May 18, 2023
What do you get when you cross aerospace engineering, fertilizer, and a Nordic god?
A&A second-year Morgan Golden might answer “FREYR,” a student-run startup that just won the Alaska Airlines Grand Prize of $15,000 in the 2023 Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC), hosted by the UW Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship.
Aptly named after the Norse god of harvest, FREYR is a service company that focuses on reducing fertilizer waste on farms, a prime contributor to environmental pollution. Because fertilizer contains high levels of nitrogen, it can release high amounts of nitrous oxide when exposed to soil in its active form. Alarmingly, this gas is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere.
“Up to 50% of fertilizer used on farms currently is wasted,” says Golden, who is also FREYR’s COO. “All that fertilizer is going into run-offs, into places like the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Erie–and destroying biodiversity.”
Not only that, but farmers are needlessly spending more money on fertilizer than what’s required due to the limits of tractors, which farmers are currently using to fertilize their crops. “You can only fertilize once or twice in the beginning of the season with tractors,” said Golden. “We specialize in Midwest corn farms, which get huge storms throughout the season. You don’t want to run those tractors through those crops or you’ll destroy them.”
As a result, farmers resort to over-fertilizing everything to make sure that there is enough to last the whole season. According to Golden, 200 tons of fertilizer is lost per season with this system–a costly endeavor, as fertilizers can run for over $200 per acre.
FREYR’s solution to these challenges is a software package for their custom plane that can deliver precise fertilizer up to twenty times per season. With FREYR’s technology, farmers can cut their fertilizer costs in half. “Typical fertilizing services cost $130 per acre, not including fertilizer. We are pitching $100 per acre, fertilizer included,” explains Golden. “We limit the amount of fertilizer that we use and place it very precisely so plants get just what they need when they need it. It’s kind of a win-win for everyone!”
When asked what they plan to do with the prize money, Golden told us that FREYR will work on pilot testing the software with farmers in Eastern Washington. Congrats, FREYR, for the well-deserved win!
In addition to A&A’s Morgan Golden, FREYR’s UW student team includes Ronan Nopp (ECE), Warren Weissbluth (ISE), David Gloyd (Foster - Entrepreneurship), Madison Heisterman (Foster - Entrepreneurship), Moishe Keselman (CSE), Kush Patel (Foster) and Andoni Telonidis (CEE). Mark Sincell and Stephan Gmur mentored the team.