“The big problem is, how does the world feed 10 billion people? And how do we do that whilst reducing carbon emissions?”
With this statement, Caecilia Potter captures one of the great environmental and humanitarian challenges of the 21st Century. It’s also a conundrum that guided the life’s work of her father, the late Emeritus Professor Owen Potter.
Ms Potter is the Commercial Founder and Executive Chair of Venso Labs, a family-funded technology startup created to capitalise on Prof. Potter’s pioneering work. His multi-stage steam fluidised bed drying process, which helped power stations reduce their emissions by 20 per cent, received numerous awards and accolades. His work continued into his early 90s, paving the way for his children to commercialise his vision.
The germination of a life’s work
This led to the development of VensoFlow, a process that uses patented cross-flow technology to achieve efficient heat and mass transfer, enabling solid or liquid droplets to rapidly, uniformly and effectively interact with a gas stream. The versatile technology has the potential to replace fluidisation and rotary drums for smaller particles across many industrial processes globally.
An early example of this technology in action is VensoFlow’s process for seed coating and drying, a common practice in agriculture that provides benefits to seed germination, growth, storage and handling. “Our goal is to provide engineers with a brand new, smarter toolkit to solve critical agricultural and environmental challenges, intelligently and sustainably,” said Caecilia.
“Not by re-invention, but by completely re-imagining seed coating – safely delivering energy efficient, gentle, fast, precision-dosed, multi-layered, regenerative seed treatments.”
Utilising the VensoFlow rapid in-flight drying system, heat stress and wastage is reduced, dosage is precise and can be sequentially layered to support the needs of the plant germination cycle, while seed vigour and viability is improved. This leads to better germination rates and results in improved plant yields, while also decreasing the need for broadcast chemicals that can leave toxic residue in soils.
The seeds of sustainability
Another VensoFlow application with significant environmental upside is the cost-effective coating of livestock feed supplements with proven formulations to reduce enteric methane, the single largest source of direct greenhouse gas emissions in the beef and dairy value chains.
The technology underpinning VensoFlow was patented in 2013 by Prof. Potter. It is an order of magnitude faster and uses significantly less power than comparable processes. Importantly, unlike fluidised beds and rotary drums, which need extra energy to “lift” the particles against gravity and take much longer to dry due to reduced surface area availability, VensoFlow sustainably harnesses gravity to fluidise the particles, which is free. VensoFlow has been independently demonstrated to achieve up to 90 per cent heat transfer effectiveness*.
Venso Labs is now working alongside industry partners such as leading seed supplier Barenbrug. “Seed coating was immediately appealing because we can solve so many critical problems: to increase global crop yields and reduce wastage and pollution; to heal our soil for future generations; to better feed a growing population and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our vision is aligned with United Nations’ Sustainability Goals, and Owen’s.”
Pivotal assistance: the Entrepreneurs’ Programme Accelerating Commercialisation grant
When Venso Labs first sought to raise capital to commercialise their technology, they had just completed the proof of concept and approached investors. They were told that the product needed to be further de-risked and that there was little appetite for funding of early-stage deep tech in Australia. Venso Labs subsequently applied for the Entrepreneurs’ Programme Accelerating Commercialisation grant, which provided critical, matched, non-diluting funding of $860,000.
This funding, alongside vital support and guidance from i4 Connect facilitators Stephen Bradford and Andrew Miller, has enabled Venso Labs to begin commercialising the VensoFlow process and led to further introductions to government priority programs.
This has been pivotal in Venso Labs’ bid to create new systems and products, and has also been complemented by development of virtual pilot capacity via simulation and AI analysis.
Reaping the grant’s many benefits
One of the most tangible benefits of Venso Labs’ involvement in the Entrepreneurs’ Programme Accelerating Commercialisation service has been undertaking the comprehensive application process.
“We had to go through a thorough competitive vetting process,” Ms Potter explained. “So now, when reaching out to potential partners, investors and employees, that vote of confidence really helps us generate more leads and engagement.”
Under the guidance of i4 Connect’s facilitators, Venso Labs has strengthened its business case and formulated the application for its VensoFlow system.
“With our technology being so broad in its potential applications, after successfully completing our pilot, we had to research and develop case studies for different industrial technologies to anchor and focus our commercial program. Seed coating was an area where we could address urgent environmental problems to make a positive impact globally and that is the business case we developed,” Ms Potter said.
Instant business credibility granted
She said the involvement in the Entrepreneurs’ Programme Accelerating Commercialisation service has given Venso Labs the business credibility to appeal to the bright new talent that will be needed to further its plans.
“When we conclude our prototype next year, we will be ready to grow the seeds team with high-calibre seed industry experts to support scaling up commercial production with established industry partners for manufacture and channel distribution.”
* According to leading engineering consultancy VIPAC’s pilot results, accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA).