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Scaling up CE-Line possible through investment

  • Posted by: admin
  • Category: News
  • Publisher: nieuweoogst.nl
  • Hanneke de Jonge

CE-Line has developed a real-time analysis instrument for the analysis of nutrients in irrigation and drain water in the greenhouse. Now that the research phase is over, the start-up wants to scale up. Horticoop and Yield Lab Europe saw this as a promising investment.

CE-Line is a young company in Heerenveen and launched the CE-Line in 2023. This is an instrument for greenhouse horticulture that provides immediately available laboratory analyzes of the amount of nutrients in the irrigation and drain water in the greenhouse.

General Manager Simon Meijer of CE-Line explains that this allows greenhouse growers to intervene in business processes earlier than if they first have to send samples to a laboratory. By adjusting the dosage of nutrients based on the CE-Line analyses, they can better meet the needs of the crops in the greenhouse and increase yield.

Meijer says that the idea for the CE-Line arose from a similar instrument from a Frisian entrepreneur for the analysis of ingredients in milk. ‘We wondered in which sectors this would also be relevant and ended up in greenhouse horticulture, because there is a strong desire to work with closed water cycles.’

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Working autonomously

Nevertheless, it was quite a challenge to design an instrument that can autonomously take, prepare and analyze samples and then clean and calibrate itself. But since the presentation in February 2023, CE-Line has built and sold thirteen instruments.

In order to scale up from a research to a production company, the start-up partnered with two investors in the autumn. One of these was Horticoop. Director of investments Wilco Schoonderbeek says that this was originally a purchasing cooperative for horticulture, but changed course a few years ago and, with the consent of the members of the cooperative, now invests in companies that offer solutions to challenges in horticulture.

Schoonderbeek: ‘Because our supporters know exactly what is needed, we can make better investment decisions with their knowledge.’


Pilot project

He explains that Horticoop brings the companies in which it invests to the attention of members, who may become customers. In this way, an investment can not only lead to financial returns, but also to improvements in the greenhouse itself.

Horticoop came into contact with CE-Line through one of the members. He was involved in a pilot project that Wageningen University & Research (WUR) carried out with a consortium to investigate the best way to use the CE-Line. ‘The companies involved and the WUR were very satisfied with the results. This partly led us to see an investment as promising.’

The other half of the investment was provided by Yield Lab Europe, an investment company founded in Ireland in 2019 that focuses on sustainable technological innovation in the agri-food sector in Europe. “As a venture capital fund, we invest in promising start-ups,” says investment director Daan Wilms van Kersbergen. ‘We actively look for new companies ourselves, but we also come into contact with interesting start-ups through our network.’


Pitch call

In 2022, Yield Lab Europe organized a pitch call for Dutch start-ups for the first time, with a related event. CE-Line participated in this. And although the company did not emerge as the winner, Wilms van Kersbergen’s interest was aroused.

He explains that it was a fundamental choice for him to work at Yield Lab Europe in 2022, because in his view the current food system is no longer sustainable. ‘The current focus on efficient production methods to guarantee food security has led to problems such as depleted soils, nutrient scarcity and insufficient attention to animal welfare.’

Wilms van Kersbergen believes that start-ups can provide tools to make the agri-food sector more sustainable and improve systems. ‘Just like in the energy sector, the transition to sustainability is desperately needed in the agri-food sector.’


Experimental phase

As far as he is concerned, this means on the one hand a switch to nature-inclusive agriculture and on the other hand the sustainable, closed systems that greenhouse horticulture is working on. For Yield Lab Europe, the autumn of 2023 was a good time to join CE-Line, because the ‘tinkering phase’ at CE-Line was over and there was a clear plan for the future in terms of time and money.

Meijer mentions the advantage that both Horticoop and Yield Lab Europe can also bring CE-Line into contact with potential new customers. Naturally, the company itself continues to make progress and, for example, aroused the interest of the Norwegian Columbi Farms at the Green Tech in June 2023.

Meijer says that Dutch greenhouse horticulture is not leading the way in the use of the CE-Line. In his opinion, this is mainly due to the many laboratories spread across the country. Especially in countries such as Mexico or Tunisia, there is a need to know the composition of irrigation and wastewater more quickly, because it takes a long time to have samples from the greenhouse in the Netherlands analyzed.

That is why CE-Line has the ambition to roll out the invention worldwide with international investment funds that have some knowledge of greenhouse horticulture. In order to gain a foothold on the other side of the ocean, CE-Line will be working with an American dealer from March.

CTO Mari Birkeland of Columbi Farms sees the CE-Line as a beautiful and robust solution. © Columbi Farms

Columbi Farms aims to efficiently produce food and other plant products in a vertical farm. To do this, they reuse water and valuable nutrients from some of Norway’s many salmon farms as fertilizer for vegetables and other plant products. Scions of the Refsnes family, veterans of the Norwegian salmon industry, founded the company in 2020 to reduce their ecological footprint. They do this by using the fresh water and nutrients from smolt farms (a fish farm that produces young salmon before they go to offshore farms), which are now considered waste, as irrigation water for crops. In 2023, Mari Birkeland, chief technology officer at Columbi Farms, saw a test setup of the CE-Line at Green Tech. She saw it as a solution for measuring and dosing the nutrient mixture needed for crops in combination with the fish extract. ‘We thought it would be perfect to be able to measure and adjust the dosage immediately instead of having to wait a long time for laboratory results. Until now we didn’t have a good alternative for that.’ Last March, CE-Line installed their system at the Columbi Farms pilot facility, and Birkeland hopes to add another automatic dosing system. “The composition of the water is variable and we have to add fertilizer to it,” says the chief technology officer. ‘But ultimately we expect to be able to formulate a balanced nutritional mixture with the CE-Line.’

[ Translated by Google Translate ]
Author: admin