finalists

3 Houston clean energy startups advance in Elon Musk-backed cleantech competition

Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics secured finalists spots in XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions. Photo via Getty Images

Twenty promising climatetech companies were selected to advance to the final stage of a global competition backed by Elon Musk's foundation — and three of the finalists hail from Houston.

Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics secured finalists spots in XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions. XPRIZE Carbon Removal will offer $100 million to innovators who are creating solutions that removes carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or the oceans, and then sequester it sustainably.

"For the world to effectively address greenhouse gas emissions, carbon removal is an essential element of the path to Net Zero. There's no way to reverse humanity's impact on the climate without extracting carbon from our atmosphere and oceans," Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE, says in a news release. "We need a range of bold, innovative CDR solutions to manage the vast quantities of CO2 released into our environment and impacting our planet.

"The teams that have been competing for this Prize are all part of building a set of robust and effective solutions and our 20 teams advancing to the final stage of XPRIZE Carbon Removal will have an opportunity to demonstrate their potential to have a significant impact on the climate," Ansari continues.

The finalists — categorized into four sections: air, rocks, oceans, and land — were selected based upon their performance in three key areas: operations, sustainability, and cost. The full list of 20 finalists is available online.

Around 20 Houston-area companies were initially identified by the challenge. Here's a look at the three that are advancing to the finals:

  • Mati, in the Rocks category, durably removes carbon from the atmosphere using basalt based enhanced rock weathering (ERW) in smallholder rice paddy farms. This process, which is being demonstrated in India, removes atmospheric CO2 while adding key nutrients in the soil helping to restore degraded soils to benefit smallholder farmers.
  • Climate Robotics, in the Land category, enables broad-scale agriculture adoption of biochar which builds soil health and removes excess carbon from the atmosphere. The company's mobile technology converts crop residues into durable biochar on the fly and in the field, making the economics work for farmers and our ecosystems.
  • Vaulted Deep, also in the Land category, delivers scalable, permanent, carbon removal by geologically sequestering carbon-filled organic wastes. Their patented slurry sequestration, which involves the geological injection of minimally processed wastes for permanent (10,000+ year) carbon removal.

"This cohort of exceptional teams represents a diversity of innovations and solutions across a range of CDR pathways, and shows the significant progress the industry is making in a short period of time," Nikki Batchelor, executive director of XPRIZE Carbon Removal, says in the release. "Over the past three years, this competition has helped accelerate the pace of technology development for a whole new industry of high-potential solutions aimed at reversing climate change."

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A View From HETI

The ExxonMobil Foundation has invested more than $17 million in the Open Doors Project. Photo via Khan Academy

The ExxonMobil Foundation announced they are collaborating with the Khan Academy on the Open Doors Project, which aims to bring free math and science courses and teacher guides to Texas in a larger goal to inspire new STEM leaders.

The Open Doors Project will be the largest single curriculum project for Khan Academy, and will reach schools in Houston.

“Our main goal with this program is to meet the needs of Texas teachers and students,” Sal Khan, founder and CEO of Khan Academy, says in a news release. “We’re grateful for the ExxonMobil Foundation’s vision and support for developing courses and teacher guides that will deliver world-class math and science resources to students and teachers when and where they need it.”

The ExxonMobil Foundation is providing support for the creation of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)-aligned math and science courses for 3-12 grades through the Open Doors Project. These courses will make it easier to align with the non-profit Khan Academy’s vision of providing free “world-class education” in their classrooms.

The program will include structured lesson plans and instructional guidance that are adaptable for students' various learning styles to help reach “mastery” level of multiple STEM topics. The first round of courses will begin on June 30 with additional courses to come in 2025 and 2026.

The ExxonMobil Foundation has invested more than $17 million in the Open Doors Project, and offers additional support through the Khan Academy Districts to primary and secondary schools in areas where ExxonMobil operates, which includes Houston, Western Texas and the Gulf Coast. Khan Academy is available in large institutions like Kipp and Houston Independent School District, which uses the academy as part of its college readiness program.

“We’re committed to addressing the gap in STEM education,” Alvin Abraham, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation, says in a news release. “With Khan Academy’s help, we can empower teachers to work with students to master the STEM curriculum and take their knowledge into careers that can change the world.”

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