thought leadership

Annual Houston conference to target topics on digitalization of decarbonization

Venture Houston returns this year — this time focused on the digitization of decarbonization. Photo courtesy of Venture Houston

An event that brings top venture capitalists to Houston returns for its third year — and this time the topic of conversation is the energy transition.

Venture Houston, taking place on September 7, is presented by HX Venture Fund, a fund of funds that deploys capital into non-Houston firms to encourage investment in local startups. This year's theme is "Spotlighting the path for decarbonization in a digital world," and Sandy Guitar, managing partner at HXVF, tells EnergyCapital that while that might sound like a narrow topic, attendees will see at the event how broad a theme it really is.

"We're calling it digitalization to decarbonization in order to help identify the fact that decarbonization is just a market that you sell into — the technologies are very broadly defined," Guitar says. "Underneath that, the decarbonization market happens to involve everything that is better, cheaper, and faster."

The event, which has its ticket registration open now, has a full agenda with several keynote addresses and panels featuring venture leaders, CEOs, startup founders, and more from Houston and beyond. There will also be networking breaks and other activations, including a breakfast presented by DivInc and Capital Connect on September 6. This event features curated collisions for a select VCs and founders.

The conference's first panel, "Seeding Sustainability: Unlocking the Power of Early Stage Investments," includes Josh Posamentier, co-founder and managing partner of Congruent Ventures, who will share the stage with the founder of one of his firm's portfolio companies, Tim Latimer of Fervo Energy, among others.

To Posamentier, one of the things he hopes attendees takes away is how timely decarbonization is — especially in Houston.

"If I had one ask, it would be that people, especially for this audience, double down and mobilize more toward alternative energy," he tells EnergyCapital. "Take all the learnings, all the skills that come from conventional energy and repurpose them. I think there's it's a bigger market — more is being spent on renewables now than on oil and gas development and, you've got got a good 50 years of insane growth ahead."

And, as Guitar adds, the energy transition is not something that only affects the companies building the technology or working within the energy industry.

"I do think it's important to see the decarbonization not as a hard tech event, but as everything that touches carbon, which is basically everything in our planet in just the coal previously," she says. "Everything we make and use touches the climate."

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A View From HETI

A View From UH

A Rice University professor studied the Earth's carbon cycle in the Rio Madre de Dios to shed light on current climate conditions. Photo courtesy of Mark Torres/Rice University

Carbon cycles through Earth, its inhabitants, and its atmosphere on a regular basis, but not much research has been done on that process and qualifying it — until now.

In a recent study of a river system extending from the Peruvian Andes to the Amazon floodplains, Rice University’s Mark Torres and collaborators from five institutions proved that that high rates of carbon breakdown persist from mountaintop to floodplain.

“The purpose of this research was to quantify the rate at which Earth naturally releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and find out whether this process varies across different geographic locations,” Torres says in a news release.

Torres published his findings in a study published in PNAS, explaining how they used rhenium — a silvery-gray, heavy transition metal — as a proxy for carbon. The research into the Earth’s natural, pre-anthropogenic carbon cycle stands to benefit humanity by providing valuable insight to current climate challenges.

“This research used a newly-developed technique pioneered by Robert Hilton and Mathieu Dellinger that relies on a trace element — rhenium — that’s incorporated in fossil organic matter,” Torres says. “As plankton die and sink to the bottom of the ocean, that dead carbon becomes chemically reactive in a way that adds rhenium to it.”

The research was done in the Rio Madre de Dios basin and supported by funding from a European Research Council Starting Grant, the European Union COFUND/Durham Junior Research Fellowship, and the National Science Foundation.

“I’m very excited about this tool,” Torres said. “Rice students have deployed this same method in our lab here, so now we can make this kind of measurement and apply it at other sites. In fact, as part of current research funded by the National Science Foundation, we are applying this technique in Southern California to learn how tectonics and climate influence the breakdown of fossil carbon.”

Torres also received a three-year grant from the Department of Energy to study soil for carbon storage earlier this year.

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