Rasmus Sunde (N2 Applied): “Our solution helps farmers reduce emissions and improve productivity”

A major Norwegian greentech player, N2 Applied proposes a solution that allows dairy farmers to transform manure into fertilizer in an eco-friendly way, significantly reducing the need for traditional chemical fertilizers. The recently appointed chairman of the Norwegian-based company, Rasmus Sunde, tells Leaders League how it works.

Posted mardi, décembre 20 2022
Rasmus Sunde (N2 Applied): “Our solution helps farmers reduce emissions and improve productivity”

Rasmus Sunde, Chairman

What made you switch from the oil and gas to the green energy sector?
My last role at Technip FMC was a highly operational one and involved a lot of travel. When the N2 Applied opportunity came up, I was pushing 60 and felt that my 30+ years of experience could particularly benefit small and medium-sized businesses, which perhaps don’t have this kind of experience easily available to them.

What was important for me with N2 was the change agenda, strategic focus and organizational development mindset to effectively commercialize the technology and thereby help in reducing GHG emissions.

I also wanted to contribute to the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. From that point of view, I started with oil and gas supply companies whose product portfolio had the potential to position within the renewables sector. In the case of N2 Applied, we are commercializing emerging technologies that efficiently address the significant challenge of reducing emissions and improving productivity from manure. The tech helps create a circular environment, because it solves issues at farm level, so that they can be self-contained by producing fertilizer produced on site at farms.  

How does N2 Applied’s solution work?
The N2 unit enriches the animal manure with nitrogen and stope nutrient losses, creating circular and sustainable cycle on the farm, drastically reducing GHG emissions and improving yield increase. The plasma treatment of liquid organic enriches the organic waste with nitrogen gas.

Our process cuts GHG emissions by 30%, average yield increase compared to untreated slurry is 40% and it generates approximately a 50% reduction in air pollution from farm live-stock.  

Many environmentally friendly solutions originate in the Nordics. What is it about these countries that has seen them play such a big part in the green transformation? 
I think it comes from trying to respond to global challenges. Norway is a very small country, so what we do in Norway doesn’t really have an impact on a global scale, but that doesn’t mean we can’t contribute to global solutions. Nevertheless, when we develop technology, we can test it out in our neighborhoods. In case of a successful trial, we can always scale it up.

For instance, this is what we did with oil and gas, we were using the Norwegian Continental Shelf as a kind of a laboratory and then when things were proven we scaled it up by introducing it globally. For a greentech such as ours, it helps to be in a rich country, to have investors that are prepared to take risks, and to belong to a European regulatory environment that really helps foster the emergence of new technologies, allowing them to be introduced well before they are profitable on their own.

 “We are commercializing a technology, the N2 Unit, that efficiently addresses the significant challenge of reducing emissions and improving productivity from manure”

N2 Applied is a new technology: in which agricultural areas are you present and who would be your competitors?
N2 Applied is now what I would call a “pre-revenue” company, which means that things are not fully commercialized yet, but we have nine pilot programs installed in different countries that sustain the continuous development of this technology. All the above pilot programs are located in Europe and we have recently deployed two units to the USA.

We have also just entered into a global agreement with GEA Farm Technologies where they will be responsible for sales, distribution and manufacturing while we will continue with R&D, product development and be the innovation hub to develop new applications. We are part of an EIC funding program, and in the beginning of 2023 we will launch a funding process to identify a new lead investor.

Who might your future customers be?
Ultimately it will be individual farmers, but initially I can also see us working with the big food companies who have made commitments to more sustainable solutions. The potential customers are the whole value chain ─ from the store to the farms and everyone in between.

A farm will use a small number of machines while the others in the value chain could be bigger customers, if, for example, they have a group of farmers working with them. Customers might also be groups of farmers that want to promote a more sustainable and circular product, like organic milk or cheese products they want to sell in stores.

You have secured funding from the European Innovation Council to the tune of 150 million kroner. How will this funding assist your development?
This equity will be released when we have identified a new lead investor. The EIC will then invest along with that lead investor (in a co-investment). We expect that, over the next 12 months, we will identify that lead investor and we’ll then get the EIC on board as an equity investor. It is important to identify a lead investor that can contribute more than just money.

How might these core investments transform your business model?
I don’t think there will be any significant changes in the business model after we conclude the terms of funding as different business models are already well anchored in our strategy. These investments enable us to accelerate and put some real muscle behind that strategy. Currently, we have reputable Norwegian majority shareholders that have been incredibly loyal. They have, along with the founders and other shareholders, invested around €30 million.

“For a greentech such as ours, it helps to have investors that are prepared to take risks, and to belong to a European regulatory environment receptive to new green technologies”

What are the main features of N2 Applied’s risk strategy?
You have a commercialization risk linked to going from having nine pilots installed to the delivery of 10,000 machines by 2030. Then there’s the risk that a serious competitor might arrive, although we don't currently see many of them at the same level of maturity as us. You also have the risk of getting a new technology embraced by the market.

I think the main other risk would be that nothing happens on the regulatory side. Denmark is a leader in the race to regulate emissions, as the Danish realize the agriculture sector is a main contributor to greenhouse gases. I think the EU will push for regulation that incentivizes farms to deploy sustainable technologies, such as ours.

What ESG policies have been implemented at the company?
We're working with a lot of organizations that have guided us on that aspect. I think the ‘E’ aspect is probably the most important. We have policies for the ‘S’ and the ‘G’ but we aren't significantly exposed to those, given the size of our company. The ‘E’ aspect is incredibly important, however, and we are documenting what we’re doing according to real performance indicators related to the ‘E’ aspect. We have also requested third-party organizations monitor our activities, to document our performance.

ESG is an important part of our value proposition; we document what we do and we are prepared to be challenged at any time. By deploying our machines, we make a contribution to society, in addition to helping farmers get rid of a lot of manure-related issues they have and to solve problems at the farm compound.

What are the main steps to be taken over the next 12 or 18 months?
First comes the commercialization strategy and to leverage the relationship with GEA Farm Technologies to sell, distribute and manufacture the machine to achieve a global footprint through a partner rather than to try to do everything ourselves.
Secondly, we will deliver a technology roadmap, to improve the overall technology of our machines and make them even more competitive.
Third is to carefully assess other applications of the technology beyond beef and dairy. It could be for fish farming or other areas, where we could use our technology to address other sectors. Of course, in addition, it is incredibly important for us to attain a volume of sales that allow us, as a company, to trade profitably.


Interview edited by Aude Ghespière & Raphaël Bonansea