Turning cow dung into eco-friendly fertilizer

A “shitty” business model

cow dung

Photo: Arne Vatnoy / Innovasjon Norge
From left to right: Consulate General Harriet Berg, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, Female Entrepreneur of the Year Grete Sønsteby, and Managing Director of Innovation Norway Anita Krohn Traaseth.

Julie Vissgren
Editor-in-Chief, Innomag.no

Krødsherad farm heiress and founder of N2 Agri has developed a method to turn cow dung from a foul environmental problem into environmentally friendly fertilizer—and a green billion-dollar industry. “We are going to be the world’s largest company mining cow dung,” says Norwegian Female Entrepreneur of the Year Grete Sønsteby.

Crown Princess Mette-Marit presented this year’s award at the Nordic Innovation House in New York on March 7. The award went to an international technology entrepreneur working toward one or more of the United Nation’s sustainability goals. The prize is a collaboration between the Ministry of Industry and Fisheries and Innovation Norway.

“If Norway wants to be a leader in technology-driven innovation, we must exploit the capacity of the entire population, both women and men. That’s why this prize is so important,” said Minister of Industry Torbjørn Røe Isaksen.

Making gold from mud
Today, Norwegian farmers are dependent on buying fertilizers produced from fossil gases. Sønsteby has developed a method that allows the farmer to produce environmentally friendly fertilizers on the farm.

The solution consists of a so-called plasma reactor the size of a refrigerator. The reactor is located on the farm, and uses an existing renewable energy source, such as solar energy. The process takes place in the livestock dung, with nitrogen oxide added, which is made from charged air. This is because the nutrients in livestock dung are otherwise lost to the farmer.

“Today, 30 percent of nitrogen and nutrients disappear from domestic animals into the air. That nitrogen must be replaced for livestock dung to be used as fertilizer, and it is also harmful to the environment,” says Sønsteby.

Beyond the barn
Sønsteby is admittedly a farmer, but her career has mainly taken place far beyond the barn. The 57-year-old had long spells in IT companies like IBM, Oracle, and Ericsson, and as director of the environmental technology company Scatec. When she chose to start her own company, she had long wanted to use 100-year-old arc technology developed by physicist and founder of Norsk Hydro Kristian Birkeland.

“Birkeland’s theory was misunderstood,” says Sønsteby. “It was assumed that the technology would require more energy than it actually does, and at that time electricity was more expensive than it is today.”
The team is now expanding to new markets. They are testing on a pig farm in Denmark, and several countries are on the list for further growth. The goal is to capture the world market for fertilizer production.

“This week in New York has been a significant pat on the shoulder,” says Sønsteby. “You do not get many of them as an entrepreneur. It has also been a unique opportunity to see oneself and the company in a larger perspective, and plan the international initiative in the future.”

Capital is important, but…
This year’s three finalists, Sønsteby; Karoline Sjødal Olsen, co-founder and general manager of Blue Lice AS; and Marit Linnebo Olderheim, the woman behind the entrepreneurial company Leap Learning, undertook a three-day skills program in New York to learn about global growth. Sønsteby also receives a two-week competence program under the direction of Innovation Norway to further develop the company and prepare for internationalization.

“Capital is important, but to succeed internationally, Norwegian entrepreneurs will need at least insight into, experience with, and understanding of the markets and competition they face,” says managing director of Innovation Norway Anita Krohn Traaseth.

This article was originally published in Norwegian at www.innomag.no/arets-female-entrepreneur-skal-lage-verdens-storste-mokkaselskap.

This article originally appeared in the May 4, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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