Rebooted and Refocused, Startup Cool Planet Eyes the Soil Market

When Cool Planet found a lukewarm market for its renewable fuel, the startup needed to change course. Now focused on agriculture, Greenwood, CO-based Cool Planet is aiming for the market again—this time with a soils supplement backed by $19.3 million in new capital.

The Series A round was led by Agustín Coppel, a member of the Coppel family that made its fortune in Mexican retail, and Waltham, MA-based North Bridge Venture Partners. Cool Planet says those investors also supported the company as it researched its soil product. According to the company, its fundraising haul in the last 18 months is nearly $30 million.

Though Cool Planet calls the latest capital infusion a Series A round, it’s not the first time it has raised a large equity investment. In 2014, then known as Cool Planet Energy Systems, the company closed a $100 million Series D round whose backers included large energy companies and GV, the investing arm of Google known then as Google Ventures. North Bridge Venture Partners also participated in that financing, and the firm stuck with Cool Planet as it pivoted toward agricultural technology.

Founded in 2009, Cool Planet initially researched how to convert biomass—plant-based materials that aren’t used for food or animal feed—into a renewable fuel. But CEO Jim Loar told Company Week that as oil prices fell, the market for renewable fuels became less attractive. That market reality led to the course change.

Cool Planet calls its soil product “Cool Terra.” The company says its process of heating and refining biomass produces an engineered carbon material whose qualities improve soil structure and nutrient efficiency, while also supporting the growth of beneficial microbes. The sponge-like properties of its material improve the capacity of soil to hold water, which helps limit the amount of water farmers need to apply to crops and reduces runoff, according to the company.

Though Cool Planet still has its fuels business, soils are now its main focus. But the company isn’t the only agtech startup developing sustainable soil amendments. Indiana-based Agrisolve has developed technology that converts manure into a “dairy biofiber” material that can be used to improve soil structure and moisture retention.

Cool Terra has been tested in more than 70 field trials conducted last year in multiple geographies. In those trials, the product helped improve plant health and crop yields, according to Cool Planet. The company says its soil supplement has been used in crops such as alfalfa, tomatoes, potatoes, and lettuce. This year, Cool Planet plans to run its soil product through 100 more field trials conducted by third parties.

Cool Planet says that besides agriculture, its engineered carbon has applications in landscape, turf, nursery, and ornamental markets—and that it is bringing its soil product to market through partnerships with distributors in those areas. Cool Planet’s pipeline also includes a product called Cool Fauna, which the company says could have applications in animal health and nutrition.

Public domain photo by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Frank Vinluan is editor of Xconomy Raleigh-Durham, based in Research Triangle Park. You can reach him at fvinluan [at] xconomy.com Follow @frankvinluan

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