Cotierra’s Biochar Tech Aims to Enrich Colombia’s Coffee Industry

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Reversing climate change and safeguarding your morning cup of coffee in a one-two punch? That’s what Cotierra, a Swiss-Colombian carbon removal and AgTech startup aim to do with the $1 million in pre-seed funding they just received from a consortium of environmental and climate-focused investors. The investment will support the development of its biochar reactor technology and Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) system in Colombia, the world’s third largest coffee producer.

Cotierra made the case for the vast potential of biochar — the process of creating charcoal by heating biomass in a low-oxygen environment and then mixing it into soils, storing and locking away carbon for centuries. The natural process can be scaled as a significant approach to carbon dioxide removal (CDR). 

Agriculture, forestry, and other land-use sectors account for 23% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. For agricultural industries across the globe, CDR and AgTech companies say biochar can at once remove carbon from the atmosphere while enriching soil, improving production. This is a particularly appealing solution, Cotierra says, in the Global South, with most agricultural land experiencing soil carbon loss. The startup’s biochar solution is uniquely designed for the agricultural conditions of the Global South, beginning with Colombian coffee farms.

Coffee Farm in Salento, Colombia, photo credit: Reiseuhu on Unsplash

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Colombia’s coffee-growing axis contains 141,120 hectares of coffee farms. The concentrated area produces the country’s third largest export, behind oil and coal. Cotierra proposes to work directly with coffee growers in the South American country to convert coffee tree residue into biochar, mix it back into plantations, lock away carbon, and restore soil quality. This regenerative approach to coffee production could empower and increase margins for farmers, in a multi-billion dollar industry where growers still struggle to reap the benefits.

In a country where 95% of its half-a-million coffee farms are smaller than 5 hectares, Cotierra’s decentralized approach empowers growers to maintain its cost-effective and mobile reactor, keeping biochar on or near farms. Rather than one firm managing the biochar process across farms, farmers can easily run their own regenerative system.

Cotierra says its tamper-proof MRV system will support the accurate tracking of carbon removal. Better data collected through the integrated MRV can help to better inform policy-making and CDR adoption at a larger scale. On that note, the startup aims to fast-track the development and prove operational feasibility in Colombia to scale up in other agricultural regions. The one million in pre-seed money will also fund agronomy studies to validate further emission reduction benefits and farmers’ margins increase.

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“Our significant traction within the coffee value chain highlights the urgent demand for our decentralized biochar approach,” said Thomas Käslin, CEO and Co-Founder of Cotierra. “This funding will not only accelerate the development of our technology to fulfill said demand but also enable us to demonstrate the tangible and measurable benefits of our approach on the ground in Colombia, from reducing and removing emissions to enhancing soil health and farmer profitability.”

Investors are taking note. Carbon Removal Partners, Climate Founders, Carbon Drawdown Initiative, Partners in Clime, S2S Ventures, and notable ClimateTech business angels all participated in Cotierra’s pre-seed round.

“Biochar is one of the best climate solutions and the only permanent carbon dioxide removal approach that is already economically feasible and scalable,” says Markus Sudhoff, Managing Director at Climate Founders. Benjamin Schulz, Founding Partner of Carbon Removal Partners, also expressed his belief in the importance of tropical biomass for large-scale carbon removal, highlighting the role of Cotierra in combating climate change.

A sustainable way to remove carbon from the atmosphere while enriching the soil where my coffee beans are grown? Pour me another cup.


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