Next gen fertilizer


Sustainability, 15.03.2024

Poor environmental compatibility of fertilizers, over-fertilization, and high CO2 levels in the air contribute significantly to the current environmental crisis. Our next columnist, Markus Sekulla, was deeply impressed in his conversation with Max Billinger from Point2Hectare, as the start-up could set out to offer solutions to all three of these problems. Point2Hectare takes part in the Carbon Removal ClimAccelerator programme of EIT Climate-KIC that is supported by Munich Re and ERGO.

The team of Point2Hectare 

Hello Max, can you please introduce yourself? Who are you and what does Point2Hectare do?

I'm Max Billinger, one of the co-founders and CEO of Point2Hectare. We are in the agritech space, our base technology is enriched biochar. And we want to unlock the full potential of biochar for the soil fertilizer improvement.

For most of my professional life, I have been taking up leadership positions, from a plant manager to business unit leader, and now in the next phase of my career, I want to contribute to the good of our planet.

“We want to unlock the full potential of biochar.”

Max Billinger, Co-founder and CEO of Point2Hectare

How many people work for Point2Hectare?

We are currently the three founders of the company. Diana Smite is based in Riga. She's responsible for marketing and building partnerships. She's also leading sustainability. Jan Mumme, we call him our biochar magician, has loads of experience in this area. He is a second time founder. He lives in Potsdam, and Germany. I am based in Berlin. By the end of this year, we plan to enlarge our team with some key positions in research (or technical team).

Can you describe what Point2Hectare does?

When you light up a match, the first thing that happens is you see a burst of energy, a big flame and then the match starts to burn down. The wood becomes black, which is actually char. When you burn it further, you see that this black that was char becomes ash. The wood becomes char in a process called pyrolysis and that is what happens when you exclude oxygen.

On an industrial scale, what we need to do is to stop char becoming ash. What you want is the biochar in its stable form, so that it's considered a carbon removal technology.

Plants take the CO2 from the atmosphere, then they bind it as the carbon in the plant. And in the pyrolysis process we are binding this carbon permanently in the biochar. It's one of the biggest chances for us to not only reduce our carbon emissions but actually bind or lock it permanently.

The crucial next step is to ensure its permanent placement in the ground to avoid the risk of potential combustion, releasing CO2 back into the atmosphere. Therefore, finding practical applications for biochar, such as in fields or cement, is equally important to secure its permanent locking.

And what do you do with the char once you have it?

Our focus at Point2Hectare is to introduce it to the agricultural world. In agriculture, biochar holds great promise as a soil amendment, resulting in highly fertile soil over time. However, it requires technological intervention to ensure biochar is effectively acting as a soil improvement agent.

This is where our technology comes into play. The process involves biochar capturing and enriching nutrients, which are then absorbed by plants in the field. While the concept may seem simple, the actual process involves complex nutrient capture and release mechanisms.

Specifically, Point2Hectare has been developing next generation fertilizers, with a focus on urea. Urea is a widely used fertilizer, that unfortunately has adverse environmental effects as approximately 50 percent of the nitrogen in conventional urea is typically lost. By incorporating biochar into urea, the chemical and physical processes optimise nitrogen delivery to plants, overcoming the inefficiencies and environmental drawbacks associated with conventional urea distribution. 

This approach not only enhances fertilizer efficiency for farmers but also mitigates greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to harmful emissions, particularly nitrogen dioxide.

Talking about scalability, what are your plans to grow your business?

Initially, we secured a patent for our green fertilizer category, called NitroChar. The next step involves rigorous validation of our claims through greenhouse and field trials to understand its practical aspects better.

We're fortunate to have the largest nitrogen fertilizer producer in Germany as a lead customer, who is intrigued by the potential of biochar to replace chemical inhibitors. At the same time, we're conducting our research. Our patent also covers the manufacturing process of NitroChar, integrating it into mineral fertilizer production.

In the second phase, we will be exploring scalability potential, aiming for high-volume production environments. Our business model revolves around licensing; we don't produce the fertilizer ourselves. Instead, fertilizer companies license our technology, and we receive royalties for each unit produced.

We also need proper financing. We engage with venture capitalists, business angels, and collaborate with partners like EIT Climate-KIC to find the right investors.

What do you think are the challenges that not only you, but green tech companies or startups are facing right now?

Drawing from my own experience in seeking investors, the challenge lies in the absence of early-stage support, when the risk is highest. Feedback from other start-up companies echoes this sentiment – the investors want to see more traction, yet the startups need immediate funding to advance solutions to a stage where customer engagement is possible and demonstrated. 

The second challenge is grant funding. While it could propel progress, grant funding applications are complex, making it challenging to secure substantial support. Governments, especially in Europe, could enhance their support by simplifying grant application processes. Although numerous start-up financing programs exist, they often require matching funds from the start-up, a more pronounced issue in Europe.

There is also a lack of a start-up culture in European universities. In the UK and the US, 15 to 20 percent of PhD students engage in start-ups, while in Germany it’s only 1.5 percent. The transition of university research into viable businesses is still in its infancy, indicating a need for greater support and understanding.

Do you think we as humans are still able to stop climate change?

We as humans still have a chance. I am absolutely certain that with behavior change and the technology at our disposal, we can create a sustainable and livable Earth for ourselves and future generations.

The positive aspect is that forums like COP 28 demonstrate a common understanding. There's a recognition of the challenge, and people, including politicians and decision-makers, comprehend the urgency. I remain optimistic that we possess the technology, and the collective will to address the climate emergency.

Thank you very much!

Interview: Markus Sekulla

Markus Sekulla

Author: Markus Sekulla

Hi, I'm Markus. I'm a freelance management consultant in the field of creative/digital communication. In my free and working time, which is not always clear-cut, I like to focus on new work, trends, gadgets and sustainable iedas. In my real free time, I'm quite a health freak: eat, run, sleep, repeat.

Markus Sekulla on LinkedIn

Further Readings

What is the Carbon Removal ClimAccelerator?

Interview with Strategic Programmes Builder Carla Erber (EIT Climate-KIC) 

PLENO: Streamlining carbon removal projects 

Interview with PLENO Co-Founder Nura Linggih 

NEG8 Carbon: Rapid scaling key to carbon removal

Interview with Chief Commercial Officer Dr. Adrian Costigan

Blue Carbon Tanzania: Restoring a part of the planet’s lungs

Interview with Debora Benjamen, the CEO and co-founder

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