steel wire. Steel wire is separated from the rCB mix and can be sold directly. The rCB is further processed through a series of steps resulting in a high-quality powder which can be used to make tires, making it a completely circular product.

EC: Tell me about your expansion plan. Where are you hoping to grow the company and why in those particular regions?

VS: Our immediate plan is to build and start our commercial production facility in Monterrey, Mexico. Monterrey happens to be home to nearly 50 million waste tires. We are located very close to where the source is. We will set up our initial production train there, and leave room to expand to multiple parallel trains at the same site or nearby sites.

We have our own engineering and operations team in Monterrey, and we have access to modern infrastructure and resources, as this is a fast-growing city of 6 million people. In addition, we have close proximity to Texas for product distribution. Our next step will be to establish production facilities in Texas. We are based in Texas. Texas also has access to at least 50 million tires in landfills all across the state, and the state is taking significant measures to address this issue. We are already engaging with various entities here to plan our expansion site. Meanwhile we have been receiving high levels of interest from counties in Florida, California, as well as international sites in India and the Middle East to set up production facilities there. There are one billion waste tires disposed of every year, it's a huge opportunity. Some of these expansion decisions will depend on support from state governments, access to tires, cost of setting up the facility, etc.

EC: Do you plan on raising investment funding to reach these goals? If not, how will you be funded?

VS: We are fully funded for our first production site in Mexico. Based on our cash flow projections, we should be able to self-fund expansions at that site, and eventually add additional production trains. In order to accelerate our expansion at other sites, we intend to raise funds, with support from different states/counties in the USA where we decide to expand, and with support from investors. We are also open to strategic partners that can team up with us for the expansion both internationally and domestically.

EC:  In the long term, what's the impact you hope to make?

VS: Each production train of 15,000 tons that recycles 1 million passenger tires per year, can reduce CO2 emissions by 80 million pounds per year. Over the next five years, our goal is to get that target to 150,000 tons of recycling, which is 800 million pounds of CO2 emission reduction. That's a good impact to have, and a great way to drive renewable energy forward.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Tired of slow tire decomposition? This Houston company has a solution. Photo via InnoVentRenewables.com

New Houston company launches to turn recycled materials into fuel

renewables

Every year, over a billion tires are disposed of globally, and, while in use, tires are used to reach maximum speed on the road, their decomposition times are inordinately slow.

Houston-based InnoVent Renewables has a solution. The company launched this week to drive renewable energy forward with its proprietary continuous pyrolysis technology that is able to convert waste tires, plastics, and biomass into fuels and chemicals.

“We are thrilled to formally launch InnoVent Renewables and plan to ramp-up operations into early 2024," InnoVent Renewables CEO Vibhu Sharma says in a news release. “Our investors, strategic advisors, and management team are all fully committed to our success as we address the global challenge of waste tires. We firmly believe our proven process, deployed at scale globally, will have a huge positive impact on our climate and fill a clear environment need.”

While InnoVent Renewables has only just launched, Sharma has worked in the space for years with his company InnoVent Technology, a technology and consulting company working with clients on turnkey process technology and asset management solutions within the process and manufacturing industries.

During InnoVent's unique material breakdown process, its pyrolysis technology recovers chemicals from the products, and produces high-quality fuels — in in a net-zero capacity. The company's products include renewable pyrolysis oil, or PyOil; aromatics; recovered carbon black, or rCB; and steel wire. PyOil, according to InnoVent's website, can be sold as fuel oil, off-road diesel, or used as a feedstock to crude blending.

"The InnoVent team conducted product quality analysis in conjunction with a world renowned research facility and results were further validated and scaled up in 2022, using comprehensive process simulation software and pre-engineering design work for scale-up," reads the InnoVent website.

Headquartered in Houston, the company has operations in Pune, India, and Monterrey, Mexico, with plans for aggressive growth across North America and Latin America. Specifically, InnoVent is planning to open a commercial production plant in Monterrey next year. Down the road, the company's team hopes to expand in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific.

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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.