“We have to find a way to replace animals as a source of protein,” said Amol Deshpande of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. “I don’t think the climate can subsist … with the amount of livestock that we have.”
At the 2012 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, Deshpande addressed the “big problems” in agriculture in which KPCB seeks to support innovation. He spoke about recovering water contaminated by agriculture, generating energy from food waste, and replacing animals with alternative means of delivering protein.
“If you want to talk about agricultural land use, water use, [and] energy use, it really boils down to one thing: livestock,” said Deshpande. “To me, if there is a place to attack the[se] problem[s], that is where I would attack it. Everything else is minor in comparison.”
Toward that end, KPCB recently invested in Savage River Farms, a Maryland-based startup that aims to commercialize vegetarian chicken. (See this article in Beef Magazine and check out the work of Jason Metheny.)
“Savage River Farms is a new technology. We have a way, mechanically, of replicating the texture of meat, perfectly, using plant-based proteins,” said Deshpande. “That is a real breakthrough innovation.”
The company has licensed technology from the University of Missouri, according to a story in the Columbia Tribune. Applying research from MU biological engineering Professor Fu-hung Hsieh, Savage River Farms aims to commercialize a soy-based chicken alternative that tastes and feels like the real thing.
Another Kleiner Perkins water investment is APTwater, which removes nitrate to enable water reuse.
“Agriculture has contaminated water levels all across the United States,” said Deshpande. “Nitrate is a direct cause of [water] contamination. There are thousands of wells in California that are contaminated… [When] building desalination plants, it is costing [people] $1,200 an acre-foot to recover that water. It is highly energy-intensive. Meanwhile, all you ever have to do is find a way to effectively treat that nitrate. […] Recovery can solve a lot of our problems.”
Opportunities in the water market seem obvious. The water market is:
- Huge and expanding
- In a crisis that cries out for innovation and efficiency
- Not experiencing a bubble
- Deeply enmeshed with energy usage
- Needing a variety of new technology approaches
Ray Lane, a partner at KP, has said that every year the partners at KP list areas they'd like to consider investing in and water always make the list. The problem is "You have to kiss a lot of frogs" to find the right investment in water.
According to their website, APTwater’s process technologies are based on Advanced Oxidation Process chemistry which produces the hydroxyl radical, the most powerful oxidant available for water treatment, capable of destroying a wide range of organic chemicals via an oxidative chain-reaction.
KPCB has also invested in Harvest Power, a producer of renewable energy and soil enhancement products from organic waste. Last year the firm raised a $51.7 million round B from Generation Investment Management, DAG Ventures, Keating Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Waste Management, Munich Venture Partners, and TriplePoint Capital.
“[Consider] the energy potential of food waste. We waste a lot of food. Recovering the caloric value, there is a lot of value in that,” said Deshpande.
“Both [APT and Harvest Power] have hundreds of employees now and legitimate business … and are growing and competing very effectively with incumbents in their industries,” said Deshpande.
Khosla Ventures is also enthusiastic about next-gen agriculture, as are a host of other venture investors and entrepreneurs. Here's a short list of new green-ag firms and a short list of fish-farming firms.
Yoni Cohen has worked for greentech venture capital firms DBL Investors and Israel Cleantech Ventures and reported about environmental innovation for numerous publications. Follow Yoni on twitter @Cohen_Yoni.