BioChar’s Buzzing and Cool Planet’s $20M cap raise is feeding it

March 23, 2017 |

In Colorado, Cool Planet has closed on $19.3 million in Series A financing and note conversion to commercialize its Cool Terra and Cool Fauna engineered biocarbon products. This latest round of funding was led by Agustín Coppel and North Bridge Venture Partners.

All together, Cool Planet has raised nearly $30 million in the last 18 months. And the company’s become so focused, they might as well divest the E from their brand — it’s more like Cool Plant, if just for now.

Engineered biocarbon? Elsewhere on Planet Earth, it’s called BioChar — but high-end purveyors like to get away from the iffy reputation that some unscrupulous producers have gained for BioChar products released during the Wild Wild West period for the sector.

Here’s what it does

Cool Terra’s Engineered Biocarbon platform helps to increase crop yields through improved soil health by providing a long-lasting environment to nurture beneficial microbes in the soil. Here’s the theory: “the product, produced through a patented process, also helps the soil retain water and keep nutrients in the root zone for a longer period of time.”

According to the Cool Planeteers, more than 70 independent field trials conducted in 2016 demonstrated that Cool Terra works with a variety of crops, as well as turf and nursery plants in different types of soils. In addition to commercial sales of Cool Terra in 2017, Cool Planet is planning more than 100 additional third-party field trials.

The company is also developing additional offerings including Cool Fauna, a product that has significant potential in animal health and nutrition applications.

The commercial strategy

The company will be focusing on supporting and selling the product in specialty-crop agriculture and in the turf, nursery, and landscape markets.

Right now, if you look at the Cool Planet website, there’s a 5 quart sampler size, suitable for a small home garden, a 1 cubic foot bag which can cover up to 300 sq feet of lawn or turf, and a 1.3 cubic yard “Supersack” that covers up to a quarter acre of lawn or field. Quantities for large-scale production agriculture — there’s a call-in for specific volumes.

The blend rate? 1/2 cup per plant, or up to 2% by volume, blended into the top 4 inches of soil.

Price and volume

The price at Amazon for the 5 quart jug is $17.45, and it’s getting rave reviews — holding a 4.7/5 star rating on Amazon, with 78% of customers giving it 5 stars.

The Customer raves

We spotted these on Amazon.com:

So far so good. I met a CoolTerra sales rep named Peter at an event. The ratio he recommends is 1:4. One part Biochar to 4 parts soil. He also said to concentrate the product in the top 4 inches of soil. He also said that the product does not breakdown so this will not need to be replenished. This drought is stressing our plants. By using the CoolTerra and shade cloth we are getting a handle on water conservation in our semi arid area in Ventura County California. We have raised beds. I bought 50 pound bags of the CoolTerra. I used about half a bag in a 4×4 foot raised bed. No more adding peat moss or vermiculite or perlite ever again.
K. C. Ellis

I added this biochar to one section of a bed of kale and chard planted in sandy soil. The plants with the biochar are noticeably bigger and more vibrant after a few weeks. Quite remarkable. In a separate bed I combined biochar and coir with fertilizer, blood meal and compost. The plants have exploded with life. Unbelievable!
Andre Untiedt

This stuff works great, I mixed it into my strawberry bed and growth took off. Keeps soil airy and fertile but without the clover and other weeds you get from manure. I’m going to do the rest of my garden now.
Anonymous

Elsewhere in Biochar

There are a whole bunch of products out on the market these days. These are available in smaller sizes from Amazon.

PermaMatrix BSP Grow – 5 lbs for $34.95
Green Texan Organic Farms Biochar Soil Amendment, 2.5 Gallons for 17.99
Biogize-Char Organic Biochar Blend – 5 Gallons for $25.95
Mirimichi Green CarbonizPN Soil Enhancer 25 lb. bag for $39.95
Soil Reef Gardeners Blend. $47.95 for a cubic foot bag

California’s Greenest Biochar Box – 17.5 lbs for $44.95
California’s Greenest Go Bloom Juice [BIOCHAR ACTIVATOR – 1 quart for $34.99
Wakefield Biochar Soil Conditioner – 1 Cu/Ft Box (7.5 gallons) for $41.99 or 1 gallon for $17.99
New Hampshire Biochar from the Charcola Group – 5 gallons for $19.99

Overall, the retail average is coming in at $2.52 per pound, or $1.58 per liter ($5.97 per gallon), and Cool Planet and Wakefield are at the high end of volumetric pricing, at $3.69 and $4.76 per liter, respectively.

Some unusual applications include:

OurPets Switchgrass Natural Cat Litter with Biochar, 10 pounds for $22.46. At
Or even, make your own. The BioCharlie (Biochar Making Log) is available for $69.95.

What we can learn from the consumer market

There’s demand, all right. You can bet on that. Pricing is coming in, at small volumes, at about 2-3X the price of a fuel product — considering that we are looking at what has been traditionally been considered a waste product left over from a pyrolysis process after the gas and oil are extracted, that’s relatively amazing.

At $2.52 per pound for a small retail size, we’re looking at probably something like $2000-$3000 per ton at commercial volumes, and after subtracting as much as half of that for all the wholesale and retail partners, we’ll have to see how Cool Planet and its competitors establish a market where they can make venture returns.

The Coppel connection

If you follow the world of Mexican retailing, the Coppel name will stand out. The five Coppel brothers control the $4.6B (sales) Coppel empire in retailing, banking and real estate. The signature asset is the 1,000 strong Coppel chain of department stores aimed at expanding consumer credit wider among Mexico’s middle- and lower-income populations. According to Bloomberg, the brothers also control a @275M family office investment portfolio.

The Commercial Partnership backstory

The company has already partnered with Helena Chemical, J.R. Simplot, Triangle Chemical Company and AG RX to distribute Cool Terra to the production agriculture and turf, nursery and ornamental markets, as well as select distributors that are specific to the TN&O market.

The Simplot distribution partnership gives Cool Terra access to a network of over 90 retail locations in the West and Midwest. Already, Cool Planet has 35 retail locations in California.

Simplot has also joined Cool Planet’s newly-formed Soil Health Advisory Council (SHAC). The purpose of the council is to help Cool Planet explore and maximize opportunities to utilize Cool Terra Engineered Biocarbon as a means of improving the health of soils while also serving as a carrier and an organic structural environment for microbial and nutrient-based solutions.

Eating Biochar? The Cool Fauna story

Fed at low levels in traditional feed rations, Cool Planet says that “Cool Fauna has the potential to help increase weight gain, bind toxins in feed, and reduce methane from enteric fermentation. The porous nature of our Engineered Biocarbon product could deliver some of the same benefits that activated carbon has been known to provide in both humans and animals.”

Among these?

  • Reducing methane emissions in beef cattle and dairy and ammonia in broiler chickens
  • Increasing the weight gain in beef cattle and broiler chickens and both milk quality and quantity in dairy cattle.
  • Serving as a toxin binder to remove mycotoxins that cause health issues in animals.
  • Reducing noxious odors
  • Reducing methane produced in the rumen
  • Reducing nutrient leeching into groundwater
  • Reducing water/pasture irrigation
  • Increasing microbial life in the pasture
  • Increasing nutrient retention in manure
  • Sequestering carbon and building lasting soil structure

Putting it together: the systems approach

Cool Fauna and Cool Terra are both showing promise to improve sustainability for the entire farm/ranch system. Placed into animal bedding material, Cool Terra can help address environmental issues in large poultry, dairy and feedlot operations by helping to reduce volatiles and odor while still capturing valuable nutrients like nitrogen. The nitrogen-rich animal manure/litter, which will already contain Cool Fauna if fed to the animal or Cool Terra if placed into the bedding material or compost pile, can then be spread onto the field. The end result? The amount of necessary fertilizer could be reduced, and soil health and crop yield are improved. The entire systems approach is described in the other uses of Cool Terra.

Reaction from stakeholders

Barry Rowan, Cool Planet’s chief financial officer and a veteran of multiple startup and public companies, highlights this as a notable achievement particularly given the slowdown in ag tech investment. AgFunder recently reported that investment in the sector declined by 30 percent in 2016.

“The Coppel Family and North Bridge continue to show their confidence in Cool Planet. They’ve supported us through our research phase and remain valued partners as we continue commercialization of Cool Terra and development of Cool Fauna,” said Rowan.

Jim Loar, an ag industry veteran who joined Cool Planet in early 2016 as president and CEO, believes this latest funding round comes at the right time to successfully launch Cool Terra.

“Our trials demonstrated that Cool Terra significantly improved yields for the fruit, vegetable, grass and legume crops, as well as turf and nursery plants,” said Loar. “We’ve done the research, proven the effectiveness and built the partnerships. Cool Terra is poised to make a significant impact in the ag and TN&O sectors.”

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