With numerous countries, and organisations committing to carbon neutrality, zero-carbon buildings are finally getting the attention they needed.
According to the World Economic Forum, buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, the interest and investment in zero-carbon buildings is growing gradually due to various local and global initiatives.
Raised €4M growth capital
The Dutch company got funding from Timeless Investments, SHAPE Capital, DWI Grundbesitz, and the European Research Fund. The dutch startup plans to scale up its technology after recently starting a sales partnership with two global glass manufacturers.
One of the new shareholders of the startup includes the German project developer DWI Grundbesitz, which intends to support PHYSEE with the rollout of SmartSkin sales in Germany. Sales in other countries are expected to follow quickly through the right collaborations.
30% more energy-efficient
PHYSEE is the first company in the world to succeed in developing facades that provide both energy and data, optimising the energy efficiency of buildings.
The primary technology developed by PHYSEE, called SmartSkin, makes buildings up to 30% more energy-efficient, and at the same time, significantly more comfortable for its users. Notably, the company has developed three products – the SmartSkin facade, the PAR+ coating, and the POWER+ coating.
Ferdinand Grapperhaus jr., CEO and co-founder of PHYSEE quotes, “We have been swimming against the tide for six years because we see that things can -and must be- done differently. However, we notice that many investors in the Netherlands often find disruptive and sustainable hardware innovations new and scary to invest in. This is why we are very grateful for the confidence instilled in us by our new shareholders. They take responsibility and are thus a driver for change. Together we are making a difference by scaling up this impactful technology.”
How PHYSEE was born?
PHYSEE was founded by two applied physicists,Ferdinand Grapperhaus, and Willem Kesteloo in 2014 who, during their graduation, found a way to generate electricity with transparent glass. According to the founders, they use creative, physical angles when looking at the buildings to see how they can optimise, using smart and sustainable innovations.
How SmartSkin technology works?
The SmartSkin technology is a combination of sensors, solar cells, and battery system integrated into the window frames. This technology analyses data, such as temperature, light, and air quality, using a self-learning algorithm that independently controls the building’s climate installations (such as sun blinds, lighting, ventilation, and air conditioning).
“We spend 90% of our time in buildings and for a more sustainable future, we need to develop and use them in innovative ways, both at home and in the office”, says Grapperhaus.
Coating to grow plant faster
On the other hand, the company also developed a coating solution to make plants grow faster with the same amount of sunlight. Named as transparent PAR+, it converts UV light into PAR light, allowing crops to grow 7% faster.
The Delft-based company will use a part of the funding to test together with the University of Wageningen on how much faster crops (such as tomatoes) grow on the same amount of land.
Daan van der Vorm, owner of SHAPE Capital and VORM Holding: “We have been involved with PHYSEE for several years and the speed at which they can tailor their innovation to the needs of the market is impressive and decisive for us. We like to invest in sustainable solutions that turn our sector upside down – the world can make good use of such players, especially now that the agricultural and real estate sectors have a great need for data-driven solutions. I am proud that we can contribute to this success as an investor and partner.”
The world’s food supply must double by the year 2050 to meet the demands of a growing population, according to a report from the United Nations. And as pressure mounts to find new crop land to support the growth, the world’s eyes are increasingly turning to the African continent as the next potential global bread basket.
While Africa has 65% of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land, according to the African Development Bank, the countries on the continent face significant obstacles as they look to boost the productivity of their agricultural industries.
On the continent, 80% of families depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but only 4% use irrigation. Many families also lack access to reliable and affordable electricity. It’s these twin problems that Samir Ibrahim and his co-founder at SunCulture, Charlie Nichols, have spent the last eight years trying to solve.
Armed with a new financing model and purpose-built small solar-powered generators and water pumps, Nichols and Ibrahim have already built a network of customers using their equipment to increase incomes by anywhere from five to 10 times their previous levels by growing higher-value cash crops, cultivating more land and raising more livestock.
The company also just closed on $ 14 million in funding to expand its business across Africa.
“We have to double the amount of food we have to create by 2050, and if you look at where there are enough resources to grow food — all signs point to Africa. You have a lot of farmers and a lot of land, and a lot of resources,” Ibrahim said.
African small farmers face two big problems as they look to increase productivity, Ibrahim said. One is access to markets, which alone is a huge source of food waste, and the other is food security because of a lack of stable growing conditions exacerbated by climate change.
As one small farmer told The Economist earlier this year, “The rainy season is not predictable. When it is supposed to rain it doesn’t, then it all comes at once.”
Ibrahim, who graduated from New York University in 2011, had long been drawn to the African continent. His father was born in Tanzania and his mother grew up in Kenya and they eventually found their way to the U.S. But growing up, Ibrahim was told stories about East Africa.
While pursuing a business degree at NYU Ibrahim met Nichols, who had been working on large-scale solar projects in the U.S., at an event for budding entrepreneurs in New York.
The two began a friendship and discussed potential business opportunities stemming from a paper Nichols had read about renewable energy applications in the agriculture industry.
After winning second place in a business plan competition sponsored by NYU, the two men decided to prove that they should have won first. They booked tickets to Kenya and tried to launch a pilot program for their business selling solar-powered water pumps and generators.
Conceptually solar water-pumping systems have been around for decades. But as the costs of solar equipment and energy storage have declined, the systems that leverage those components have become more accessible to a broader swath of the global population.
That timing is part of what has enabled SunCulture to succeed where other companies have stumbled. “We moved here at a time when [solar] reached grid parity in a lot of markets. It was at a time when a lot of development financiers were funding the nexus between agriculture and energy,” said Ibrahim.
Initially, the company sold its integrated energy generation and water-pumping systems to the middle income farmers who hold jobs in cities like Nairobi and cultivate crops on land they own in rural areas. These “telephone farmers” were willing to spend the $ 5,000 required to install SunCulture’s initial systems.
Now, the cost of a system is somewhere between $ 500 and $ 1,000 and is more accessible for the 570 million farming households across the word — with the company’s “pay-as-you-grow” model.
It’s a spin on what’s become a popular business model for the distribution of solar systems of all types across Africa. Investors have poured nearly $ 1 billion into the development of off-grid solar energy and retail technology companies like M-kopa, Greenlight Planet, d.light design, ZOLA Electric and SolarHome, according to Ibrahim. In some ways, SunCulture just extends that model to agricultural applications.
“We have had to bundle services and financing. The reason this particularly works is because our customers are increasing their incomes four or five times,” said Ibrahim. “Most of the money has been going to consuming power. This is the first time there has been productive power.”
SunCulture’s hardware consists of 300-watt solar panels and a 440-watt-hour battery system. The batteries can support up to four lights, two phones and a plug-in submersible water pump.
The company’s best-selling product line can support irrigation for a two-and-a-half acre farm, Ibrahim said. “We see ourselves as an entry point for other types of appliances. We’re growing to be the largest solar company for Africa.”
With the $ 14 million in funding, from investors including Energy Access Ventures (EAV), Électricité de France (EDF), Acumen Capital Partners (ACP) and Dream Project Incubators (DPI), SunCulture will expand its footprint in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Senegal, Togo and Cote D’Ivoire, the company said.
Ekta Partners acted as the financial advisor for the deal, while CrossBoundary provided additional advisory support, including an analysis on the market opportunity and competitive landscape, under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Kenya Investment Mechanism Program.