First of all: how on earth (or sea) does one land in an idea like this?
Around six years ago Fredrik read a post on Reddit, saying that Australian researchers had found this red seaweed, Asparagopsis, which was really efficient at reducing cows farts and burps. We thought it was super cool, but back then Fredrik was busy studying so it kinda fell between the chairs. But then two years ago when Fredrik did an exchange term at UC Berkeley, the partner university UC Davis had just published a new study confirming the findings on real cows proving that it was safe and all that. Around that same time, Bill Gates had just put up a post on his blog where he compared cows with countries, and knowing that there was this solution out there and that nobody was working on it, we simply couldn’t sit still in the lecture hall. So, we quit and started Volta with a simple mission: get this seaweed out to as many cows as possible, as fast as possible.
If cattle were a country, one would rank it the third largest in greenhouse gas emissions. Can you elaborate on this notion?
Well, cows produce around 5% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, just by farting and burping methane gas. These emissions are formally called enteric fermentation, and this statement was made by Bill Gates to put into perspective just how big of a source of emissions this really is. What most people don’t know is also that methane is around 25 times more potent than Co2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere, and at the same time it also has a half life that is much shorter than Co2. This means that by preventing a lot of methane emissions from being farted and belched out into the atmosphere, we eliminate a potent source of greenhouse gases out of the cycle and quickly have a large impact in preventing more warming.
Where are you at in the process now?
Getting all the cows in the world to eat seaweed is no easy task, but we figured it can be broken down into two main challenges: produce the seaweed at scale, and create economical incentives for the food industry to feed it to their cows. We are making good progress on both of these fronts. We began by asking ourselves who has incentives to actually finance the cost of the seaweed. Who would pay for reducing enteric CH4 emissions? First of all, when looking at the consumer market we saw that there is a rapidly increasing demand for sustainable products, especially here in the nordic countries. It’s clear that people want to make a difference, but few know what to do, especially when they are not ready to change their consumer behaviour.
As a response to this, more and more companies have started offsetting parts of their emissions to be able to offer climate compensated products, but due to the lack of efficient solutions to reduce the actual emissions inside of their own value chain, these campaigns are reliant on controversial carbon offset methods, tree planting being the most common, which at best compensates for the emissions that have already been made instead of addressing them in the first place. In many cases this even backfires and leads to increased lack of trust amongst consumers.
According to climate researcher Johan Rockström, we have a miniscule 10 years left to stop global warming from reaching tipping points that would make the planet inhabitable for humanity. At the same time, we have about 1 billion cows on the planet belching out 5% of our global greenhouse gas emissions, and from what it looks like, they are not going to disappear in the next 10 years. So, we figured; what if we could give anyone the possibility to contribute to the vision of getting all those 1 billion cows to eat seaweed to potentially reduce up to 90% of these emissions, regardless of what and how they are consuming today?
Therefore, we are now working with one of Sweden's largest food retailers, Coop to launch the world's most climate friendly methane reduced products in stores during 2021. Like an “Intel Inside for beef and dairy products”, for every liter of milk and every kilo of meat you buy that has the Volta co branding, you can now know that you are actively supporting the vision of getting all the cows in the world to eat seaweed and reducing 5% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. This is just the beginning…
Meanwhile, legislators around the world are taking action to regulate enteric methane emissions. California being the leading example is now set to reduce 40% of enteric CH4 by 2030. Other countries like Zealand are following suit, and as we’re talking to major corporations in the agriculture industry it’s clear that they know these regulations are coming and are very actively looking for solutions to comply with these coming legislations. In short, consumers want this, the industry wants this, everybody wants it, now it’s just up to us to produce the seaweed.
Therefore, we are now focused on building up the worlds first land based seaweed factory 100% optimised for the seaweed Asparagopsis in the town Lysekil on the Swedish west coast. This first factory will act as a blueprint for the full size factories, laying the foundation for the coming large scale production ramp-up. By utilizing waste heat and recirculating other surplus resources from nearby industries, the production will both be efficient and climate friendly. In parallel, at our lab at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, we are optimizing the algae strain and developing the optimal recipe for producing Asparagopsis at scale. This allows us to continuously improve and optimize the production “software” to increase the speed and quality of the production over time without being dependent on changing the “hardware” of the factory.
Another key reason we are going for land based production is that we are not limited by seasonal harvesting and other uncontrollable factors that come with farming in the ocean. Basically, we love tech, and doing it from the ground up gives us full control of the entire process from production to processing.
You have so far raised 8M SEK. Wow. Congratulations, what’s the next steps to come for Volta Greentech?
The next step is to scale up the production and launch methane reduced products in stores during 2021. As 30% of the production capacity has already been reserved for our first factory in Lysekil, we are now opening up for another round of funding to ramp up the production. Since day one, the vision has been crystal clear: become the world's first unicow startup (pun intended), feeding the 1 billion cows with seaweed and reducing 5% of the global greenhouse gas emissions.
We now have an entire team of amazing and extremely passionate people working towards that vision, but to get where we want, we are going to need to grow a lot more, so if you feel called to jump on the train, don’t hesitate to connect with us: email@example.com