Ag Innovation Showcase Blog

Larta Alumni, ORPC Raises The Tide In Hydrokinetic Innovation

By January 7, 2020 Uncategorized

Ocean Renewable Power Co, (ORPC) is a Portland, Maine based company that is positively impacting people’s lives and their environments, using river and tidal energy as a way to provide renewable energy solutions. With the recent launch of their first commercial product, the RivGen Power System, ORPC is helping provide energy to remote communities allowing them to reduce their dependence on expensive and environmentally unfriendly diesel fuel. We recently caught up with ORPC CEO & Co-Founder, Chris Sauer and President John Ferland to talk about the impact of the deployment of the RivGen Power System, their path to success, and ORPC’s future.

RivGen® device on station at project site prior to deployment

RivGen® device on station at project site prior to deployment

The 15-year-old Portland, Maine based company began their journey in 2004 by seeking to find a way to generate electricity from water currents in oceans and rivers without using dams, in a way that would not damage the environment, but realized that the technology that they imagined did not yet exist. With the help of the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center consulting on their technology, ORPC developed the turbine generator unit (or, TGU) using cross-flow turbine technology, which allows the turbine to turn no matter which direction water flows. The turbines always rotate in the same direction, eliminating the need to reposition the unit. A second major revelation for the company was that they could build TGUs with a low vertical profile, making them ideal to be deployed in shallower river depths. This innovation allowed ORPC to pivot from working in the oceans to being able to deploy their technology in rivers.

RivGen® device mid-deployment in the Kvichak River, Igiugig, Alaska

RivGen® device mid-deployment in the Kvichak River, Igiugig, Alaska

In July 2019, ORPC saw the launch and deployment of its RivGen Power System in the Kvichak River in Alaska.  By generating emission-free electricity from river currents and connecting directly into existing the community grid using smart grid technology, the RivGen Power System has brought power to the remote Alaskan village of Igiugig that will significantly offset their dependency on diesel fuel.

ORPC believes that through the development of their renewable technologies, that they can contribute in a beneficial way to the health of the environment and the local communities they work with, while also bringing positive social and economic impact as well. After 12 deployments of the RivGen System and extensive monitoring by third parties, no negative effects on the environment or wildlife have been documented. To date, there has been no occurrence of fish mortalities or sediment transfer. Additionally, all state and federal agencies have signed off on the RivGen System as being safe and environmentally viable. Deploying the RivGen System in rural areas has allowed ORPC to stimulate the economies of these communities on many levels by hiring local labor, fishing vessels, and using local materials.

RivGen® device deployed and operating in the Kvichak River, Alaska

RivGen® device deployed and operating in the Kvichak River, Alaska

Along the road to commercialization, ORPC participated in the USDA Commercialization Assistance Program in 2015. It was through this program that ORPC had the opportunity to utilize Larta Institute’s mentorship program. “I thought it was well done,” said John Ferland, “our advisor, Rob Dullien was experienced, and a level-headed straight shooter who gave good guidance. We developed a good relationship.” While ORPC had embarked on strengthening its market research efforts and defining its commercial pathway for the RivGen, “working with Larta helped make it more formal through test-driving ideas.” When CEO Chris Sauer reflected on ORPC’s journey to success he recalls, “at the time USDA awarded us, it was a critical time for us in our development, we were short on money. The whole process that we went through with Larta, it was one of those nice things that happened that really helped us. Sometimes these kinds of programs get lost in the shuffle as you become successful, but we didn’t forget it.” For companies working their way toward commercialization Sauer offers advice on what it takes to succeed. “You have to be incredibly patient and persevere. You have to strongly believe in your concept.” He also reminds fellow entrepreneurs that “the market is not going to come to you. You always need to know your market.”

We further explored with them how their journey on the investment side has ranged from family office to foundation involvement. “Serendipity” is a word that Sauer likes to use when discussing key investments that have not only helped ORPC in the beginning but also look forward to a bright future. Early investment from friends, family, and investors got things going early on for ORPC, but many other “serendipitous” investments have come along the way in years since, through government grants and private sector investment. Especially of note are two significant recent fundraising successes for ORPC. On Nov. 1, 2019, the Department of Energy awarded ORPC a grant of $3,875,859 to help further develop its RivGen system, and less than a week later the company secured commitments of $7.5 million in additional private investment that will allow ORPC to expand its business development and sales further in the United States, Canada, and Chile.

 “Eventually we’ll be all over the world, I hope as common as iPhones,” says Sauer. He sees many opportunities worldwide but stresses that ORPC’s growth in the market will be strategic and focused on one part of the world at a time. He adds, “our RivGen technologies would be a perfect fit for many communities in Africa that have no power, that sit close to rivers, that’s in the future, but we need to remain disciplined in our approach to the market.”

Most importantly, ORPC is paving the way for these communities to gain more control over their own energy destiny and taking them away from high diesel prices, noise, and emissions. Sauer points out how developing intimate relationships with the communities they work with is crucial. “We don’t go into communities to tell them what we are going to do. We go in and talk to them, explain our ideas, and get their input. They buy-in. It has become our competitive advantage.”

ORPC team

ORPC team

Ag Showcase 2020: Save the Date!

By October 11, 2019 Uncategorized

We at Larta are excited to announce the dates for the 12th Annual Ag Innovation Showcase: September 21-23, 2020! We will be returning to beautiful Minneapolis to explore and celebrate the converging technologies that are changing the agriculture and food paradigm. More announcements coming soon, so watch this space for updates or visit www.agshowcase.com. See you in September!

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Ag Showcase Alumni & CEO of ZeaKal, Han Chen on Partnerships & Why Trait Technology is the Future!

By July 15, 2019 Companies, Updates

han zeakalZeaKal is a next generation trait technology company that uses its trademark PhotoseedTM technology to elevate the intrinsic photosynthetic capacity of plants, increase crop yields and improve nutritional composition. They have currently partnered with two of the largest companies in both the seed and cannabis/hemp space. ZeaKal’s most recent strategic collaboration is a $10 million investment from Canopy Rivers. Earlier this year, they  also completed an equally important R&D collaboration with Corteva Agriscience™. We spoke to Han Chen, the Chief Executive Officer of ZeaKal and long time participant/alumni of the Ag Innovation Showcase about his experience in taking the company from concept towards commercialization.

 

Formed in 2010, ZeaKal started with a small team of largely first time entrepreneurs and some exciting early stage science out of New Zealand. Given how risky and expensive trait technology companies could be, ZeaKal’s biggest challenge was how could it convince investors that the science could be derisked quickly with minimum cost. In  2012, ZeaKal officially kicked off its Series A fundraising, coinciding with the company’s debut at the Ag Innovation Showcase. Focusing on the strong underlying science that was developed by AgResearch Ltd, a New Zealand Crown Research Organization coupled with the company’s unique business model to partner with world class universities to minimize development costs, ZeaKal closed its Series A within four months of the 2012 Showcase. Being present at the Showcase, gave ZeaKal the captive attention of leading investors and industry players. Since 2013, ZeaKal has raised $26M in venture financing and grown from a team of four to twenty across the United States and New Zealand.

 

Han has attended the Ag Showcase since the conference’s second year. Although the Corteva deal came together recently due to the tireless efforts of several people across both organizations, Han does identify the annual dialogue at the Showcase as a strong driver for what got the collaboration to the finish line. Han and Matt Muller (Director for Business Development, Corteva) have met annually over the past decade. Although brief the two would discuss everything not just ZeaKal and Corteva but the state of the industry and the role of innovation. This bond does not develop overnight and according to Han, “The key thing for entrepreneurs to understand is that just having the networks and business cards  is not enough. You have to build strong roots and let that relationship grow.”. Han’s engagement with Matt was established before the dawn of  Corteva Agriscience   but the years that the two have known each other created a foundation for the collaboration to build off of.

 

In contrast, Han noted that the Canopy Rivers investment was completely unexpected but was driven by ZeaKal’s track record and reputation in the industry as a leading traits innovator. Due to the regulations and restrictions around hemp and cannabis research, the crops are largely undomesticated and industry is not only figuring out the breeding and genetics but also the agronomics of how to grow and harvest. Despite these concurrent challenges, Han anticipates a very fast growth trajectory for the sector since it can leap frog off of the innovation in agriculture broadly including genetics, digital and automation. Han believes that PhotoSeed will play an important role, especially in the hemp market. Beyond the focus of increasing cannabinoid production through higher photosynthesis, he sees hemp as a great industrial crop where the additional yield and oil production can go into renewable materials, green chemistry and biofuels. Hemp is a great crop as far as sustainability goes since it grows on marginal land with relatively low inputs. Han believes that PhotoSeed would increase the already high carbon sequestration of the crop even further to combat the effects of greenhouse gases and climate change.

 

Looking forward across the overall industry, Han sees PhotoSeed as an important toolset for farmers to meet the challenge of feeding the world. “Today’s farmers not only have to increase yields but are also required to do so while losing several important technologies in their arsenal. We have to ensure that as innovators we are filling this yield gap. Furthermore Han states that PhotoSeed is not just a trait for farmers and growers, but consumers as well. “While farmers and growers are our customers, agriculture touches everyone so our products have to be more than yield. We want to ensure consumers that we are also focused on nutrition and sustainability so that the value of our products do not stop at the farm gate but reaches the dinner table as well.” Han gave an example that in forage grasses, if every acre of ryegrass in New Zealand were converted to PhotoSeed varieties, not only would yield and animal nutrition improve, it would also eliminate the green house gas emissions equivalent of two million cars.

 

Though there is a temporary blip of excess food supply at the moment, it does not take away the need to bump up food production to feed a growing population of over 9 billion in the next 25 years. From a macroeconomic perspective, ZeaKal believes that traits will be a critical piece to meeting these demands and is aiming to bridge the widening gap between demand and supply of food for the future!

Register today to attend the 2019 Ag Innovation Showcase or apply to present at the showcase at www.agshowcase.com

For sponsorship inquiries, email: Cguiterrez@larta.org

Written by: Priyanka Roche 7.15.2019

Ag Innovations: Trends in Fertilizer Industry

By December 8, 2018 Ag Issues

Last few decades, fertilizers have played an important role in increasing the quantity of food to feed the ever-increasing human population. Fertilizers industry have widely accepted the 4Rs i.e. the right product, at the right time, right place and right rate. However, this widely accepted approach from developed nations has taken little too long to trickle down to small-scale farms in developing nations. The new face to innovation in the fertilizer industry is precision ag techniques which have the potential to have higher crop productivity with high nutritional value and low environmental impact.

During the Ag Innovation Showcase, we had interesting discussions about different elements of the value chain in the Ag Industry. The focus expanded from inputs in the soil to final food on the plate. This article expands into the innovations shaping the future of the fertilizer industry. We hope to continue bringing the thought leaders and stakeholders in the space to continue shaping the path of Ag Innovations.https://www.agprofessional.com/article/5-fertilizer-trends-watch

“Fighting Fire with Finance”: Blue Forest Conservation’s Novel Approach to Sustainability

By November 6, 2018 Uncategorized

Blue Forest Conservation has participated in Larta’s CAP program during their USDA Phase I and we continue to partner with them as they participate in their USDA Phase II program. To read more about their latest forest fire bond partnership, click here: “Fighting Fire with Finance”: Blue Forest Conservation’s Novel Approach to Sustainability