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#32 - Can flux towers fix the carbon markets?

#32 - Can flux towers fix the carbon markets?

We've lost trust in the carbon markets

After months of backlash and harsh criticism following the Karibagate scandal, carbon markets have put one knee on the ground. Transparency and accountability are the buzzwords in every mouth.

Nature-based carbon project certification relies on samples and models. However, the quantity of CO2 sequestered by ecosystems is never actually measured. This leaves a lot of room for errors (or manipulation).

Measuring carbon stocks in nature is hard. Tier-1 experts have spent the past decade trying to improve models. Great! But marginal improvements are not enough, the market needs a new paradigm.

Flux towers measure real-time CO2 concentration

Eddy-covariance flux towers can precisely measure CO2 fluxes in natural ecosystems and build much-required credibility. Scary name! Let me explain.

Measuring CO2 fluxes is not as easy as measuring say temperature, especially in the open, and at an ecosystem scale.

An eddy is a circular movement of wind, a unit of air that moves horizontally and vertically above an ecosystem. CO2 is either released into or captured from the eddy by the natural ecosystem beneath.

Each eddy moves, and within each eddy, CO2 concentration changes. The net flux between the ecosystem and the atmosphere is the covariance calculated between the wind velocity and the CO2 concentration.

The eddy covariance method provides one of the few direct observations of net carbon exchanges between ecosystems and the atmosphere. It is the gold standard for digital Measuring, Reporting and Verification (MRV).

With more than 1,500 sites equipped across all continents and decades' worth of data, eddy-covariance flux towers can now measure near real-time CO2 variations with a precision of ±1 tonne of CO2eq per hectare per year.

The technology is still facing significant challenges but recent models and hardware improvements could enable continuous MRV at a tenth of the historical cost.

Flux towers are mentioned in several Verra certification methodologies but primarily for NO2 and CH4 in the agricultural context. They are rarely applied to market-ready CO2 MRV for nature-based solutions. The main challenges are:

  • high operational cost (up to $20k per top-of-the-canopy mast)
  • weather limitations and climate-dependent variations
  • unsuited for uneven terrain

Hyphen, precision emissions verification

Any breakthrough innovation in this space would immediately be a massive commercial success. The market is craving for this kind of solution!

Hyphen, a Swiss-based start-up, is on a mission to offer the first real-time atmospheric CO2 monitoring solution. The company has partnered with a carbon project developer and is testing its technology on the ground in Southeast Asia.

Off-the-shelf eddy-covariance measurement hardware and software packages already exist but lack commercial application.

Hyphen could become the first atmospheric digital MRV one-stop-shop for nature-based carbon projects.

The team is led by the award-winning and successful entrepreneur Miles Austin, supported by an impressive board of advisors. I believe Hyphen is raising capital right now, do reach out if you would like to know more.

To go further, the technology could eventually be applicable in underwater situations. This would dramatically change MRV constraints for mangroves, seagrass and seaweed ecosystem restoration projects!

Thank you for reading!
Colin Rebel
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