North Bridge leads $9m raise for organic soil treatment

With energy prices at their lowest in over a decade, fuel company Cool Planet will focus on its modified biochar soil product.

The Google Ventures-backed biomass fuel and agri company, Cool Planet, has raised $9 million from existing investors to develop its Cool Terra bio-carbon soil treatment.

The raise was led by North Bridge Venture Partners, and joined by a majority of the company’s existing investors, head of global business development Wes Bolsen told Agri Investor. Investors in a September 2015 fundraising round included BP, Energy Technology Ventures (GE, ConocoPhillips, and NRG Energy) and Google Ventures. All had supported the company in its Series D round in March 2014.

The funding will go toward development of Cool Terra, the company’s bio-carbon soil treatment. Cool Terra is similar in principle to a biochar, plant waste heated into a porous charcoal that helps soil retain nutrients and beneficial microbes. Bolsen insists  the additional processing Cool Terra undergoes to remove toxins and adjust pH levels, turns it into an entirely different product.

“Biochar can mean so many different things. Not all biochars are good,” he said.  “We [take] raw bio-carbon and run it through a proprietary process to have the pH adjusted the toxins removed, the particle size made consistent, so that you’re able to hold on to water and nutrients at the root level where the plant needs it.”

Cool Planet is probably best known for its development of renewable biofuels, but with energy prices at their lowest in decades, the company is increasing its focus on the soil treatment side of its business model.

“You aren’t going to accelerate your fuel business in this atmosphere,” said Bolsen.

The company heats plant-based inputs like ground corn husks, coconut peels or wood chips, to the process the vapours into gasoline, diesel or jet fuel. The remaining solid is the base for the soil treatment. Bolsen compares the Cool Terra processing technique to the natural processes that occur in soil after a forest fire.

“Nothing grows in the soil for two or three years. [The biochar] is actually kind of toxic to the soil,” he says. “Mother Nature rains and rains on it and settles it out, and adjusts the pH… You come back five to seven years later and it’s the most vibrant part of the soil. What Mother Nature does in a few years, we’re doing in about 12 minutes.”

Cool Planet will use the proceeds to add agricultural expertise to its leadership team, scale up production and conduct trials on the application of Cool Terra to row crops.

Bolsen says Cool Terra’s carbon sequestration properties could eventually qualify users for future carbon sequestration credit programs.

“For every ton you use, you’re sequestering three tons of carbon,” he says. “It stays in the ground for literally hundreds of years.”

North Bridge Venture Partners is an early-stage venture capital investor focused on communications, digital media, healthcare, infrastructure, materials and software. The company is currently investing from its $527 million Fund VII, according to PEI Research & Analytics. North Bridge has invested in each of Cool Planet’s previous funding rounds, according to Bolsen, and founder Ed Anderson  joined Cool Planet’s board of directors.