It marks a major shift for one of the biggest backers of coal-fired plants globally. Still, China remains heavily reliant on new coal plants at home, and is the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases.
Way back in 2015 we covered the launch of the Atmotube, a small, innovative, portable air quality monitor which went on to receive a number of awards, post its CES debut.
Since rebranding as ATMO, the company, co-founded by Vera Kozyr, is now launching the Atmocube, an indoor air quality monitoring system for businesses and enterprises. This new product is positioned far more for the Post-COVID era, where air quality inside offices is going to be vital, and this time, instead of being small and portable (although that earlier product is still sold), the Atmocube will be prominent and visible in order to give office workers peace of mind that their air quality is good.
The key to this is measuring CO2 levels which the Atmocube displays on its screen along with other metrics.
The device has up to 14 sensors measuring various environmental parameters such as CO2, formaldehyde NO2, PM1 (small airborne particles), PM2.5, ozone, and others, and other environmental parameters such as relative humidity, temperature, atmospheric pressure, ambient noise, light levels, and color temperature.
The company says this new device also calculates the Airborne Virus Transmission Score — based on the levels of particulate matter, humidity, and CO2, and says it comes up with a “score” that estimates the probability of transferring virus diseases in closed spaces. Obviously, that’s probably something that would need independent testing to verify, but it is the case that the WHO advises that COVID-19 can be transmitted in poorly ventilated and/or crowded indoor settings.
Kozyr said: “Air pollution is dangerous because it can affect you and your health even if you don’t notice it. We aim to help people know what they’re breathing and make changes as a result. As businesses return to the office, they need a tool to make information about indoor air quality transparent and accessible to their employees. Most air quality monitors are designed to be hidden away, so we set out to create a device with a more transparent interface that would highlight HVAC performance safety and create trust between occupants and building owners”.
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It’s a little known fact that the carbon footprint of the technology sector is great than the entire aviation industry (Aalto University and LUT University). At the same time, tech companies (like many others) are generally attracted to carbon offsetting schemes which don’t actually remove carbon from the environment and are often riddled with flaws.
Only carbon removal offsets contribute towards net-zero because they actively take carbon out of the sky. And yet, so far there are very few schemes making carbon removal a focus, largely because only the biggest companies are able to play in this space, partly due to cost and the nascent nature of the technology.
This is where new startup Supercritical comes in.
The startup says its platform can help businesses get to net-zero by measuring their climate impact and selling high-impact carbon removal offsets.
It’s now raised a £2m / $2.7m in a pre-seed funding led by London’s LocalGlobe venture firm. The raise is also significant because the team was that which took Songkick to exit.
Supercritical says its platform assesses a company’s carbon impact, creates an actionable plan for reducing their emissions, and recommends a portfolio of high-quality carbon removal offsets for companies to purchase. It will effectively be building a marketplace of carbon removal projects such as enhanced weathering, bio-oil sequestration, and direct air capture.
Right now these technologies tend to be costly as many are so early in development, but the opportunity is for Supercritical to become a market-maker for these emerging solutions, aggregating demand to help them scale and innovate faster.
The startup already has clients including accuRx, Tide and what3words are already customers. Supercritical is also a member of the TechZero task force, a group of UK tech companies claiming to work toward NetZero Carbon impact.
Supercritical CEO and co-founder, Michelle You, said: “Businesses are rightly suspicious of traditional carbon offsetting options, which do nothing at best and at worst are outright fraud, but most companies lack the time and the expertise to find an adequate alternative. Our mission is to make it possible for any business to start the journey to net zero. Climate action can’t just be the reserve of the world’s biggest companies, and this is a crisis that can’t wait.”
Remus Brett, who led the investment from LocalGlobe, said: “Supercritical is providing a service that is as timely as it is essential. With COP26 approaching, the question of how businesses can meaningfully address their climate impact is a critical CEO issue. We are excited to be backing the exceptional team at Supercritical as they scale the only platform that helps companies focus their efforts on carbon removal rather than offsets.”
The startup is pushing at an open door. To keep warming below 1.5°C – one of the key goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement – at least 8 billion tonnes – of carbon needs to be removed from the atmosphere every year, so the voluntary carbon offset market is set to be worth at least $100bn by 2030, and that’s inside nine years.
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Ran Korber and his asthmatic and pregnant wife were looking to buy a house in Israel. As an environmental engineer, he knows that air pollution is the leading environmental cause of premature death, can cause premature birth, and can account for other respiratory diseases. Korber started looking for the city with the least amount of pollution in Israel only to realize that this information didn’t exist. His frustration led him to create what today is BreezoMeter, a tool that forecasts 40 pollutants within the categories of pollen, air pollution, wildfires and weather.
Today the company announced a $30 million Series C led by Fortissimo Capital, bringing its total raised to date to $45 million. The company is based in Israel and launched in June of 2014, about two years after Korber was house-hunting with his wife.
“In many countries, people don’t have a clue about the air around them,” Korber, now CEO and co-founder of BreezoMeter, told TechCrunch.
BreezoMeter uses AI and machine learning to gather and understand data from multiple sources, including more than 47,000 sensors worldwide. The result is street-level air quality resolution (within 16.5 ft) and pollen, pollutants, and fire data, in more than 100 countries.
You probably didn’t know this, but if you have an Apple Watch or an iPhone, they both have BreezoMeter built into the Apple weather app. Scroll down on the weather of any city, and the air quality measure is presented by BreezoMeter. In the U.S., the Air Quality Index (AQI) uses a scale from 0-500, 0 being the cleanest. Here in Miami, the air quality was 36 (good) yesterday, and 51 (moderate) today. In comparison, New York City’s air is 34 (good) today, better than Miami’s.
BreezoMeter is not only able to measure current air quality, but it can forecast it, too, allowing people to better prepare depending on their sensitivities.
“We are able to forecast when the conditions for pollen season will start, and then [we] can forecast how pollen may move between two different locations,” said Korber.
If you’re not sure of your sensitivities, knowing the air quality of where you are, you can at least keep a lookout for symptoms.
“Depending on the type of pollutant in the air, BreezoMeter can also tell you the possible symptoms you may start feeling if exposed,” Korber said.
The challenge isn’t just the pollution itself, but also a large information gap regarding air quality. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 120 million people in the U.S. live in areas where there is no pollution monitoring.
“Before BreezoMeter, everyone used the data from the same sensors, and now we collect data from those sensors plus others including traffic data, wildfires, satellites, local sensors and we also take into account land use for pollen,” said Korber.
A time when sensors can easily get destroyed is during a wildfire. “The sensors can burn, literally,” Korber said. To circumvent this problem, BreezoMeter relies on its other multitude of sensors for the data, including those from satellites.
“Every day, more than 300 million people use our platform to make informed decisions on how to avoid environmental hazards,” said Korber, and not everyone is using just the weather app.
For people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, they may be benefiting from BreezoMeter from within Propeller by Resmed. Propeller is a device that, depending on the air quality, tells a patient what to do to improve their health, such as close a window or use an inhaler, for example.
According to BreezoMeter, since Propeller incorporated BreezoMeter into its product, Propeller’s patients have experienced about 50% fewer asthma attacks and reduced ER visits.
BreezoMeter plans to use the money from the current raise to develop more product categories and triple its team to about 120 people.
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The two founders of Crusoe Energy think they may have a solution to two of the largest problems facing the planet today — the increasing energy footprint of the tech industry and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the natural gas industry.
Crusoe, which uses excess natural gas from energy operations to power data centers and cryptocurrency mining operations, has just raised $128 million in new financing from some of the top names in the venture capital industry to build out its operations — and the timing couldn’t be better.
Methane emissions are emerging as a new area of focus for researchers and policymakers focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping global warming within the 1.5 degree targets set under the Paris Agreement. And those emissions are just what Crusoe Energy is capturing to power its data centers and bitcoin mining operations.
The reason why addressing methane emissions is so critical in the short term is because these greenhouse gases trap more heat than their carbon dioxide counterparts and also dissipate more quickly. So dramatic reductions in methane emissions can do more in the short term to alleviate the global warming pressures that human industry is putting on the environment.
And the biggest source of methane emissions is the oil and gas industry. In the U.S. alone roughly 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas is flared daily, said Chase Lochmiller, a co-founder of Crusoe Energy. About two thirds of that is flared in Texas with another 500 million cubic feet flared in North Dakota, where Crusoe has focused its operations to date.
For Lochmiller, a former quant trader at some of the top American financial services institutions, and Cully Cavmess, a third generation oil and gas scion, the ability to capture natural gas and harness it for computing operations is a natural combination of the two men’s interests in financial engineering and environmental preservation.
The two Denver natives met in prep-school and remained friends. When Lochmiller left for MIT and Cavness headed off to Middlebury they didn’t know that they’d eventually be launching a business together. But through Lochmiller’s exposure to large scale computing and the financial services industry, and Cavness assumption of the family business they came to the conclusion that there had to be a better way to address the massive waste associated with natural gas.
Conversation around Crusoe Energy began in 2018 when Lochmiller and Cavness went climbing in the Rockies to talk about Lochmiller’s trip to Mt. Everest.
When the two men started building their business, the initial focus was on finding an environmentally friendly way to deal with the energy footprint of bitcoin mining operations. It was this pitch that brought the company to the attention of investors at Polychain, the investment firm started by Olaf Carlson-Wee (and Lochmiller’s former employer), and investors like Bain Capital Ventures and new investor Valor Equity Partners.
(This was also the pitch that Lochmiller made to me to cover the company’s seed round. At the time I was skeptical of the company’s premise and was worried that the business would just be another way to prolong the use of hydrocarbons while propping up a cryptocurrency that had limited actual utility beyond a speculative hedge against governmental collapse. I was wrong on at least one of those assessments.)
“Regarding questions about sustainability, Crusoe has a clear standard of only pursuing projects that are net reducers of emissions. Generally the wells that Crusoe works with are already flaring and would continue to do so in the absence of Crusoe’s solution. The company has turned down numerous projects where they would be a buyer of low cost gas from a traditional pipeline because they explicitly do not want to be net adders of demand and emissions,” wrote a spokesman for Valor Equity in an email. “In addition, mining is increasingly moving to renewables and Crusoe’s approach to stranded energy can enable better economics for stranded or marginalized renewables, ultimately bringing more renewables into the mix. Mining can provide an interruptible base load demand that can be cut back when grid demand increases, so overall the effect to incentivize the addition of more renewable energy sources to the grid.”
Other investors have since piled on including: Lowercarbon Capital, DRW Ventures, Founders Fund, Coinbase Ventures, KCK Group, Upper90, Winklevoss Capital, Zigg Capital and Tesla co-founder JB Straubel.
The company now operate 40 modular data centers powered by otherwise wasted and flared natural gas throughout North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. Next year that number should expand to 100 units as Crusoe enters new markets such as Texas and New Mexico. Since launching in 2018, Crusoe has emerged as a scalable solution to reduce flaring through energy intensive computing such as bitcoin mining, graphical rendering, artificial intelligence model training and even protein folding simulations for COVID-19 therapeutic research.
Crusoe boasts 99.9% combustion efficiency for its methane, and is also bringing additional benefits in the form of new networking buildout at its data center and mining sites. Eventually, this networking capacity could lead to increased connectivity for rural communities surrounding the Crusoe sites.
Currently, 80% of the company’s operations are being used for bitcoin mining, but there’s increasing demand for use in data center operations and some universities, including Lochmiller’s alma mater of MIT are looking at the company’s offerings for their own computing needs.
“That’s very much in an incubated phase right now,” said Lochmiller. “A private alpha where we have a few test customers… we’ll make that available for public use later this year.”
Crusoe Energy Systems should have the lowest data center operating costs in the world, according to Lochmiller and while the company will spend money to support the infrastructure buildout necessary to get the data to customers, those costs are negligible when compared to energy consumption, Lochmiller said.
The same holds true for bitcoin mining, where the company can offer an alternative to coal powered mining operations in China and the construction of new renewable capacity that wouldn’t be used to service the grid. As cryptocurrencies look for a way to blunt criticism about the energy usage involved in their creation and distribution, Crusoe becomes an elegant solution.
Institutional and regulatory tailwinds are also propelling the company forward. Recently New Mexico passed new laws limiting flaring and venting to no more than 2 percent of an operator’s production by April of next year and North Dakota is pushing for incentives to support on-site flare capture systems while Wyoming signed a law creating incentives for flare gas reduction applied to bitcoin mining. The world’s largest financial services firms are also taking a stand against flare gas with BlackRock calling for an end to routine flaring by 2025.
“Where we view our power consumption, we draw a very clear line in our project evaluation stage where we’re reducing emissions for an oil and gas projects,” Lochmiller said.
Just saying, maybe go easy with the candelabras.
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Carbon Engineering is moving ahead with its carbon removal service business, allowing customers to buy the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using its direct air capture technology.
The launch of the service, and the announcement that Shopify will be the company’s first customer, comes as the company’s most direct competitor, Climeworks, made moves of its own — striking a deal with the Swedish sequestration services company Northern Lights to move forward with its own direct air capture as a service offering.
With the Shopify agreement, Carbon Engineering has the first paying customer for 10,000 tonnes of permanent carbon removal capacity from a large-scale DAC project. The removal and sequestration will be done by CE’s plant development partner, 1PointFive – the US development company that’s currently engineering CE’s first industrial-scale facility, the company said. That facility is due to be completed in 2024.
“Early customers for direct air capture (DAC) — especially companies with ambitious climate goals — can have outsized impact today: not only does procuring DAC services enable companies to hit ‘net-zero’ pledges faster, but it helps DAC technology come down the ‘learning curve,’ driving cost reductions and making DAC services more affordable and accessible for a wider customer base in the future,” said Noah Deich, president and founder of the climate focused advocacy group Carbon180. “I’m very excited to see Carbon Engineering announce a way for early corporate leaders — and hopefully a wave of fast followers — to devote more of their climate spend towards DAC.”
Their timeframe puts the Carbon Engineering timetable on roughly even footing with Climeworks for getting to market. Luckily for both firms, given the billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions that need to be captured and sequestered it’s a market that’s definitely big enough for both of them.
With its commitment, Shopify becomes the largest publicly-announced purchaser of direct air capture-based carbon removal.
“Carbon Engineering’s mission has always been to deliver a highly scalable and affordable solution for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” said CE CEO, Steve Oldham, in a statement. “We’re on the brink of large-scale deployment of our technology and the next critical step is accumulating market interest and securing customers. This new service allows us to do that. It also makes it easy for companies and governments to include permanent carbon removal in their net-zero plans. We’re thrilled to expand our relationship with Shopify and welcome them as our first carbon removal customer, and we look forward to supporting others so we can collectively make large-scale carbon removal a reality.”
Carbon removal unit purchases will be fulfilled by distributed air capture facilities deployed by 1PointFive, Carbon Engineering’s development partner, which is backed by deep-pocketed investors including Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, LLC, a subsidiary of Occidental, and Rusheen Capital Management.
Carbon Engineering is also working with Pale Blue Dot Energy out of the UK to bring its direct air capture technology across the Atlantic.
“We welcome this news and applaud Shopify on their climate leadership position,” said 1PointFive Chairman Richard Jackson. “Alongside climate experts like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we recognize that permanent carbon removal is going to be necessary to achieve our vision of a sustainable low-carbon world. 1PointFive looks forward to bringing large-scale carbon removal capability based on CE’s technology to the market, helping customers worldwide to achieve their climate goals.”
The Swiss-based, venture capital-backed, direct air capture technology developer Climeworks is partnering with a joint venture between the government of Norway and massive European energy companies to map the pathway for a business that could provide not only the direct capture of carbon dioxide emissions from air, but the underground sequestration and storage of those emissions.
The deal could pave the way for a new business that would offer carbon capture and sequestration services to commercial enterprises around the world, if the joint venture between the Climeworks and the newly formed Northern Lights company is successful. It would mean the realization of a full-chain carbon dioxide removal service that the two companies called a necessary component of the efforts to reverse global climate change.
Northern Lights was incorporated in March as a joint venture between Equinor, Shell and Total to provide processing, transportation and underground sequestration services for captured carbon dioxide emissions. The business is one of the lynchpins in the Norwegian government’s efforts to capture and store carbon emissions safely underground under a plan called The Longship Project.
“There is growing awareness of the need to build capacity to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to achieve net zero by 2050. We are enthusiastic about this collaboration with Climeworks. Combined with safe and permanent storage, direct air capture has the potential to get the carbon cycle back in balance,” said Børre Jacobsen, the Managing Director of Northern Lights, in a statement.
The two companies are hoping to prove that Northern Lights facilities combined with Climeworks direct air capture technologies can prove to be a part of a push towards negative emissions technologies that allow companies in non-industrial sectors to become either carbon neutral or carbon negative.
There are a number of caveats to the project, which reveal both the potential promise and pitfalls of direct air capture initiatives and sequestration and monitoring projects.
The first issue is the need to set a global price for carbon dioxide emissions that would take to make the projects economically viable.
“There is one legislation worldwide that is paying for direct air capture of CO2 and that is the Low Carbon Fuel Standard in California,” said Christoph Gelbad, the co-chief executive and co-founder of Climeworks. “It’s paying up to $200 per ton… this price range is the price range that will be needed to make this full chain, really going from the atmosphere to direct air capture to underground storage and monitoring. That will be the price range needed to build up the infrastructure and finance it.”
That price is on the highest end of any that world leaders have discusses as a potential cost for carbon emitting industries (and it’s well below the price that China has set for carbon emissions, which is important to note given the scale of China’s contribution to the production of greenhouse gases that cause global warming).
Beyond any pricing concerns associated with making these direct air carbon capture and storage solutions viable, there’s the scale at which these projects would need to be developed to make a real dent in global emissions.
Here again, Gelbad offers a clear-eyed assessment of his company’s capabilities and the size of the problem.
“The numbers given by science 10 to 20 billion tons of CO2 for removal,” Gelbad said. “Direct Air Capture will need to grow at a gigaton scale. This [potential] site will be in the megaton scale. [But] this is the range where our journey together with Northern Lights definitely could go. We see it going into the megaton ranges.”
Climeworks uses renewable energy and waste heat to power modular collectors that can be stacked into machines at any size. The only limit to the company’s ability to capture carbon dioxide is the availability of power, according to Gelbad.
The company already has a collaboration with an Icelandic company called Carbfix, where the Climeworks technology is used to capture carbon dioxide and store it in mineralized basalt. The company said in a statement that it’s looking globally for other opportunities for permanent carbon dioxide storage and that the Northern Lights solution of deep geological sequestration in an offshore saline aquifer under the North Sea represents an ideal alternative site.
To develop its technology, Climeworks has raised over $150 million from investors including the Swiss lender Zuercher Kantonalbank.
For its part, Northern Lights is already planning on capturing carbon dioxide from industrial point sources in the Oslo region, which will then be shipped to an onshore terminal on the Norwegian coast. A facility there will transport the liquefied carbon dioxide by pipeline to an offshore storage location 1.62 miles below the seabed in the North Sea.
“Northern Lights is offering carbon capture and sequestration as a service. From the idea of doing this project and from the early days of working with the ministry … my biggest surprise was the level of interest in [carbon capture and sequestration] among emitters in Europe,” said Jacobsen. “This awareness. This interest. And the need to find a solution is accelerating. We are talking about what are the possibilities and what are the solutions. Northern Lights offers a great part of the value chain.”
Some companies are already interested in becoming early customers for the project, Jacobsen said. “We have a number of MOUs and confidentiality agreements with customers and letters of support. Big interest in discussing with us. The key will be that we have to bring conversations into agreements so that we can bring this business forward.”
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Royal Dutch Shell Group, one of the largest publicly traded oil producers in the world, just laid out its plan for how the company will survive in a zero-emission, climate conscious world.
It’s a plan that rests on five main pillars that include the massive rollout of electric vehicle charging stations; a greater emphasis on lubricants, chemicals, and biofuels; the development of a significantly larger renewable energy generation portfolio and carbon offset plan; and the continued development of hydrogen and natural gas assets while slashing oil production by 1% to 2% per year and investing heavily in carbon capture and storage.
These four large categories cut across the company’s business operations and represent one of the most comprehensive (if high level) plans from a major oil company on how to keep their industry from becoming the next victim of the transition to low emission (and eventually) zero emission energy and power sources (I’m looking at you, coal industry).
“Our accelerated strategy will drive down carbon emissions and will deliver value for our shareholders, our customers and wider society,” said Royal Dutch Shell Chief Executive Officer, Ben van Beurden, in a statement.
To keep those shareholders from abandoning ship, the company also committed to slashing costs and boosting its dividend per share by around 4% per year. That means giving money back to investors that might have been spent on expensive oil and gas exploration operations. The company also committed too pay down its debt and make its payouts to shareholders 20% to 30% of its cash flow from operations. That’s… very generous.
Shell is a massive business with more than 1 million commercial and industrial customers and about 30 million customers coming to its 46,000 retail service stations daily, according to the company’s own estimates. The company organized its thinking around what it sees as growth opportunities, energy transition opportunities, and then the gradual obsolescence of its upstream drilling and petroleum production operations.
In what it sees as areas for growth, Shell intends to invest around $5 billion to $6 billion to its initiatives including the development of 500,000 electric vehicle charging locations by 2025 (up from 60,000 today) and an attendant boost in retail and service locations to facilitate charging.
The company also said it would be investing heavily in the expansion of biofuels and renewable energy generation and carbon offsets. The company wants to generate 560 terawatt hours a year by 2030, which is double the amount of electricity it generates today. Expect to see Shell operate as an independent power producer that will provide renewable energy generation as a service to an expected 15 million retail and commercial customers.
Finally the company sees the hydrogen economy as another area where it can grow.
In places where Shell already has assets that can be transitioned to the low carbon economy, the company’s going to be doubling down on its bets. That means zero emission natural gas production and a trebling down on chemicals manufacturing (watch out Dow and BASF). That means more recycling as well, as the company intends to process 1 million tons of plastic waste to produce circular chemicals.
Upstream, which was the heart of the oil and gas business for years, the company said it would “focus on value over volume” in a statement. What that means in practice is looking for easier, low cost wells to drill (something that points to the continued importance of the Middle East in the oil economy for the foreseeable future). The company expects to reduce its oil production by around 1% to 2% per year. And the company’s going to be investing in carbon capture and storage to the tune of 25 million tons per year through projects like the Quest CCS development in Canada, Norway’s Northern Lights project, and the Porthos project n the Netherlands.
“We must give our customers the products and services they want and need – products that have the lowest environmental impact,” van Beurden said in a statement.”At the same time, we will use our established strengths to build on our competitive portfolio as we make the transition to be a net-zero emissions business in step with society.”
For the company to survive in a world where revenues from its main business are cut, it’s also going to be keeping operating expenses down and will be looking to sell off big chunks of the business that no longer make sense.
That means expenses of no more than $35 billion per year and sales of around $4 billion per year to keep those dividends and cash to investors flowing.
“Over time the balance of capital spending will shift towards the businesses in the Growth pillar, attracting around half of the additional capital spend,” the company said. “Cash flow will follow the same trend and in the long term will become less exposed to oil and gas prices, with a stronger link to broader economic growth.”
Shell set targets for reducing its carbon intensity as part of the pay that’s going to all of the company’s staff and those targets are… eye opening. It’s looking at reductions in carbon intensity of 6-8% by 2023, 20% by 2030, 45% by 2035 and 100% by 2050, using a baseline of 2016 as its benchmark.
The company said that its own carbon emissions peaked in 2018 at 1.7 giga-tons per year and its oil production peaked in 2019.
Shell’s not taking these steps because it wants to, necessarily. The writing is on the wall that unless something dramatic is done to stop fossil fuel pollution and climate change, the world faces serious consequences.
A study released earlier this week indicated that air pollution from fossil fuels killed 18% of the world’s population. That means burning fossil fuels is almost as deadly as cancer, according to the study from researchers led by Harvard University.
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Zack Parisa and Max Nova, the co-founders of the carbon offset company SilviaTerra, have spent the last decade working on a way to democratize access to revenue generating carbon offsets.
As forestry credits become a big, booming business on the back of multi-billion dollar commitments from some of the world’s biggest companies to decarbonize their businesses, the kinds of technologies that the two founders have dedicated ten years of their lives to building are only going to become more valuable.
That’s why their company, already a profitable business, has raised $4.4 million in outside funding led by Union Square Ventures and Version One Ventures, along with Salesforce founder and the driving force between the 1 trillion trees initiative, Marc Benioff .
“Key to addressing the climate crisis is changing the balance in the so-called carbon cycle. At present, every year we are adding roughly 5 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere. Since atmospheric carbon acts as a greenhouse gas this increases the energy that’s retained rather than radiated back into space which causes the earth to heat up,” writes Union Square Ventures managing partner Albert Wenger in a blog post. “There will be many ways such drawdown occurs and we will write about different approaches in the coming weeks (such as direct air capture and growing kelp in the oceans). One way that we understand well today and can act upon immediately are forests. The world’s forests today absorb a bit more than one gigatons of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere and turn it into biomass. We need to stop cutting and burning down existing forests (including preventing large scale forest fires) and we have to start planting more new trees. If we do that, the total potential for forests is around 4 to 5 gigatons per year (with some estimates as high as 9 gigatons).”
For the two founders, the new funding is the latest step in a long journey that began in the woods of Northern Alabama, where Parisa grew up.
After attending Mississippi State for forestry, Parisa went to graduate school at Yale, where he met Louisville, Kentucky native Max Nova, a computer science student who joined with Parisa to set up the company that would become SiliviaTerra.
The two men developed a way to combine satellite imagery with field measurements to determine the size and species of trees in every acre of forest.
While the first step was to create a map of every forest in the U.S. the ultimate goal for both men was to find a way to put a carbon market on equal footing with the timber industry. Instead of cutting trees for cash, potentially landowners could find out how much it would be worth to maintain their forestland. As the company notes, forest management had previously been driven by the economics of timber harvesting, with over $10 billion spent in the US each year.
The founders at SilviaTerra thought that the carbon market could be equally as large, but it’s hard for moset landowners to access. Carbon offset projects can cost as much as $200,000 to put together, which is more than the value of the smaller offset projects for landowners like Parisa’s own family and the 40 acres they own in the Alabama forests.
There had to be a better way for smaller landowners to benefit from carbon markets too, Parisa and Nova thought.
To create this carbon economy, there needed to be a single source of record for every tree in the U.S. and while SilviaTerra had the technology to make that map, they lacked the compute power, machine learning capabilities and resources to build the map.
That’s where Microsoft’s AI for Earth program came in.
Working with AI for Earth, SilviaTierra created their first product, Basemap, to process terabytes ofsatellite imagery to determine the sizes and species of trees on every acre of America’s forestland. The company also worked with the US Forestry Service to access their data, which was used in creating this holistic view of the forest assets in the U.S.
With the data from Basemap in hand, the company has created what it calls the Natural Capital Exchange. This program uses SilviaTerra’s unparalleled access to information about local forests, and the knowledge of how those forests are currently used to supply projects that actually represent land that would have been forested were it not for the offset money coming in.
Currently, many forestry projects are being passed off to offset buyers as legitimate offsets on land that would never have been forested in the first place — rendering the project meaningless and useless in any real way as an offset for carbon dioxide emissions.
“It’s a bloodbath out there,” said Nova of the scale of the problem with fraudulent offsets in the industry. “We’re not repackaging existing forest carbon projects and try to connect the demand side with projects that already exist. Use technology to unlock a new supply of forest carbon offset.”
The first Natural Capital Exchange project was actually launched and funded by Microsoft back in 2019. In it, 20 Western Pennsylvania land owners originated forest carbon credits through the program, showing that the offsets could work for landowners with 40 acres, or, as the company said, 40,000.
“We’re just trying to get inside every landowners annual economic planning cycle,” said Nova. “There’s a whole field of timber economics… and we’re helping answer the question of given the price of timber, given the price of carbon does it make sense to reduce your planned timber harvests?”
Ultimately, the two founders believe that they’ve found a way to pay for the total land value through the creation of data around the potential carbon offset value of these forests.
It’s more than just carbon markets, as well. The tools that SilviaTerra have created can be used for wildfire mitigation as well. “We’re at the right place at the right time with the right data and the right tools,” said Nova. “It’s about connecting that data to the decision and the economics of all this.”
The launch of the SilviaTerra exchange gives large buyers a vetted source to offset carbon. In some ways its an enterprise corollary to the work being done by startups like Wren, another Union Square Ventures investment, that focuses on offsetting the carbon footprint of everyday consumers. It’s also a competitor to companies like Pachama, which are trying to provide similar forest offsets at scale, or 3Degrees Inc. or South Pole.
Under a Biden administration there’s even more of an opportunity for these offset companies, the founders said, given discussions underway to establish a Carbon Bank. Established through the existing Commodity Credit Corp. run by the Department of Agriculture, the Carbon Bank would pay farmers and landowners across the U.S. for forestry and agricultural carbon offset projects.
“Everybody knows that there’s more value in these systems than just the product that we harvest off of it,” said Parisa. “Until we put those benefits in the same footing as the things we cut off and send to market…. As the value of these things goes up… absolutely it is going to influence these decisions and it is a cash crop… It’s a money pump from coastal America into middle America to create these things that they need.”
After a year when climate-related disasters seemed to become the norm, the team will be monitoring a 2021 that is pivotal for the world.
From orbit, satellites send tragic evidence of climate change’s destructive power. This film covers 10 days, Sept. 7-16, 2020, a period of intense fires activity in North and South America.
The idea was simple: compare the difference in exposure to unclean air among wealthy and poor families by tracking two kids for a day. Pulling it off was trickier.
Legal and environmental experts hailed a coroner’s ruling that, for the first time in Britain, directly linked a specific person’s death to air pollution.
Today, the acute asthma attack of primary school-aged girl in February 2013 was ruled by a UK court to be due to air pollution. It is thought to be the first ruling of its kind in the world. Only a year after Ella Kissi-Debrah died, another mother also became concerned about the effects of air quality on her daughter’s asthma and decided to do something about it.
Today, Yodit Stanton has secured $4m in seed funding for her air monitoring startup OpenSensors, in a Seed round led by Crane Venture Partners and other unnamed investors. The startup previously bootstrapped the company prior to the round, supported by customer revenues.
OpenSensors, uses sensors to monitor air quality and light intensity, but it’s the data platform that is the real ‘special source’. The startup’s technology works to reveal workplace and workforce conditions and patterns. It competes with companies like Condecco and Workplace Fabric, but takes a more ‘360 degree’ approach.
It now has more than 30 customers with complex real estate operations across North America, Ireland, UK and Europe, in industries such as Insurance, Finance, Tech and more.
Building costs are the 2nd highest expense for organizations, with office costs over £20bn per year in the UK, but even in normal, pre-pandemic times, half of that office space is unused at any point during the day and only reaches 55% peak utilization. Buildings also represent 36% of global energy usage & 39% of CO2 emissions. OpenSensors tracks humidity, CO2 levels, and more to guide on the optimal capacity to reduce viral transmission, thus enabling companies to return their workforces to offices safely.
Stanton commented: “How we work and live are changing faster than we could have ever anticipated. There is a real opportunity for humanity to rethink how we use the physical world with sustainability in mind as well as making the design of workplaces better for people using them.”
Scott Sage, Partner at Crane Venture Partners said: “With data insights, real-world usage and known customer references, OpenSensors has all the ingredients to become a trusted advisor and solutions provider throughout COVID-19 and the immediate recovery, as well as supporting the shift towards more flexible working that COVID-19 has accelerated.”
Speaking exclusively to TechCrunch, Stanton, who also founded and runs the UK’s Women In Data event, said: “Initially it just started as a fun hobby project. I was playing around with IoT as in my daughter has asthma, so I was monitoring air quality up in our neighborhood to try to see if I can correlate the particulates spikes and so forth with her asthma attacks. I released it as a project for my community to monitor air quality. But it became, I guess a real thing when people asked if I could manage their buildings.”
She said that low humidity encourages virus transmission: “So you really have to aim for around 40% humidity within an indoor environment and dry air also affects your immune system as an individual.”
This means that monitoring air quality has become a huge issue for companies. So it unsurprising that VCs are now backing air-quality startups like OpenSensors.
Ms. McCarthy will serve as a senior adviser to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., coordinating climate change policy throughout the government.
By lowering the value of pollution controls in health and safety calculations, the Trump administration appears to be moving to safeguard its deregulation efforts in court.
Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s choice to run the Department of Health and Human Services is the first state attorney general to create an environmental justice bureau.
Many have burned their fields in defiance of antipollution laws. Some say that has worsened New Delhi’s air as the capital deals with a third coronavirus wave.
A new report presented climate change as an immediate public health danger and urged lawmakers to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
I remember the first time someone rolled coal on me. It was 2006, and I was driving to work at the University of Kentucky. It was a bright, sunny day in Lexington, and I had the roof down and was stopped in traffic behind a large pickup truck with decidedly non-standard exhaust pipes exiting straight up behind the cab. Whoever was driving the pickup evidently noticed the Miata in his mirror and enveloped me in a thick cloud of soot when the lights changed.
As automotive subcultures go, intentionally modifying your truck’s diesel engine to make extra pollution is one of the more antisocial ones out there. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, diesel trucks with disabled emissions controls are far more widespread than you might think and emit more pollution than the diesel engines that got Volkswagen such hefty fines.
In 2016, Volkswagen agreed to a pair of court settlements totaling nearly $16 billion after it was caught selling diesel vehicles fitted with emissions defeat devices. In total, the VW scandal affected more than half a million cars and SUVs sold in the US, which produced up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides (NOx) when in daily operation.