Growing Ideas: Sparks fly for sustainable weed killer

The future of weed control? It’s electric.

The son of a weed zapper took home the Judge’s Choice award at FoodBytes! London. Andrew Diprose pitched as the CEO of RootWave, a UK-based start-up with a sustainable, no-chemical solution for controlling weeds.

On the FoodBytes! London stage last Thursday, Andrew Diprose laid out the stakes of his weed-killing innovation: “The future of the 31-billion-dollar herbicide market is in question for three key reasons: resistance, regulation, litigation.” The answer? “Electricity.” Diprose’s Warwickshire-based start-up RootWave offers an ‘electricide’ response to chemical herbicides.

Leading up to last week’s pitch competition, twenty eager start-ups hustled from one training session to the next: from Consumer Trends to Industry Insights, Legal Advice to Social Media. Throughout the process Diprose appeared unfazed – and with good reason. His start-up is well established, his presentation sharp, polished.

RootWave already has backing from the EU Commission and interest from chemical companies and agricultural machinery players. Not to mention, Diprose has intergenerational confidence in this work: his father has spent four decades pioneering academic and commercial research into electrical methods of weed control.

Diprose spoke with us in the wake of RootWave’s FoodBytes! win.

How did RootWave get started?

My father, Dr. Mike Diprose, has been zapping weeds for forty years. This is where my journey began but it is really his story.

What is RootWave’s winning technology?

There is a growing need to control weeds for food, infrastructure and aesthetic reasons as the world’s population increases. The chemical herbicide manufacturers currently dominate this industry. RootWave uses electricity to kill weeds. It’s a sustainable alternative to herbicides.

Because of weed resistance, regulations and litigation, there is real pressure on the chemical industry. Alternatives like RootWave are being actively sourced. We are the only scalable alternative to have a chance at replacing the many uses of herbicides today.

“Electricity is a sustainable alternative to chemical herbicides”

- Andrew Diprose, RootWave

How does it work?

It works simply by boiling weeds inside out from the root upwards using the natural resistance of the weed to generate heat from the electricity. Dead weeds are left to decompose naturally to return nutrients back to the soil.

Electricides can treat weeds deep into the root, including tough invasive species in agriculture and harmful weeds that may be dangerous to animals.

Andrew Diprose: “We’re adapting weeding machinery to zap instead of spray.”

How can RootWave help farming on a larger scale?

In agriculture, we are integrating our technology with machinery companies that already have automated field-scale weeding machines; currently they spray or hoe and we are adapting those machines so they zap instead.

We can also making farming more sustainable as we are able to facilitate the shift from conventional to organic farming; reduce water usage because farmers would use less when spraying herbicides; and reduce energy because there’s no waste in the system. This is also a ‘no-till’ process reducing soil erosion, carbon emissions and disease.

We will also reduce the use of chemicals used in growing goods. Recently, there was litigation in California where over $250 million in damages was awarded to a groundskeeper because the jury concluded Roundup caused his cancer. If that’s true, then having a chemical-free alternative is a good thing for the food we all eat.

The hand-held RootWave Pro in action.

We are already selling RootWave Pro which is an award-winning professional hand weeder.

For larger-scale agriculture, we are working with partners who already have global footprints. The EU Commission has recognized the technology and has granted us €1.3 million to develop an automated agricultural machine.

What are the benefits of the FoodBytes! experience?

Having investors and mentors in one place and being able to speak to them and start building relationships.

What’s next for RootWave?

We have the technology, the intellectual property, the team, and the relationships ready to go. We are just looking for the right investors to unlock the future value.

FoodBytes! is a Rabobank initiative connecting agrifood start-ups with industry leaders and investors. The next FoodBytes! pitch competition & networking event heads to New York City on October 18, 2018. Learn more and get your tickets here.

This interview is part of the Growing Ideas series, in which we take a look at the future of food and agriculture and offer a platform to innovative companies in these sectors.