Spain holds the top position globally in olive oil production, yet a considerable portion of the olive often goes underutilized in the oil extraction process. This leftover material is commonly considered as "waste," posing a notable challenge for olive oil mills. Amata Green, a startup from RootCamp Batch #5, has developed a specialized procedure to convert this intricate waste material into high-quality biochar. In this interview, we delve into how Amata Green endeavors to introduce biochar to Spain, exploring the distinctive features that make their biochar valuable and understanding its substantial impact on farming practices.
The Amata Green founders Mihaela Strungariu and Sandi Martin during the Welcome Week at RootCamp. © Amata Green
What agricultural challenges does your solution address, and why do you focus on Spain?
In southern Spain, the climate is arid and desert-like. Each year, the region experiences escalating heatwaves and droughts, resulting in dropped blooms, diminished yields, and reduced revenues for olive farmers. This challenge intensifies annually with the worsening impacts of climate change. Despite Spain's global leadership in olive oil production, only approximately 22% of the olive is utilized in the oil extraction process. The remaining portion is deemed waste, presenting a dual challenge for olive oil mills. Disposing of this waste is burdensome for the mills and environmentally unfriendly. Olive mill waste, is characterized by its extremely high moisture and oil content, posing significant difficulties in handling.
What is Eco-Mix, and what sets it apart from other products on the market?
We are currently launching “Eco-Mix” which is an agricultural soil amendment partly containing biochar made from olive mill waste. What sets our Eco-Mix apart from other similar products is its use of high-quality biochar and other sustainably sourced ingredients, all of which are natural, organic, and eco-friendly. Importantly, our product is suitable for use in organic farming. None of our ingredients are synthetic or mined. Our biochar, derived from olive mill waste, boasts exceptional richness in potassium and other beneficial elements, establishing it as a remarkable soil enhancer. Biochar plays a crucial role in enhancing water retention, promoting natural microbial activity, reducing erosion, and ensuring nutrient stability. These attributes collectively contribute to the cultivation of more drought-resistant plants and trees, fostering healthier soils and enhancing overall yields. Taking this high-quality biochar a step further, we blend it with sustainably sourced, ecologically friendly ingredients to craft a distinctive Eco-Mix soil amendment.
This year, the startup aims to make up to 50 tons of biochar available for pre-sale. © Amata Green
Describe the environmental benefits and impacts of using biochar.
The impacts and benefits of using biochar in agriculture are numerous. In addition to providing relief to farmers dealing with depleted soil, erosion problems, and coping with drought conditions, Spain suffers from toxic algal blooms in drinking water reservoirs and coastal aquaculture. As seen in the Gulf of Mexico's "Dead Zone," where nitrogen and phosphorus are washed into the Mississippi River from US farmland runoff, farming inputs do not stay confined to the land where they have been applied. This runoff triggers algal blooms that choke off the oxygen supply in the water, making it impossible for marine life to survive.
We believe that if every farm in the middle of the US were to add biochar to their soil, these agricultural inputs, including topsoil, would stay in place and not leach into freshwater systems—thus, restoring the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. In fact, our belief in biochar is so strong that, though it may sound audacious, we contend that, in theory, if every farming operation worldwide were to transition to organic/regenerative growing practices, we would not only halt climate change but also reverse it!
How do you intend to assist the European government in attaining its sustainability objectives?
Under the Green Deal's Farm to Fork strategy, the European Commission has set a target of at least 25% of the EU's agricultural land to be organic farming by 2030. To meet this objective, farmers need alternatives to chemical inputs, and Amata Green's Eco-Mix is the ideal solution. Furthermore, the European Union has set objectives to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and has established a new target for 2030, aiming to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55%. Each ton of our olive mill waste biochar will reduce atmospheric carbon by approximately 3 tons. This reduction will be substantial once we scale up our own biochar production facilities.
What are your goals for the next months during the RootCamp accelerator program?
We are ramping up the production of our Eco-Mix and make it available in larger quantities to farmers in Spain, Portugal, and neighboring countries. Currently, we are welcoming angel investors to join in and be a part of this product launch. Additionally, we are seeking investors or minority partners to assist us financially in next year's launch of our pilot biochar production facility. Our Eco-Mix is currently available to local Spanish farmers in small quantities and will be accessible to neighboring countries in large quantities in the next few months.
If you're eager to meet the founders in person, be sure to save the date: February 7th for Batch#5's Partners & Mentors Day and RootCamp Ecosystem Party in Hannover. Don't miss out—secure your spot by registering here!