Fyto combines automation and robotics so aquatic ‘superplants’ can grow almost anywhere

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Phyto wants our factories to work smarter, not harder. The San Francisco-based company is developing both hardware and software to automate and scale the production of aquatic plants, or what founder and CEO Jason Prapas calls “superplants”, in a controlled environment as a more sustainable option for feed, food and health. soil. .

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Prapas launched MIT’s Fyto in 2019 and explained that he considers these plants “super” because of the speed at which they are able to grow, thanks in part to some deep plant science. Their ability to grow at scale comes with automation and engineering.

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Prapas says Fyto’s technology uses farm waste streams as input, allowing farmers to increase productivity and improve nutrient management while reducing production costs, water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions—by more than 50% in some operations.

In most cases, farms can produce 10 to 20 times more protein per acre using 5 to 10 times less water than crops like alfalfa, California’s biggest water consumer. drought management data from UC Davis.

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Add to this data that shows 77% of the world’s soybeans are fed to livestock for meat and milk production.. This is an important reason why the company starts the production of feed for dairy cows. In 2021, Fyto ran a pilot project on a dairy farm in Northern California to prove that its technology can grow plants, in this case duckweed, using manure as a feedstock.

The company’s technology is twofold: first, these are shallow ponds in which plants grow in a pond. The farmer can then manipulate the crops using robotic automation and scooping devices to flow and move them because they are not built into anything.

Growing phytoplants

A Fyto employee calibrates and activates an experimental Fyto automated growing system. Image Credits: Bill Reitzel

There are also no seeds – the plants reproduce in a way that Prapas called “vegetative”, where the “mother” plants are split off into the next generation. This has the advantage of no ground preparation, and the plants double every few days in a controlled environment throughout the year.

The pilot experiment concluded that the plants can be harvested all year round and are rich in amino acids, energy, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, which are very palatable and easily digestible by cows.

“Last year we had a really enlightening summer feeding cows on a working dairy farm where we grew plants,” Prapas told TechCrunch. “Another huge problem around the world, but especially in California, is where you can see how nutrients – primarily nitrogen – enter the groundwater as a result of animal husbandry. This is becoming a big problem for the entire state, but if you can put in place a process that takes this nutrient and grows plants out of it, then they can be fed to these cows. It’s a really exciting closed-loop process.”

He added that the company is at a preliminary revenue level but plans to launch and sell its products later this year. However, the pilot program sparked Fyto’s need for fundraising to help scale the farm.

The company today announced a $15 million Series A funding led by GV, with participation from existing investors AgFunder, Refactor Capital, First Star Ventures and Bolt. The company has now raised a total of $18 million. As part of the investment, GV General Partner Andy Wheeler joined Fyto’s board of directors.

The funding will enable Fyto to manufacture robotic agricultural shallow pools, continue to develop automation technology and hire more people. Prapas is looking for talented individuals with extensive commercial experience, bringing new feed ingredients to market, interacting with food manufacturers and learning how to solve major problems in the agricultural sector.

“Most of our time has been focused on feeding the cows, but the breadth of what we can tackle is a really exciting space of opportunity,” he added. “We have a biological library of different crops that we can extract from, for example, proven to be great for poultry, or other really good amino acid profiles for human nutrition. We’re definitely excited about what we can solve.”

Credit: techcrunch.com /

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