The Van Trump Report

Australian Startup “Rainstick” Uses Electricity to Supercharge Plant Growth

There is a curious observation among gardeners and farmers that plants seem to grow best after a thunderstorm. The moisture of course is beneficial but scientists also believe lightning sets off a chemical process in the air and the plants themselves that helps them flourish. Australian agtech startup “Rainstick” uses electricity to mimic this effect to help crops grow bigger, faster.

Rainstick was founded by Darryl Lyons and Mic Black, both 3rd time founders. Lyons is also a 3rd generation farmer with indigenous Maiawali heritage. The two first became interested in the impacts of electricity on plants when they stumbled on some research showing that mushrooms flourish when exposed to a lightning-like electrical current.

The technique utilized an enormous and expensive device to generate the current and Black felt he could design something to do the same thing, only less expensive and complicated. Lyons became even more interested when he learned his Maiawali ancestors were known as the “rainmakers” for their use of lightning sticks. “They put a bit of metal oxide on a stick to attract lighting and then that was used as the ceremony stick – the ‘rainstick’ – to do all the dancing to bring in the rain,” explains Lyons.

The pair proceeded to make their own high-tech version of “rainsticks.” The devices require only a small amount of voltage so they can be run off of solar power. But they pack a punch, converting a small into 50,000 volts for a “fraction of a second,” which in turn creates negative ions in the air. They then push that into the plant for it to use its internal system. Black says that there are tiny biological switches inside plants that are sensitive to electric fields, which influence how the plants grow and adapt to their environment.

Early experiments on mushrooms achieved a +15% increase in both growth rate and yield. Since those early experiments, they claim to have achieved a further +5% yield and stopped green mould which can cause serious productivity loss. The pair initially concentrated on mushrooms because of their quick growing time, which allowed them to perform more experiments in less time.  

Rainstick is now applying its “Variable Electrical Field” (VAF) technology to crop seeds. According to Black, preliminary data from trials have shown promising results. One recent wheat trial boosted yields +10%. They’ve also recorded a +30% increase in leaf size [an indicator of yield] in wheat, and about a doubling in biomass with rockmelon.

Rainstick is not the only company experimenting with electricity to boost crops, but Black says their approach is unique.  “What we found was that a lot of the approaches involved blasting a huge amount of power for a short burst and then resting and then doing that over and over again. What we do is super high voltage but it’s a very targeted charge with a very specific set of waveforms designed to encourage the plant to make its own changes and adapt to its new environment.”

Black says Rainstick can also modify the “treatment” – meaning the frequency, waveform, and duration of the electrical charge – depending on the species and what they are trying to achieve. “If you’re aiming for boosting germination rates, or if you’re aiming for increased vigor, those things will alter what we call the Rainstick recipe.”        

Rainstick is still quite a ways from commercialization, with more and larger trials needed to truly prove the technology. “As exciting as the early results are, and as cool as lightning in a box sounds, it’s still a long road ahead,” adds Black. Rainstick has raised about A$450,000 ($299,000) and is currently in the midst of a A$1.6 ($1.1 million) pre-seed round. Learn more about Rainstick HERE.  (Sources: AgFunder, Forbes, SmartCompany) 

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