PETALING JAYA: Qarbotech, a home-grown agritech startup, is ramping up the production capacity of its photosynthesis enhancer from 2,000 litres to 100,000 litres per month besides expanding its presence in international markets – a move that comes from securing US$700,000 (RM3.3 million) in seed funding.

The enhancer is a biocompatible solution that increases the photosynthesis rate of leafy plants, which helps to shorten crop cycles and increase plant growth.

Qarbotech CEO and co-founder Chor Chee Hoe said the funds will be used primarily to increase monthly production capacity by 50 times from April.

“Currently, we can only produce 2,000 litres of solution per month, but with the funding, we have the funds to establish our own pilot plant. This plant, tentatively located in Puchong, will cover 3,000 square feet,” he told SunBiz in an interview.

Chor said currently it has orders totalling 30,000 litres (30%) in hand, primarily from entities in Malaysia and Singapore. It expects to fulfil the remaining 70% of orders through Indonesian partners.

“We’ve partnered with three entities in Singapore and three in Indonesia to conduct trials. Once completed, we’ll present the data to the Indonesian government. We aim to commercialise our product in Indonesia by the end of this year,” he added.

Chor said Qarbotech’s collaborations with partners in Malaysia and Indonesia range from distributors to ecosystem players.

“We collaborate with Aerodyne, the number one drone service provider in the world, to spray our solution in padi fields. And others include distributors in the food processing line,” he added.

Looking ahead, Chor said Qarbotech plans to enter international markets, which include China, Zambia, the US and European countries. However, entry into these markets poses unique challenges, including the need for US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval due to the innovative nature of the technology.

“In the US and European countries, we must secure FDA approval to enter their markets. We aim to leverage our success in Southeast Asia and the data we’ve collected to obtain this approval. Once we have it, we can expand into these markets. Given the novelty of our technology and materials, it may take two to three years to complete the process. Our goal is to achieve FDA approval by 2026,“ he said.

Qarbotech is a Malaysia-based agritech startup that recently raised US$700,000 in seed funding and grants. The round was led by multistage venture capital firm 500 Global, and includes innovation grants from Temasek Foundation for winning the Climate Impact Innovations Challenge 2023, and Khazanah Nasional’s Dana Impak for winning the Khazanah Impact Innovation Challenge 2023.

Qarbotech said this milestone is significant to the agriculture industry because the startup’s patented photosynthesis enhancement nanotechnology is an on-plant or in-soil solution that boosts agricultural productivity – increasing crop yields by up to 60%. The company’s formulation contains biocompatible organic compounds with properties similar to chlorophyll, making it a game-changer for farmers around the world.

“We are the first in the world to have this kind of photosynthesis enhancement through a material that helps the plant capture more light. In the past, a lot of researchers worked on very complicated biotechnology and even genetically modified seeds and other methods to augment or change the photosynthesis rate.

“But we have another approach by introducing biocompatible carbon quantum dots onto the plant to help them capture more light so that they can straight away enhance the photosynthesis rate,” Chor said.

He added that they opted for the biocompatible approach due to its sustainability and organic nature, making it safe for direct use in agriculture and food production. Previously, quantum dots were not considered safe for agricultural use, but their innovations have changed this.

“This is a home-grown technology and we are getting more interest from Singapore and places beyond Malaysia.”

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