Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser supports the demands of today’s global food system but is not sustainable. It is inefficient, expensive for farmers and is the leading cause of crop-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Regular synthetic nitrogen application also has negative environmental impacts with run-off harming local water supplies and fisheries. Something has to change in a global market worth US$197 billion.
This week US company Pivot Bio, developer of a synthetic nitrogen replacement, has closed a US$430 million Series D funding round, bringing the total equity raised by the firm to more than US$600 million. The funding will fuel Pivot Bio’s accelerating release of disruptive products focused on replacing the $60 billion of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser sold each year just to sustain corn, wheat, and rice.
Replacing synthetic nitrogen by harnessing soil’s microbiome
In nature the legume family of plants has evolved to form a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria called rhizobia. Working together, nodules form on the plant’s roots within which the bacteria can absorb nitrogen from the air and convert it into ammonia which can be taken up by the plant.
Taking advantage of this natural process, farmers often grow cover-crops of field beans or crimson clover to add nitrogen to soil, rather than leaving vast swathes of empty soil exposed to the elements. This saves on synthetic nitrogen application come planting time, and associated costs to the farmer and the environment. Crops only use about half of the total synthetic nitrogen applied to agricultural fields. A portion of the unused synthetic nitrogen is emitted as nitrous oxide, a GHG that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and other nitrogen gases.
But what if the sustainable symbiotic relationship with nitrogen fixing bacteria could be harnessed by other main crops such as corn DURING the growing season? This is exactly where Pivot Bio comes in.
The company’s researchers have travelled the world seeking bacterial solutions that can be reverse engineered to work for the modern farmer. Rather than being completely symbiotic, Pivot Bio’s modified rhizobia live on the surface of plant roots and not within root structures. A farmer sows Pivot Bio’s products into the ground alongside the crop’s seeds, as the roots grow they meet the nitrogen fixing microbiome generated beneath the soil’s surface and take up nitrogen accordingly, avoiding the need for synthetic nitrogen entirely.
Pivot Bio PROVEN® 40, the company’s fourth commercial product in three years, enables farmers to replace up to 40 pounds per acre of synthetic nitrogen, almost double the performance of Pivot Bio’s inaugural product. The product streamlines farming operations, potentially eliminating machinery and labour required to apply synthetic nitrogen. It represents a more consistent, weatherproof way to ensure nitrogen is delivered into the crop throughout the growing season instead of being left in the soil or lost from the field.
“Pivot Bio is driven to serve farmers by simplifying the challenges of managing nitrogen and ensuring resilient farm productivity. We have built a platform for accelerating nitrogen innovation in the market, and our products are delivering recurring positive outcomes for the growers we serve,” said Karsten Temme, Ph.D., Pivot Bio co-founder and CEO. “We are establishing relationships that will span decades, and aim to provide the sole source of nitrogen needed to power the economic and environmental sustainability of global agriculture for generations to come.”
“We have earned the trust of farmers for our direct-to-grower approach and have proven that our products provide consistent yields and profits for farmers, even in the face of a volatile climate,” said Karsten Temme. “Our track record of delivering a solution to address farmers’ needs and remediate the challenges facing our planet has also earned us the support and confidence of our investors. The Pivot Bio team looks forward to continuing our success at scale.”
Series D investors
Generation Investment Management, G2 Venture Partners, and Rockefeller Capital Management join returning investors in Pivot Bio’s Series D, including Series D co-leads DCVC, also the Seed, Series A lead, and material investor in all funding rounds since the company’s inception, and Temasek, also Series C co-lead; Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the Series B lead and Series C co-lead; Continental Grain Company; Prelude Ventures; Pavilion Capital; Bunge Ventures, the venture capital arm of the leading global agribusiness and food company Bunge; Tekfen Ventures; and Roger Underwood, the co-founder of industry-leading biological technology company Becker Underwood. Pivot Bio’s next stage of growth will focus on rapidly scaling its U.S. business and expanding into key international markets.
“Pivot Bio exemplifies the power of DeepTech solutions to create equitable and profitable outcomes for all stakeholders in immense industries like agriculture,” said Matt Ocko, Co-Managing Partner of DCVC. “Farmers are able to grow more crops to feed more people, more cost-effectively, while being even better stewards of their land and water. Societies benefit from both more abundant food and more climate-resilient and sustainable agriculture. Pivot Bio has delivered the kind of win-win-win breakthrough DCVC is honored to back, and on which we are focused as a firm.”
“We are thrilled to be investing in Pivot Bio, given the deep trust they have built among farmers by providing solutions which are both more sustainable and profitable for their customers,” said Lila Preston, Head of Growth Equity at Generation Investment Management. “We look forward to supporting the company as it accelerates its broader climate impacts on a global basis.”