By Keith Loria
Corigin Solutions, located in Livermore, CA, assists farmers with improving yields and margins by way of organic solutions produced from farm waste in a way that’s carbon negative, and perhaps the most sustainable process on earth.
Corigin focuses on specialty crops, specifically leafy green, fruit, vegetable, vine and tree crops.
Mike Woelk, co-founder and CEO of the company, explains the name Corigin is a contraction of carbon and origin and his long-term vision is to help secure the transition from fossil fuel sources of carbon to atmospheric sources by making products customers want to buy.
Mike Woelk, Co-Founder & CEO, Corigin
“When I look at an almond orchard, I see rows of solar powered biochemical factories. When I look at piles of nut shells at huller/sheller operations here in the Central Valley, I see mounds of high-value biochemicals and biocarbon products,” he said. “If fact, if we do our job right, crop waste processing may be more valuable than the intended crop.”
Prior to founding Corigin, Woelk was the CEO of Picarro, a company that makes high-precision instruments that transformed how scientists measure greenhouse gases around the world and how utilities search for natural gas pipeline leaks.
“One afternoon I had lunch with one of our venture investors and said ‘I’d like to do a startup focused in sustainable agriculture because if we care about global food, water and environmental security, we must help farmers sustainably intensify their operations,’” he said. “Consider that 40 percent of the world’s land mass is already farmed or grazed and that 70 percent of delivered water goes to agriculture and somehow, we must nearly double food production in the next few decades in response to population forecasts. It’s patently obvious to us that soil fertility and farm productivity must increase globally.”
Corigin assists farmers with improving yields and margins through carbon negative technology
It was during that lunch meeting that Jim Boettcher told Woelk about biochar and a lead he had on a state-of-the-art technology for making it.
“The more I read about biochar, the more intrigued and depressed I got,” Woelk said. “Intrigued because biochar has tremendous potential to sequester carbon in soils for millennia and increase soil fertility, and depressed because the unit economics of making and selling just biochar are very poor, that is unless you can produce co-products that are more valuable than biochar.”
That set in motion the genesis of Corigin. In the company’s model, the main co-product is a bio-distillate liquid called Coriphol, which is loaded with plant-based phenols, organic acids and other light molecular with compounds. Plants produce these compounds to defend themselves from pathogens, insects and nutrient imbalances.
Jim Boettcher, Board Member, Corigin
“Corigin produces these compounds with our vacuum pyrolysis and biorefinery system,” Woelk said. “When applied as part of a drip of foliar nutrient mix, Coriphol serves as a great plant growth enhancer and beneficial microbiome stimulant, even at reduced fertilizer rates.”
Both Corigin’s flagship bio-distillate product Coriphol and biochar product are already OMRI approved and CDFA organic approved.
“Our strategy is to help both conventional growers reduce chemical and fertilizer loads and expenses and give organic growers a unique tool to help increase crop yield and quality,” Woelk said. “The organic ground swell is a marvelous opportunity for Corigin, and our story resonates with growers. Consider that the only ingredient in our process is plant waste, like almond shells. We simply collect the plants natural biochemistry and carbon structures to help growers increase revenues and reduce input expenses. But like with any new category of products, the challenge is to spread the word and build lasting grower and channel relationships.”
Corigin's product Coriphol is an aqueous solution comprised of numerous phenols, organic acids and other light weight biomolecules sourced from almond shells
The company plans to commence commercial product in Merced California by the end of Q1 in 2020 and sees big things on the horizon as it works to achieve positive cash flow by year end, raise more cash to build out the plant, and then build additional plants around the world.
“Beyond specialty crop applications, we have tremendous opportunities in livestock feeds, wastewater filtration and carbon negative building materials,” Woelk said. “I’m excited to see how carbon trading will beneficially impact our business model. One ton of biochar is equivalent to about three tons of carbon dioxide sequestered. But unlike all other traded forms of carbon dioxide offsets, you can hold biochar in palm of your hand, which lends confidence to a ton bought is a ton received.”