Category: GreenTech

EarthOptics helps farmers look deep into the soil for big data insights



Farming sustainably and efficiently has gone from a big tractor problem to a big data problem over the last few decades, and startup EarthOptics believes the next frontier of precision agriculture lies deep in the soil. Using high-tech imaging techniques, the company claims to map the physical and chemical composition of fields faster, better, and more cheaply than traditional techniques, and has raised $10M to scale its solution.

“Most of the ways we monitor soil haven’t changed in 50 years,” EarthOptics founder and CEO Lars Dyrud told TechCrunch. “There’s been a tremendous amount of progress around precision data and using modern data methods in agriculture – but a lot of that has focused on the plants and in-season activity — there’s been comparatively little investment in soil.”

While you might think it’s obvious to look deeper into the stuff the plants are growing from, the simple fact is it’s difficult to do. Aerial and satellite imagery and IoT-infused sensors for things like moisture and nitrogen have made surface-level data for fields far richer, but past the first foot or so things get tricky.

Different parts of a field may have very different levels of physical characteristics like soil compaction, which can greatly affect crop outcomes, and chemical characteristics like dissolved nutrients and the microbiome. The best way to check these things, however, involves “putting a really expensive stick in the ground,” said Dyrud. The lab results from these samples affects the decision of which parts of a field need to (Read more...)

Tanso nabs $1.9M pre-seed to help industrial manufacturers do sustainability reporting



The climate crisis is creating massive demand for data capture as industries grapple with how to decarbonize. Put simply, you can’t cut your carbon emissions if don’t know what they are in the first place.

This need to gather data is a big opportunity for startups — and a wave of early companies have already been founded to try to plug the sustainability data gap, through things like APIs to assess emissions for carbon offsetting (which in turn has led to other startups trying to tackle the data gap around offsetting projects…).

One thing is clear: Requirements for sustainability reporting are only going to get broader and deeper from here on in.

Munich-based Tanso is an early stage startup (founded this year) that’s building software to support sustainability reporting for a particular sector (industrial manufacturers) — with the goal of creating a data management system that can automate data capture and sustainability reporting geared towards the specific needs of the sector.

The startup says it decided to focus on industrial manufacturing because it’s both an emissions-heavy sector and underserved with supportive digital tech vs many other industries.

The founders met during their studies at universities in Munich and Zurich — where they’d been researching the assessment of organizational climate impact. Their collective expertise crystalized into the realization of a business opportunity to build a data management system for a notoriously polluting sector that’s facing a mandate to change.

In the coming years, European regulations will expand sustainability reporting requirements (Read more...)

Index leads $12.2M seed in Sourceful, a data play to make supply chains greener



Supply chains can be a complex logistical challenge. But they pose an even greater environmental challenge. And it’s that latter problem — global supply-chain sustainability — where UK startup Sourceful is fully focused, although it argues its approach can boost efficiency as well as shrink environmental impact. So it’s a win-win, per the pitch.

Early investors look impressed: Sourceful is announcing a $12.2 million seed funding round today, led by Europe’s Index Ventures (partner, Danny Rimer, is joining the board). Eka Ventures, Venrex and Dylan Field (Figma founder), also participated in the chunky raise.

The June 2020-founded startup says it will use the new funding to scale its operations and build out its platform for sustainable sourcing, with a plan to hire more staff across technology, sustainability, marketing and ops.

Its team has already grown fivefold since the start of 2021 — and it’s now aiming to reach 60 employees by the end of the year.

And all this is ahead of a public launch that’s programmed for early next year.

Sourceful’s platform is in pre-launch beta for now, with around 20 customers across a number of categories — such as food & beverages (Foundation Coffee House), fashion and accessories (Fenton), healthcare (Elder), and online marketplaces (Floom and Stitched) — kicking the tyres in the hopes of making better supply chain decisions.

Startup watchers will know that supply chain logistics and freight forwarding has been a hotbed of activity — with entrepreneurs making waves for years now, promising (Read more...)

Heimdal pulls CO2 and cement-making materials out of seawater using renewable energy



One of the consequences of rising CO2 levels in our atmosphere is that levels also rise proportionately in the ocean, harming wildlife and changing ecosystems. Heimdal is a startup working to pull that CO2 back out at scale using renewable energy and producing carbon-negative industrial materials, including limestone for making concrete, in the process, and it has attracted significant funding even at its very early stage.

If the concrete aspect seems like a bit of a non sequitur, consider two facts: concrete manufacturing is estimated to produce as much as eight percent all greenhouse gas emissions, and seawater is full of minerals used to make it. You probably wouldn’t make this connection unless you were in some related industry or discipline, but Heimdal founders Erik Millar and Marcus Lima did while they were working in their respective masters programs at Oxford. “We came out and did this straight away,” he said.

They both firmly believe that climate change is an existential threat to humanity, but were disappointed at the lack of permanent solutions to its many and various consequences across the globe. Carbon capture, Millar noted, is frequently a circular process, meaning it is captured only to be used and emitted again. Better than producing new carbons, sure, but why aren’t there more ways to permanently take them out of the ecosystem?

The two founders envisioned a new linear process that takes nothing but electricity and CO2-heavy seawater and produces useful materials that permanently sequester the gas. Of course, if (Read more...)

A16Z leads investment in Firemaps, a marketplace for home hardening against wildfires



Wildfires are burning in countries all around the world. California is dealing with some of the worst wildfires in its history (a superlative that I use essentially every year now) with the Caldor fire and others blazing in the state’s north. Meanwhile, Greece and other Mediterranean nations have been fighting fires for weeks to bring a number of massive blazes under control.

With the climate increasingly warming, millions of home just in the United States alone are sitting in zones at high risk for wildfires. Insurance companies and governments are putting acute pressure on homeowners to invest more in defending their homes in what is typically dubbed “hardening,” or ensuring that if fires do arrive, a home has the best chance to survive and not spread the disaster further.

SF-based Firemaps has a bold vision for rapidly scaling up and solving the problem of home hardening by making a complicated and time-consuming process as simple as possible.

The company, which was founded just a few months ago in March, sends out a crew with a drone to survey a homeowner’s house and property if it is in a high-risk fire zone. Within 20 minutes, the team will have generated a high-resolution 3D model of the property down to the centimeter. From there, hardening options are identified and bids are sent out to trade contractors to perform the work on the company’s marketplace.

Once the drone scans a house, Firemaps can create a full CAD model of the structure and (Read more...)

ICON lands $207M Series B to construct more 3D-printed homes after seeing 400% YoY revenue growth



Creating single-family homes for the homeless using 3D printing robotics. Developing construction systems to create infrastructure and habitats on the moon, and eventually Mars, with NASA. Delivering what is believed to be the largest 3D-printed structure in North America — a barracks for Texas Military Department.

These are just some of the things that Austin, Texas-based construction tech startup ICON has been working on.

And today, the company is adding a massive $207 million Series B raise to its list of accomplishments.

I’ve been covering ICON since its $9 million seed round in October of 2018, so seeing the company reach this milestone less than three years later is kind of cool. 

Norwest Venture Partners led the startup’s Series B round, which also included participation from 8VC, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), BOND, Citi Crosstimbers, Ensemble, Fifth Wall, LENx, Moderne Ventures and Oakhouse Partners. The financing brings ICON’s total equity raised to $266 million. The company declined to reveal its valuation.

ICON was founded in late 2017 and launched during SXSW in March 2018 with the first permitted 3D-printed home in the U.S. That 350-square-foot house took about 48 hours (at 25% speed) to print. ICON purposely chose concrete as a material because, as co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard put it, “It’s one of the most resilient materials on Earth.”

Since then, the startup says it has delivered more than two dozen 3D-printed homes and structures across the U.S. and Mexico. More than half of those homes have (Read more...)

44.01 secures $5M to turn billions of tons of carbon dioxide to stone



Reducing global greenhouse gas emissions is an important goal, but another challenge awaits: lowering the levels of CO2 and other substances already in the atmosphere. One promising approach turns the gas into an ordinary mineral through entirely natural processes; 44.01 hopes to perform this process at scale using vast deposits of precursor materials and a $5M seed round to get the ball rolling.

The process of mineralizing CO2 is well known among geologists and climate scientists. A naturally occurring stone called peridotite reacts with the gas and water to produce calcite, another common and harmless mineral. In fact this has occurred at enormous scales throughout history, as witnessed by large streaks of calcite piercing peridotite deposits.

Peridotite is normally found miles below sea level, but on the easternmost tip of the Arabian peninsula, specifically the northern coast of Oman, tectonic action has raised hundreds of square miles of the stuff to the surface.

Talal Hasan was working in Oman’s sovereign investment arm when he read bout the country’s coast having the largest “dead zone” in the world, a major contributor to which was CO2 emissions being absorbed by the sea and gathering there. Hasan, born into a family of environmentalists, looked into it and found that, amazingly, the problem and the solution were literally right next to each other: the country’s mountains of peridotite, which theoretically could hold billions of tons of CO2.

Around that time, in fact, the New York Times ran a photo essay about Oman’s potential miracle (Read more...)

Australia’s v2Food aims to expand its plant-based meats to Europe and Asia with €45M raise



V2Food is one of many new contenders in the alternative protein space, founded in Australia but now setting its sights on Europe, Asia and beyond. It has a few key advantages over the competition, and with €45 million in new funding it may be finding its way to plates in the Eurozone soon.

The company has seen strong uptake in its home market, and the first goal is to be No. 1 in Australia, said CEO and founder Nick Hazell, formerly of MasterFoods and PepsiCo R&D. But in the meantime they’ll be expanding their presence in Asia, where partner Burger King has launched a Whopper with their patty, and in Europe, where the product’s minimal suspicious elements come into play.

Currently v2Food makes plant-based ground beef and patties, sausages and a ready-made Bolognese sauce. Obviously they have strong competition in those categories, which are sort of the opening play of most alternative protein companies. But v2Food has a leg up on many of them in two ways.

A package of v2Food's ground meat and someone cooking it in a kitchen.

Image Credits: v2Food

First, v2Food products are made, or at least can be made, using “any standard meat production facility.” That’s a big plus for scaling and a minus for cost, since economies of scale are already in play. The processes for creating and mixing the plant-derived and other artificial substances that make up alternative proteins in general aren’t always amenable to existing infrastructure. This also opens the door to partnerships with existing meat companies that might have balked at having to switch (Read more...)

Pivot Bio rakes in $430M round D as modified microbes prove their worth in agriculture



Pivot Bio makes fertilizer — but not directly. Its modified microorganisms are added to soil and they product nitrogen that would otherwise have had to be trucked in and dumped there. This biotech-powered approach can save farmers money and time and ultimately may be easier on the environment — a huge opportunity that investors have plowed $430 million into in the company’s latest funding round.

Nitrogen is among the nutrients crops need to survive and thrive, and it’s only by dumping fertilizer on the soil and mixing it in that farmers can keep growing at today’s rates. But in some ways we’re still doing what our forebears did generations ago.

“Fertilizer changed agriculture — it’s what made so much of the last century possible. But it’s not a perfect way to get nutrients to crops,” said Karsten Temme, CEO and co-founder of Pivot Bio. He pointed out the simple fact that distributing fertilizer over a thousand — let alone ten thousand or more — acres of farmland is an immense mechanical and logistical challenge, involving many people, heavy machinery, and valuable time.

Not to mention the risk that a heavy rain might carry off a lot of the fertilizer before it’s absorbed and used, and the huge contributions of greenhouse gases the fertilizing process produces. (The microbe approach seems to be considerably better for the environment.)

Yet the reason we do this in the first place is essentially to imitate the work of microbes that live in the soil (Read more...)

Pivot Bio rakes in $430M round D as modified microbes prove their worth in agriculture



Pivot Bio makes fertilizer — but not directly. Its modified microorganisms are added to soil and they product nitrogen that would otherwise have had to be trucked in and dumped there. This biotech-powered approach can save farmers money and time and ultimately may be easier on the environment — a huge opportunity that investors have plowed $430 million into in the company’s latest funding round.

Nitrogen is among the nutrients crops need to survive and thrive, and it’s only by dumping fertilizer on the soil and mixing it in that farmers can keep growing at today’s rates. But in some ways we’re still doing what our forebears did generations ago.

“Fertilizer changed agriculture — it’s what made so much of the last century possible. But it’s not a perfect way to get nutrients to crops,” said Karsten Temme, CEO and co-founder of Pivot Bio. He pointed out the simple fact that distributing fertilizer over a thousand — let alone ten thousand or more — acres of farmland is an immense mechanical and logistical challenge, involving many people, heavy machinery, and valuable time.

Not to mention the risk that a heavy rain might carry off a lot of the fertilizer before it’s absorbed and used, and the huge contributions of greenhouse gases the fertilizing process produces. (The microbe approach seems to be considerably better for the environment.)

Yet the reason we do this in the first place is essentially to imitate the work of microbes that live in the soil (Read more...)