The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has uncovered and highlighted numerous fault lines in American society, including health care, economic inequality and food security, as shown by the infections at numerous meatpacking plants and subsequent limits on meat purchases at many retailers.
Food security could also be an issue with vegetables and other perishables, many of which have to travel thousands of miles from their farms to the table. That’s pushing many cleantech and agtech firms to search for solutions — like indoor greenhouses that can grow food closer to the end-user, or coating that slow down rot and decay.
In this news update, we highlight Gotham Greens’ latest expansion, this time in Colorado, and how that helps food security of leafy greens and other vegetables. We also look at other food news including how Beyond Meat and other alternative protein companies are looking to break into the massive Chinese market, and Apeel Science reaching unicorn status with its rot-reduction produce coating.
Other news items in this roundup include a coal plant that’s being shuttered in favor of wind power, the expected fall this year in the sale of electric vehicles, and more.
Gotham Greens Expands in Denver Area: Earlier this month, indoor farming company Gotham Greens opened a 30,000-square foot facility on the grounds of the old Stapleton Airport outside of Denver. It’s the fourth greenhouse the company has opened in the last six months and will produce two million heads of lettuce each year, which will be distributed to grocers in seven states in the region.
Leafy greens in the US are particularly susceptible to supply chain disruptions, Gotham Greens co-founder and CEO Viraj Puri says, since about 97% of the nation’s supply comes from two areas in California and Arizona. Gotham Greens’ greenhouses around the country — in New York, Chicago, Baltimore and Providence, RI — enable a fresh regional supply of greens and other vegetables, decentralizing the national vegetable marketplace, Puri says.
Apeel Reaches Unicorn Status with $250M Funding Round: Apeel Sciences, the startup that offers plant-based rot-reduction coatings for produce, raised $250 million in a funding round led by Singapore’s GIC and that values the company at $1 billion. Other investors in this round included Viking Global Investors, Rock Creek Group and celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Katy Perry.
Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Apeel has raised $360 million to date. The firm says its coating, which can double or triple the shelf life of many fruits and vegetables without refrigeration, will save some 20 million pieces of fruit from going to waste this year.
Beyond Meat Hitches a Ride with Starbucks Into China: Alternative protein companies Beyond Meat and Omnipork are expanding in the huge Chinese marketplace via a new partnership with Starbucks. The coffee chain added menu items from Beyond Meat and Omnipork to its stores across the country last month. Starubcks is also now offering dairy-free drinks that use oat-based milk from Swedish firm Oatly. Starbucks has about 3,300 stores in China.
Beyond Meat rival Impossible Foods is also reportedly looking to partners with Chinese firms to gain its own toehold in the country. The company’s Impossible Buerger has been a big hit through its partnership with Burger King.
Meanwhile, Starbucks is partnering with venture capital firm Sequoia Capital to make “strategic co-investments” in China’s technology sector, including “commercial partnerships with next-generation food and retail technology companies.”
In other recent cleantech news:
Sidewalk Labs Spin-Out Raises $400M: Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, a spin-out from Google parent Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, has raised $400 million in a Series A funding round from the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan (OTPP) and Alphabet.
SIP claims a “novel tech-powered approach” to solve the country’s infrastructure problems, and executives tell Fortune they play to tackle everything from plastic recycling to how driverless cars are deployed. The company also plans to look at areas like energy, water, waste and “social infrastructure.” The company launched last August as a partnership with OTPP.
EV Car Sales to Fall in 2020: Sales of electric cars will fail this year, according to new research from BloombergNEF. But the sales of international combustion engine cars will fall even farther.
The drop-off is due to the coronavirus-related recession, which has hammered consumer confidence and also shut down car dealerships worldwide. BNEF says EV car registration will fall 18% this year, while fossil fuel-powered cars 2will drop by 23%.
Overall, EV car sales should total 1.7 million this year, on top of the 7 million already on the road. BNEF thinks EVs will comprise 31% of the global car fleet by 2040 and will make up almost 60% of new passenger car sales by then.
Breakthrough, Temasek Back Nitrogen-Fixing Startup: Berkeley, Calif-based startup Pivot Bio raised $100 million in a Series C funding round that was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek. The agtech company is working to develop a product that lets farmers apply nitrogen to corn crops without that nitrogen later running off and damaging nearby aquatic ecosystems.
The company has raised $186 million so far and says it will use the latest funding to scale up its product, which is now used on hundreds of thousands of acres of corn fields in the US, and which sold out in its second year of commercialization. Bayer was an early investor in Pivot’s Series A round in 2017.
ADB Ventures to Make SDG-Focused Investments: The Asian Development Bank’s new venture capital fund, ADB Ventures, has reached its first close at $50 million and will start investing in SDG-focused tech startups in the cleantech, agritech, fintech, and healthtech sectors across South and Southeast Asia. Investments will also have a gender focus.
The bank’s existing ADV Ventures Lab is backing a range of programs including Singapore-based water technology accelerator Imagine H2O Asia and the Building Energy Challenge, which promotes efficient energy management and smart buildings in Southeast Asia.
Investors in ADV Ventures include the Clean Technology Fund, South Korea’s Ministry of Economy and Finance, Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nordic Development Fund.
Quinbrook Launches new Solar-Plus-Storage Company: Low-carbon infrastructure investor Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners has launched a new distributed and utility-scale solar-plus-storage company that will acquire, develop and operate solar facilities across the country. The new firm, Primergy Solar, will take over Gemini Solar, the 690 MW project that Quinbrook has been developing in Nevada, as its “cornerstone project,” according to a statement.
Primergy’s leadership includes CEO Ty Daul, who was formerly the president of Canadian Solar subsidiary Recurrent Energy, and CFO Tim Larrison, who previously was CFO at Engie Storage.
Energy Impact Partners Buys Community Solar Project: Energy Impact Partners bought a 102 MW community solar project portfolio, partnering with NextEnergy Capital in the deal. The portfolio in upstate New York will be developed by EIP’s Infrastructure Group and provide access to clean power for approximately 15,000 homes, according to a statement.
“This expansion is the logical evolution of our strategy, leveraging our expansive utility partner network, portfolio of innovative technology leaders and deep sector expertise,” EIP managing partner Hans Kobler says in the statement.
US Falls Further Behind in Clean Energy Race: For the second year in a row, the United States has fallen in a ranking of countries on issues such as environmental sustainability and preparedness for the transition to low-carbon energy. The US is now 32nd out of 115 countries in the World Economic Forum’s EnergyTransition Index, behind countries like Canada, the UK, France and Costa Rica. The US was 25th last year.
China is ranked 78th but is one of only 11 countries that “have made consistent and measurable progress on their energy transition over the past six years,” the WEF says. Sweden was in first place in the rankings, followed by Switzerland and Finland.
Large Coal Plant to be Replaced by Wind: The largest power plant in North Dakota, a 1,150 MW coal plant, will be shut down as its owner pivots to supplying more electricity produced by wind farms. Electric power supplier Great River Energy says it will close Coal Creek Station in 2022 and start buying and supplying electricity from new wind energy projects.
Great River also says it intends to modify another coal and natural gas plant so that it runs solely on natural gas. The company says it’s closing Coal Creek because it has “lost value compared to other alternatives in recent years.”