RialtoLabs: Faster and cheaper soil analysis for next-gen farming

27 Mar 2023

Federico de Gonzalez-Soler. Image: RialtoLabs

Based in Dublin, RialtoLabs is bringing the lab to the client with a new approach to analysing soil health.

Experts agree that, like most other fields of human activity, the future of farming is digitised. And with this digitisation comes greater demand for technologies that help facilitate movement towards modernisation, from robots that can pick fruit to 3D printing parts for farm equipment.

One such area of transformation is going down to the very roots of farming: soil analysis. The process involves testing a sample of soil to gather fundamental knowledge on its physical, chemical and biological status that eventually helps in determining the health of the crops.

Agritech start-up RialtoLabs, which was founded in 2020 by Joe McMahon and Federico de Gonzalez-Soler, is on a mission to make soil analysis faster and more accessible than traditional methods.

“Our solution delivers more results for less cost and enables data-driven decisions to make efficient use of farm inputs or provide practical tools for measuring and monitoring soil organic carbon,” chief executive McMahon told SiliconRepublic.com.

“This aligns with the vision of a climate neutral, sustainable and digitally connected Ireland.”

Shining a light on soil health

Dublin-based RialtoLabs pitches itself as a company that uses no chemicals or consumables to perform soil analysis for clients and requires minimal sample preparation.

“This is especially important in developing nations, where access to fast and reliable key nutrient analysis is often limited,” McMahon said. “Our goal is to help clients make informed decisions and improve operations through accurate, timely analysis.”

Instead, it uses a method known as near-infrared spectroscopy that uses light in the near-infrared range (between 700 and 2500 nanometres) to analyse the composition of a sample.

“It works by shining light on the sample and measuring the amount of light absorbed or reflected at different wavelengths,” explained McMahon, who prior to founding RialtoLabs worked as a senior aircraft engineer and production inspector at Airbus Hamburg.

“The resulting spectrum is translated into relevant sample information by a calibration model. The performance of calibration models determines the applicability and potential value of the technique in practice.”

‘Bringing the lab to the client’

One of the biggest advantages of near-infrared spectroscopy is that the process is rapid and non-destructive, with a typical scan lasting only a few seconds. It also allows for simultaneous estimation of multiple properties on the same volume of material and is relatively low-cost.

McMahon said that the aim is to work with established labs on creating custom models that can be deployed into portable devices. This will allow RialtoLabs to essentially “bring the lab to the client” and provide results at the point of measurement.

“Our ultimate goal is to be a global leader and a go-to provider of customised spectroscopic solutions that delivers near real-time analyses in the field directly to clients,” added De Gonzalez-Soler, chief operations and financial officer of the company.

“We strive to integrate near-infrared spectroscopy technology into existing traditional wet chemistry laboratories to increase their sample throughput and reduce the use of toxic chemicals and consumables.”

RialtoLabs has its eyes on the B2B market with chemistry laboratories as its first potential clients. Other potential users include agronomist communities across the beef, dairy and tillage farming sectors as well as educational institutions and government agencies.

Sowing the seeds of growth

Now in the process of building what McMahon calls its “blueprint phase” in Ireland, RialtoLabs – which recently completed AgTechUCD’s second accelerator programme, plans to expand its tech to other EU countries, the UK, US and Asia.

“The increase in quality and rate of development of portable devices, aligning with converging technologies such as cloud and AI machine learning methods, has marked the beginning of the on-site capability of spectroscopic analysis,” McMahon said.

“We bring domain expertise with experience of model creation and ongoing maintenance support to the table. We can also manage our clients’ data, build customised local spectra libraries together, and deliver analysis predictions into the future.”

While it has been a challenge to grow the team and business in the pre-revenue stage, RialtoLabs plans to launch a pilot programme in the first half of this year designed to begin harvesting the data required to establish a local soil spectral library in Ireland.

“The proposed scale of the project aims to have this spectral library comparable to anything that exists globally today and will eventually be deployed into portable handheld devices servicing clients in the field,” McMahon added.

The start-up is also in discussions to raise seed funding this year as it gears up to take its business to the next level.

“We have commenced the process to become a client of Enterprise Ireland as we work towards meeting the prerequisites for high-potential start-up status,” said De Gonzalez-Soler.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic