Time to Power Some Agriculture

Author: Kevin Davis

I’m confident in our technologies, I’m confident in our team, and I’m confident in our work ethic. What I haven’t been all that confident in is the US Government’s technology funding decisions. After all, their lack of interest in supporting IcePoint technology while they pump millions into battery research has been frustrating. Well, Russell and I have renewed faith in the system and are happy to report that Rebound’s innovations are starting to get some attention. The first indicator is in the form of a $1.375M grant via the Powering Agriculture Grand Challenge.

I would have laughed if you told me such a large award would follow up Rebound’s $40K grant from the Chilean government. The fact that the Powering Agriculture sponsors had faith in Russell’s innovation and our team is incredibly validating and certainly the boost we needed. Living without an income for 22 months has been challenging, but we were confident that with patience, an award would hit and we’d be well on our way. And while we thought that award would most likely be a $150K SBIR for our IcePoint technology, we’ll definitely take a million plus for a technology we’ve named SunChill.

The Solicitation

Powering Agriculture is one of the Grand Challenges sponsored by USAID, the Swedish Government, Duke EnergyOPIC (Overseas Private Investment Corporation) and BMZ (German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development). The request was for clean energy technologies that increase agricultural productivity with required development/deployment focused on one of the Feed the Future countries.

The Proposal

We began working on the proposal in November 2012 trying to think through IcePoint applications for the developing world. I have a close friend who’s done a ton of work in Ethiopia, and while we spent time looking for reasons to deploy a -35C refrigeration system in that country, we quickly determined that developing nations need more refrigeration than freezers.

Thankfully, Russell had a concept floating around in his head to transform low temperature, solar thermal energy into refrigeration using no electrical inputs or precision parts. It's a mobile system, used to cool products immediately after harvest, thus reducing the often 40% spoilage rates rural farmers experience. This would increase incomes, health and livelihoods for smallholder farmers. The problem is that horticultural products don’t grow well in Ethiopia, but they do in Mozambique, a country my friend often talked about with great praise. The country has 36 million hectares of arable land (only 12% of which is currently cultivated) and four deep sea ports (think: exports). Mozambique also has significant poverty and an agricultural community that could really benefit from accessible, solar cooling.

To support the effort, we brought on board three partners: The Energy Institute at CSU, who has always been supporters of our ideas, TechnoServe, an international aid organization working to create/improve businesses abroad and Mozambique Organicos, a working research farm run by a South African couple, Koos and Ingrid van der Merwe.

The Notification

Three rounds of follow-up document submission and 6 months later, Russell and I were finally notified of the award. In fact, the day left left Chile following seven months with the Start-Up Chile program, the award notification hit my inbox. Special thanks to Susan Bornstein at TechnoServe for helping with last minute budget documents and that nameless Chilean university student who let me borrow his network access in Antofagasta to call Susan in Washington DC.

Our Progress

Since the notification, we’ve signed research and subaward contracts with our partners, found a graduate student to support our project, purchased business insurance, hired a CPA, and refined our accounting processes to be USG compliant. The project officially started on October 1st and while the Rebound team has continued to go full steam, we’ve promised to give ourselves one day off per week, to keep our sanity.

Next Steps

It’s been a challenging 22 months without any significant funding, but Rebound’s persistence and patience is paying off.  Now time to make the technology work! To do that we’ll be hiring an engineer between January and April. The development plan includes six months of modeling and initial component testing in Colorado, another year in Colorado building a prototype and then, assuming the project meets the necessary milestones, a year building and deploying a demonstration unit in Mozambique. Its certainly going to be an interesting 2014!

This product is made possible through the support of the Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development Partners: the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Swedish Government, Duke Energy, and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). It was prepared by Rebound Technology and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Powering Agriculture partners. Further information about Powering Agriculture can be found at www.PoweringAg.org