Hot Seat: Tobias Vöpel von NutriSen

Last updated on: 13 Nov, 2023

Dear Tobias, what technological innovation lies behind NutriSen? How did it develop and what is so special about it?

We have developed an electrochemical biosensor test strip for nitrate. We were inspired by blood glucose meters that are used by millions of diabetics every day.

With our electrochemical biosensor test strip, we have developed a tool for agriculture where a single drop of plant sap is sufficient to precisely determine the concentration of the most important plant nutrient nitrate. With minimal effort, farmers can determine the nutrient requirements of a field directly on site, in laboratory quality. For fertiliser recommendations, however, we go one step further: we combine the field measurements with remote sensing data from the EU Copernicus programme to provide farmers with a requirements map that they can use for optimal fertilisation.

What potential fertiliser savings does your technology offer and what impact does it have on increasing yields?

We are convinced that we can reduce the use of nitrogen fertiliser by up to 20%, depending on the conditions in the field. Our assumption is based on large-scale studies from France and our own pilot trials that we have carried out in Germany. We are not yet able to provide any reliable information on the increase in yield. However, we are currently in the process of validating this with the EU research project LiveSen-MAP, which is being conducted at the Technical University of Munich.

Your start-up is a spin-off of the TU Munich at the Straubing campus.
Who is on your team and what is your summary of founding a start-up and why in Straubing?

That’s correct, NutriSen GmbH was founded as a spin-off of the TUM Campus Straubing in April 2023. The aim is to bring our technology, which has been developed through various EU projects in recent years, to the field. We are currently demonstrating the use of the technology in the field together with farmers as part of the LiveSen-MAP project.

The founding team consists of scientists from TUM: Dr Débora Moretti, Dr Alaa Oughli, Prof Dr Nicolas Plumeré and myself.

Founding a start-up is an exciting step with its very own challenges that you don’t normally come into contact with in your everyday life as a scientist. You have to be very flexible and be able to react quickly to changing situations without losing focus.

Due to our association with the TUM campus, founding a company in Straubing was of course an obvious choice; the proximity to the campus and the exchange with the research activities there is very valuable. However, we also chose Straubing because the topic of sustainability is not only a focus at TUM, but also in Straubing and receives a lot of attention from the city with the start-up centre and the other institutions located there, such as the TFZ, the Fraunhofer Institute and, last but not least, the TUM Venture Lab Sustainability. The support in Straubing from all our partners is very valuable.

Are you still looking for collaborations and if so, which ones? How can interested parties test your product, for example?

For 2024, we are currently planning pilot projects with partners from various areas of agriculture to test our technology in everyday use. Our focus is on use in the field by e.g. seed producers, manufacturers of biostimulants and soil conditioners as well as in greenhouses.

We are looking forward to farmers who want to participate in the field trials of LiveSen-Map for fertiliser recommendations based on the measurements with the test strips. Participation in the field trials together with the TUM is currently still possible, the planning for the next winter wheat season is still ongoing.

Tobias Vöpel studied biochemistry at the Ruhr University Bochum, where he also completed his doctorate in biophysical chemistry. He has several years of experience as a scientist in fundamental research in Germany and the United States. Since 2017, he has gained experience as a scientific project manager with a focus on the commercial exploitation of applied research. Since 2023 he is project manager of the EIC Transition project LiveSen-MAP and CO-CEO of NutriSen GmbH a spin-off of TUM Campus Straubing, which will commercialise the research results of the project.