Spinning gold out of straw

This story comes to us from Bioenterprise

Mushrooms growing in substrateLondon, Ontario – Cennatek believes there’s money to be made in discarded mushroom compost — and a host of other agricultural feedstocks. A $1.4 million pilot plant will provide the proof.

Every week, 52 weeks a year, the Highline  Mushrooms  plant in Ontario’s  Prince Edward County  discards  600  tonnes  of  spent  mushroom  compost.  And while local farmers are happy to use the nutrient-­‐rich waste as fertilizer, that’s only a seasonal activity.

So Highline turned to Cennatek. The London, Ontario company has developed technology to extract minerals from biomass — including the wheat straw in mushroom compost — and turn them into high-­‐value liquid fertilizer.  

Cennatek  founder  and  president  Mohammad  Rahbari  lists  the  advantages  of  their  product: long shelf life, good stability, no organic contaminants or microbes, and competitive pricing.

Best of all, recycling non-­‐renewable minerals makes good environmental sense.

“Your nitrogen comes from petrochemical processes,” he explains.  “Your potash is mined.  So is your phosphate rock and so on.”

It started when Rahbari, a chemical engineer, began investigating the possibility of creating fuel pellets from crop residues and other agricultural biomass. He quickly discovered that it required removing most of the potassium, phosphorus and other minerals, abundant in agricultural   feedstocks.   And  if  you  remove  them,  you  might  as  well  turn  them  into something useful.

Rahbari got to work. Lab experiments and field trials proved highly successful, but setting up a pilot commercialization plant would require $1.4 million.

While Rahbari could design chemical  processes  without  breaking  a  sweat,  wooing  investors  was  a  whole  different ballgame.

That’s where Bioenterprise came in.

The  agri-­‐business  accelerator  knew  exactly  how  to put  together  due  diligence  packages. They helped secure initial funding for marketing and legal costs. They conducted regulatory research and introduced Cennatek to investor groups.

“Bioenterprise was very crucial to us in a number of ways,” Rahbari says.

On  April  1,  2014,  Cennatek  cemented  a  deal  with  Highline  Mushrooms  to  establish  a processing  facility  in Prince  Edward  County.  At full capacity, the plant will produce four million litres of liquid fertilizer a year and employ 20 people.

While  Rahbari  will  be  up  to  his  neck  in  mushroom  compost  in  the  near  future,  he  sees plenty of potential to apply Cennatek’s technology to different feedstocks down the line.

“What  excites  me  the  most  is  the  wide-­‐scale  opportunities,”  he  says.

“We  see  ourselves building multiple facilities that would be able to take local sources of biomass and bio-­‐waste and  convert  them  into  high  value  products,  creating  local  jobs  and  economic  activity, starting right here in Ontario,” he says.