Collaborating with Yard Stick on carbon capture measurement

Yard Stick is a US-based agritech start-up intent on providing a service to assess soil carbon capture at the farm using real time measurement. We collaborated with the company to develop an innovative diagnostic tool to help in the fight against climate change. Further, and within a timeframe of no more than a year, we helped design and build components that are already being used for measurement validation testing in the field. This is a story of rapid progress – and of highly precise climate tech in action.

How to measure carbon sequestration?

The challenge of accurately measuring soil carbon is crucial for the future of the carbon market. Yard Stick’s vision of real-time measurement relies on spectrometry. Its previous prototype probes were based on well-documented research linking visible infrared spectrometry to soil measurement. Our challenge – with a short turnaround – was to advance optical design and manufacture for its next-generation devices while dealing with mechanical and electrical constraints. The task involved maximising performance (signal noise ratio and wavelength) while minimising both form factor and power draw.

Carbon measurement plus validation

As well as addressing measurement itself, Yard Stick wanted to validate their soil carbon measurement against testing performed by existing laboratories. Why did they turn to CC? Our diverse and relevant experience bolstered their talented in-house team so that all phases of the development could be addressed. We have specific optical lab testing facilities and optical physics expertise that perfectly complemented their core software and electronics strengths. The addition of CC’s in-house manufacturing capabilities made sure that tight deadlines were met.

Carbon credits to offset emissions

Yard Stick is operating in a dynamic marketplace as the commercial world responds to the carbon crisis. Across the globe, carbon credits are used to offset emissions to mitigate environmental impact. Credits are available for capturing and sequestering CO2 in the soil via plants – opening a significant potential revenue source for growers. Right now, the system relies on trust, and the only way to definitively measure soil carbon content is analysing a core sample in an offsite lab.

Soil carbon real-time measurement

The trust model of carbon credits is slowly evolving to a compliance one driven by legally binding CO2 targets signed by governments worldwide. The imperative to prove carbon trading claims is propelling the switch from remote image-based modelling to physical soil measurement in the field. Yard Stick’s ambition for its devices to provide a real-time in-situ service will make the time-consuming process of sample extraction across acres of farmland – followed by composition analysis miles away – completely obsolete.

Evaluating optical design efficiency

CC’s North American team originally met up with Yard Stick during a start-up event in the heart of Boston’s vibrant innovation community. As alluded to above, discussions soon settled on a project with three key phases:

  • Development of the optical module for next-generation devices
  • Investigation of optical architecture for the generation after next
  • Construction of testing equipment for measurement validation

The first part began by evaluating optical design efficiency and identifying component architecture. This was then integrated into the significant space constraints of the existing device with new mechanical functionality.

Maximising the carbon measurement spectrum

With seasonally determined field trials looming, we pressed the button on manufacture and assembly of a small run of components in the UK. This pre-empted integration into the US manufacturing plan for the devices. Meanwhile, with an eye on the generation after next, CC investigated optimal device architecture to maximise the measurement spectrum. This demanded an agile pivot when the existing spectrometer was unexpectedly removed from production. We evaluated alternative suppliers and successfully carried out performance testing and commercial suitability assessment (price versus lead time versus difficulty of development and integration).

Carbon validation testing of soil

The final stage saw CC design and manufacture bespoke testing equipment for the validation of the new prototypes against the industry standard, ahead of sample collection in the next period of field testing. Despite fluctuating requirements, a working prototype has now been deployed for the validation testing of hundreds of soil samples.

The trading and sequestering opportunity

As one of the few potentially carbon-negative industries, agriculture plays a crucial role in managing global CO2 emissions. The huge commercial opportunity of carbon trading and sequestering – as well as the associated environmental benefits – will only be realised with tools that can measure the impact of new regenerative agricultural practices.

Ready to seize the future of sequestration

The CC project team is delighted that Yard Stick is using the manufactured components in its current set of devices for testing in the field. The equipment represents a stepping-stone in proving this ambitious company’s business model, as well as the value of the data gleaned by the devices. As custodians of the soil carbon measuring hardware and the valuable data it generates, Yard Stick is uniquely placed to seize the future. It can capitalise on the burgeoning, climate-critical market for real time data on carbon sequestration. And, in turn, it will help society on the long journey to managing its carbon footprint.

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