On to greener pastures: Four Valley Ventures alumni solving problems surrounding fertilizer.
Updated: Nov 22, 2022
By Alisha Wilson: Is the grass really greener on the other side regarding the future of fertilizer? We think so. Here’s why.
Recent topics surrounding fertilizer-- its price and demand, the global impacts of manufacturing and transporting fertilizer, and its overall effects on our climate have been on our radar for some time now, and we think there are solutions on the horizon. California’s Central Valley balances many things on its agricultural-focused scales, like drought, wildfires, water usage, and more. Fertilizer is also a major topic of discussion among valley communities, and more recently, not for the greatest reasons.
First, let’s start with the basics. What is the foundation of healthy soil? Well, soil contains air, water, and minerals as well as plant and animal matter, both living and dead. From a chemical standpoint in regard to fertilizer, we think of the term NPK which are the big three chemicals found in most commercial fertilizers: nitrogen (N), potassium (P), and phosphorus (K). Each plays a key role in soil and ultimately plant nutrition.
So, why has the availability of fertilizer become a global crisis? Let’s talk about nitrogen in particular.
Nitrogen is a chemical so important to plant growth that U.S. farmers use about 21 million tons of these nutrients each year in the form of chemical fertilizers, helping to sustain high U.S. crop yields. From the outside looking in, using nitrogen as a quick solution to crop-health issues seems like a no-brainer, but our dependence on nitrogen poses significant issues. From availability and pricing to importing and exporting nitrogen, we also collide with another critical issue - the impact on our climate. The creation of nitrogen fertilizer relies heavily on fossil fuels.
Fortunately, there are companies working to change the direction of fertilizer, soil, and plant health forever.
Enter Nitricity Inc. who wants to move the fertilizer conversation to use better alternative solutions. Their electrifying technology has the capability to produce cost-effective fertilizer to both established farms and developing markets while minimizing the environmental impact of the production, distribution, and application of nitrogen fertilizers. “It goes well beyond Ukraine. Fertilizer is produced in only a few hundred factories in the world,” Nitricity CEO Nicholas Pinkowski says, “This centralized model is so vulnerable to volatility, and that’s the last thing farmers want.” Nitricity is working to decarbonize fertilizer, mitigating as much as 80 percent of the CO2eq emissions associated with nitrogen fertilizer. Take that, climate change.
Wondering what other ways our ventures are changing the world of fertilizer? We thought you would never ask.
Meet Upcycle and Co., a supply chain based in Southern California that specializes in turning methane-producing waste into fertilizer, simultaneously reducing carbon emissions. There’s no sourcing from overseas, no mining, no ecologically destructive shipping. It’s all done right here at home. Their focus is to feed the soil (not just plants) using active fertilizer that reconditions the soil, feeding plants above the ground while also creating a healthy ecosystem below. In addition, their manufacturing process uses 100 percent renewable energy, cutting up to 80 percent of the emissions related to traditional fertilizer manufacturing. Sustainability never felt so good.
And the future of fertilizer and plant health gets even better.
Switching coastlines, Re-Nuble, a New York-based company has a mission to help global agricultural communities utilize local food waste for more sustainable growing practices. Using their Organic Cycling Science solution, they maximize nutrient recirculation and optimize mineralization efficiency for indoor farming. Their “Away We Grow” water-soluble solution, in particular, eliminates (per one acre) 1.62 metric tons of CO2e from the atmosphere annually and removes 18.75 pounds of CO2e for every gallon that would otherwise have been released from food waste sent to landfills. Pretty cool, right?
Nurture Growth Biofertilizer, a Canadian-based company, hopes to solve three core issues: food waste, traditional food production, and climate change. Their solution? They rescue food waste from hotels, restaurants, and food manufacturing, and add microorganisms to create an organic biofertilizer that is effective, economical, and eco-friendly. By doing this, Nurture Growth Biofertilizer fights climate change by reducing food waste that increases greenhouse gasses and fosters a circular economy model.
We know the topics and discussions surrounding fertilizer as of late aren’t looking promising, but thanks to companies like these, the future certainly doesn't look as bleak as many may think. Our mission is to support companies like these on their path to commercialization and ultimately, support them as they solve the world's biggest problems surrounding our environment, its precious resources, and beyond.
Funding & Other Opportunities
Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO)- FY22 BETO Waste Feedstocks and Conversion R&D
Deadline: June 6
Department of the Interior- Energizing Insular Communities (EIC) Program
Deadline: June 16
California Air Resources Board-Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductions (FARMER) Program
Deadline: June 30
Check out the California State Grants Portal for more funding opportunities!
Members in the News
The Vine is partnering with Glocalagro, in Latin America to advance AgriFoodTech.
Lemna sustainably cleans livestock waters while producing protein and biofuel.
Hexas Biomass is recognized as one of the only 9 companies chosen as a 2022 Highly Recommended Innovator by The Circulars Accelerator team.
Two WET Center ventures, Climformatics and Hago Energetics, are CalSEED Concept and Prototype awardees.
Have a great story to share with our team?
Watch our recent story on ABC30
WET Center and Partner Events
Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins | June 21-22 Meet the Founders and CEOs of the world's most renowned and ambitious food-tech companies in the alternative protein space. As this sector continues to break new ground, the summit will bring you up to date on the latest technologies, partnerships and industry milestones.
Did You Know
The WET Center was highlighted in The Business Journal! Read here.
Be sure to sign up for our FREE Investors ToolKit!