Fargo - Talk about getting in on the ground floor of a new technology.

Last summer, Chad Ulven and Corey Kratcha started c2sensor corp., a developer of biodegradable, soil-based sensors that aim to help farmers figure out how much water and nutrients they should be putting on crops to achieve maximum yields.

C2sensor (the name references the first letter of the founders’ first names) is based in the North Dakota State University Technology Incubator and uses technology developed by a team of university researchers, including Ulven, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.

While Ulven focuses on the science behind c2sensor, Kratcha, CEO of the company, mostly deals with the business side of things.

C2sensor is still developing its product line, which will be comprised of small, biodegradable sensors farmers can plant in their fields.

By passing over the sensors in agricultural vehicles, farmers can use electronic readers to glean real-time reports on everything from soil moisture to nutrient and salt levels.

The acorn-sized sensors will be made from a bio-plastic derived from cornstarch and reinforced with natural fibers.

When fully developed, the sensors are expected to cost around 50 cents apiece, meaning it will be feasible to plant two or three dozen sensors per acre and still have benefits outweigh the expense, according to Ulven and Kratcha.

Ulven said the technology will “marry perfectly” with other leading-edge ag technology such as unmanned aircraft, or drones, because it provides “ground proof” of what the aircraft may see from the sky.

C2sensor has a license agreement with the NDSU Research Foundation to use the technology and the company collaborates closely with the university on developing applications.

“NDSU has been an invaluable resource to work with,” said Kratcha, who along with Ulven launched a different but related company – c2renew – a few years ago.

Like c2sensor, c2renew employs NDSU-developed biotechnologies involving bioplastics and natural fibers.

But, instead of sensors that will biodegrade after a season or two in the ground, c2renew looks to use bio-based technology for industrial and consumer products.

Ulven said one area manufacturer uses bioplastic in the housing of some of its machinery, while another company adopted the technology for a 100 percent bio-based toothbrush.

Also, early in the new year, c2renew plans to seek crowd-sourced funding to develop its own product: a bio-based coffee mug.

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