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Interviews green recovery agriculture COVID-19

Published on May 23rd, 2020 | by Tina Casey


More Signs Of Green Recovery From COVID-19 Sprouting In Agriculture (#CleanTechnica Interview)

May 23rd, 2020 by  

Consensus is building for a green recovery from COVID-19, and aside from clean power there is also movement afoot in the agriculture field. The latest piece of the puzzle comes from a technology incubator called IN2, which is on a mission to infuse cash and technical resources into startups with game-changing potential. Agriculture is the theme of IN2‘s newly announced cohort of awardees, and its relationship with the US Department of Energy makes it all the more interesting, so let’s take a look and see what’s cooking.

green recovery agriculture COVID-19

Another good sign for a green recovery: the company TerViva is among the startups selected for a world class agriculture tech incubator (image via TerViva).

Banking On A Green Recovery From COVID-19

IN2 — aka the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator — is administered by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory with funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation. The Danforth Plant Science Center is another key partner and all of this is very interesting in terms of the potential for a green recovery, so last week CleanTechnica spoke with Ramsay Huntley, who is Sustainable Finance Strategist at Wells Fargo, for the backstory on IN2.

“With IN2, Wells Fargo is trying to stay at the forefront of where we think things are going as connected to clean technology and agricultural technology. They are highly inter-related, and this philanthropic effort gives us license to go where classic investors or venture capitalists wouldn’t go. Our thesis is broader,” he explained.

Huntley’s background in startups also comes into play.

“We keep the perspective of the startup at the heart of this,” he said. “I think of it in terms of the customer experience. How do [startups] gain access to resources that would not be available otherwise, or would be very expensive.”

The basic idea behind IN2 is to speed the way to a future in which there are fewer in-farm inputs [fertilizer, labor, time, etc.] and greater outcomes in terms of yields and food systems.

As Huntley sees it, speed is even more important in the context of COVID-19. While the economic crash has upended nonprofit budgets, IN2 is plowing forward.

“When we think of COVID-19 it’s even more important to keep the focus on providing resources to startups,” he said. “Everything that was critical 3-6 months ago is still critical today, with the added dimension of COVID-19.”

The Agriculture Angle On The Green Recovery

CleanTechnica has been spilling a lot of ink lately on the prospects for a green recovery built on renewable energy, and that goes hand in hand with agriculture.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at IN2‘s newly announced agriculture cohort:

  • AgroSpheres – Charlottesville, VA – Transforming crop protection with AgriCell. AgriCell can mitigate the direct and indirect detriments of using chemical pesticides, with the goal to cut chemical pesticide use by at least 50%.
  • Chi Botanic – Sarasota, FL – Industrializing plant cell cultures as a production platform by replicating genetically identical plants at a large scale. The Chi Botanic technology will help develop valuable natural products more efficiently and cost-effectively.
  • EarthSense – Champaign, IL – EarthSense employs machine learning and robotics in the field to increase yield, eliminate resistant superweeds and accelerate crop improvement.
  • mobius – Lenoir City, TN – mobius creates naturally biodegradable and compostable materials that can replace controlled-release fertilizers for improved plant and soil health.
  • Pluton Biosciences – St. Louis, MO – Supplying the agricultural industry with microbes that are specifically targeted against various pests. By using a micromining process, Pluton Biosciences can help offset biological resistance that has been building against current products.
  • TerViva – Oakland, CA – Commercializing climate-resilient pongamia trees, a hardy legume tree that produces an annual crop of beans up to 10 times greater than soy for over 25 years. TerViva is increasing the global supply of plant protein and vegetable oil while restoring degraded agricultural land.

Got all that? Good!

The Road To A Green Recovery Is Paved With Beans

If TerViva rings a bell, that’s a good example of a great idea taking years to kick around before someone comes in with the cash and resources to bring it up to scale.

TerViva crossed the CleanTechnica radar a full eight years ago when we called its hardy, pest-resistent legume trees the “Ginsu Knives” of treedom for their multiplicity of benefits.

Aside from replenishing exhausted soil and producing a perennial crop, we noted the potential for grazing livestock between the trees and providing forage for honeybees.

Pongamia is well known for its use in holistic medicine but its potential for food, feed, and biofuel has barely been scratched, and that’s where TerViva comes in.

TerViva is currently welcoming new growers and product partners, what are you waiting for? Based on IN2’s track record the entire cohort has a good shot at breakthrough success.

With the six new startups,  the IN2 portfolio consists of 46 startups which have collectively raised $313 million in external follow-on funding, for an average of $28 for every $1 awarded by IN2.

That could have something to do with the incubator’s non-dilutive funding model, meaning that the startups don’t have to give up any ownership to acquire the assist. That puts them in a better position to raise more money from investors down the road.

What Else Is The Department of Energy Up To These Days?

IN2 candidates are nominated by a network of 60 institutions before they pass muster with the incubator, and NREL is part of the Energy Department’s sprawling network of national laboratories, academic partners, and public-private initiatives. These resources were hammering away at a green recovery after the 2008 crash and they’ve kept it up ever since.

If this is starting to ring a bell, you may be thinking of the GxCN clean energy incubator that NREL is administering for Shell. That incubator launched in 2018 and now it is dovetailing nicely with Shell’s pivot toward clean power. Apparently the company is intent on dragging the rest of the sector along with it, as GxCN aims at game-changing tech that can be applied across the board.

As with IN2, the GxCN grant-making model doesn’t stop at giving away fish or distributing fishing poles. It provides innovators with the resources to invent a whole new fish and the tools to go with it, too.

Not everybody is banking on a green recovery, but there are some powerful heavy hitters in the green corner and the rumblings are growing stronger every day.

Follow me on Twitter.

Image: via TerViva. 


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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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