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Pivot Bio, a startup using microbes to replace synthetic fertilizers, raises $ 430 million


July 19 (Reuters) – A startup born in the lab at the University of California at Berkeley aims to replace synthetic fertilizers that contribute to greenhouse gases and “dead zones” in the ocean.

Pivot Bio’s products use microbes to create and supply nitrogen to corn and wheat crops. It said on Monday it had raised $ 430 million in a funding round led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm DCVC and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings (TEM.UL), bringing the total funding to $ 600 million. .

The company’s valuation is now around $ 2 billion.

“Our pitch to growers today is, instead of spending a dollar on nitrogen fertilizer, spend a dollar on Pivot nitrogen,” said Karsten Temme, co-founder and CEO of Pivot Bio, of the competitiveness of their products. .

He said that if synthetic fertilizers need to be applied separately while the crop is growing, which increases additional labor costs, Pivot’s liquid product is applied with the seed at planting time and the microbes. do the job from there.

It has helped Pivot triple its sales this year, with U.S. corn and wheat farmers using it on millions of acres of fields, Temme said. He declined to give the exact number of acres covered, but said this year the acreage was four times the size of last year.

Pivot Bio says its products take microbes that occur naturally in cultivated soils and use them to convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia and feed it into plants, a process that synthetic nitrogen has stopped.

What makes the identification of this microbe possible today is cheaper and faster computing power, said Matt Ocko, co-manager of DCVC, who was an early investor in Pivot Bio. . “We are not funding the raw science that is bubbling on a bench top. We have to see the path to commercialization,” said Ocko, who has several other deep technology investments that have also been made possible by computer developments.

While synthetic nitrogen was also a breakthrough in science and a profitable business when it was developed over a century ago, it came at a cost to water, air and soil, a said Ocko.

According to the 2017 report by the International Fertilizer Association, about half of the world’s synthetic nitrogen is used to fertilize corn, wheat and rice, a market of around $ 60 billion. Pivot is also developing a fertilizer product for rice.

According to figures from a US Environmental Protection Agency report, Pivot Bio says 7% of greenhouse gases are produced by synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, taking into account manufacturing and oxide emissions. nitrous fertilizer on the farm. Its runoff also affected the water supply.

The new funding will help Pivot Bio expand to other countries and continue to improve the effectiveness of liquid microbial products, Temme said.

Reporting by Jane Lanhee Lee, editing by Rosalba O’Brien

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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