🌏 A new registry to unlock carbon removal

How to build trust and collaboration in CDR with Isometric, starting with the science

It’s a mantra by now that in addition to mitigating future emissions, we have to extract existing carbon dioxide pollution from our atmospheric and oceanic dumps. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies often sound like science fiction—gigantic carbon-sucking vacuums, anyone? But with limited time, it’s in the hands of scientists to check the science fiction, as our CDR outcomes hang in measuring the balance.

Today the Earth sucks ~2B tonnes of CO2 back out of the atmosphere annually—the vast, vast majority of which is absorbed by forests rather than fandangled emerging technologies. To avoid the most extreme warming, scientists estimate that technological CDR needs to grow ~1,300x and removal by trees and soils needs to double by 2050. In the face of this daunting scale-up timeframe, the CDR industry is also reckoning with conflating removal with carbon capture or carbon offsets, and dealing with all the reputational fallout they’ve sustained.

The trouble with carbon credits

The spoils of any greenfield market are never won without some blunders, and the $2B voluntary carbon market (VCM) has been plagued by challenges over its teenage history.

A new approach for CDR?

Early buyers of carbon removal, like Alphabet, Meta, Shopify, McKinsey, and Stripe’s ~$1B advanced market commitment through Frontier, can help accelerate new CDR tech development, but for the typical organization, it’s still an expensive, opaque, and reputationally risky process to identify and purchase high-quality removal services.

London-based startup Isometric is hoping to tackle the challenges of traditional carbon markets, make removal purchases more accessible, and build trust in the quality of CDR credits with four key tenets:

🔬 Scientific rigor: Reaching a level of depth and quantifiable metrics beyond what’s been offered by traditional carbon markets by building an internal science team and extended network of scientists.

🤝 Incentive alignment: Charging buyers of carbon removal a fee for the services to verify credits—from protocol development and managing the network of partners to the registry and credit insurance—to build more trust between CDR marketplaces and their customers. By charging the buyers a fee and decoupling that payment from the verification results (i.e., the registry doesn’t get paid based on the amount of credits issued), the people auditing CDR quality are not financially dependent on the suppliers providing removal and don’t have an incentive to inflate credit quality.

🔍 Transparency: Sharing the underlying information in a way that’s accessible to people with different levels of familiarity with carbon removal, from the general public to sophisticated CDR buyers to industry experts.

👩‍🔬 Collaboration: Working together with scientists, academic institutions, startups, and other tech companies to move the industry forward and bring measurement, verification, and credit purchases into one place for both suppliers and buyers.

Isometric launched its science platform this week and announced a $25M Seed round led by Lowercarbon Capital and Plural. The platform for scientific collaboration includes CDR data from companies across different tech pathways, including Charm Industrial (bio-oil sequestration), Eion (enhanced rock weathering), Planetary (ocean alkalinity enhancement), and Brilliant Planet (microalgae burial).

We sat down with Isometric Founder and CEO, Eamon Jubbawy, and Head of Science, Elizabeth Troein, about the rationale behind this model, the company’s plans for a trusted CDR registry, and what they wish they could change about carbon markets.

What’s your background and how did it lead you to Isometric?

Eamon Jubbawy: I spent the last decade building technology companies with a common theme of trust-building at the infrastructure level. My first was Onfido, an ID verification software using AI. I started that company in 2012 and today it has ~700 people, over $100 million in revenue, and is working with almost 1,000 companies globally. In the summer of 2020, I decided I wanted to work on climate. I had no background in climate, so I explored a few different things and actually set up a couple companies along the way. At the end of 2021 and the start of 2022, I started spending all of my time studying the carbon markets. There was this general perception in the media and in expert circles that carbon markets weren’t fulfilling their function. After trying to identify where or why these problems were occurring, I went to my friends at Lowercarbon in the summer of 2022. I sent them a six-page thesis on why there was a need for a new carbon registry dedicated to carbon removal. We had a brainstorming session over the course of a couple of months, discussing what it should look like. Then they introduced me to Elizabeth, who I brought on as head of science in the early days.

Elizabeth Troein: I'm a biogeochemist by training. Throughout undergrad, a graduate degree, and a postdoc, I was focused on understanding the Earth systems and the drivers of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere on glacial and interglacial timescales. I worked on understanding how various natural mechanisms impact CO2. I really wanted to get into innovation in that space and transitioned by working as a fellow at ARPA-E. I spent a lot of time doing technical due diligence on new tech, especially in carbon removal and MRV. Through that, I met with carbon removal startups who had received ARPA-E funding—which was one of my favorite parts of the job—and ultimately got connected to Eamon. I joined as head of science and have been building out our science team.

What need within the carbon credits market is Isometric addressing?

Jubbawy: We think of ourselves as a horizontal registry that provides a cross-pathway registry service to buyers. We aim to make buyers' lives easier by having one single place they can go to gain trust in what they're buying—versus the vertical, specific, niche experts who are doing really detailed work in sensor development or modeling or collection of data in one particular pathway. Our job is to make life easier for suppliers by curating those partners involved in the data-gathering or modeling side, then have all that information roll up into the final measurement against the protocol, and then the final credit issuance that we do. The last thing a buyer wants is to have to go and buy some tonnes of carbon from a supplier and also enlist some settlement company to measure and also enlist some other MRV company to quantify some part of their process. That fragmentation of the market would be really harmful. It's probably the single biggest threat to carbon removal. The name Isometric is Greek for equality of measurement. We’re trying to make things standardized and isometric across all the different pathways and make it easy for buyers to engage.

How have these challenges framed your company's solution and thinking around responsible CDR? Are there certain aspects of trust-building in carbon removal that you think Isometric will be particularly helpful in supporting?

Jubbawy: I questioned initially whether it was worth building some sort of technology or service to help traditional registries do these things better. It was only when I started to go deep into carbon removal that it felt like there was an opportunity to build a registry from scratch for this new parallel track to the traditional offsets market. Then wondered what kind of institution it should it be—nonprofit, for profit? Perhaps doing things well and avoiding the mistakes of the past might involve a profit motive to compete. There should, and will, be multiple other companies trying to build high-quality, for-profit carbon registries. Isometric’s registry will have a depth of data that you haven't seen before in carbon markets—the data attached to the credits, the numbers and evidence behind the calculations, what was modeled, what was measured, and by whom. All of that is to come in the registry later this year.

Troein: Something we aim to do is quantify new metrics that haven't been previously quantified in other registries. So quantifying not just carbon negativity, but also durability and uncertainty. There’s usually a durability threshold, and we look to quantify the true durability of a given tonne of CO2. Uncertainty is a really important metric to quantify, account for, and build trust in the market.

Tell us more about the company’s focus on metrics and the aim of the science platform.

Jubbawy: Long term, what I decided to build was a high-quality, trusted carbon registry for carbon removal. Short term, a stop-gap needed in the market today while we build out the registry is the science platform. It’s a place for suppliers to host their early data that’s not verified by or endorsed by Isometric. It's a collaboration space for them to visualize some of their processes, report some of their data, and get input, feedback and advice from the scientific community in a transparent and open way. We don't charge for this product at all. And that's what we're putting out now as we work towards building this registry.

What has the response been like to the science platform so far? Are companies willing to share their early info?

Troein: One of the major benefits of the science platform is the collaboration on protocol development. This means getting scientific consensus on the protocols that will ultimately be used to quantify net negativity, durability, and uncertainty. We’ve found there is a lot of appetite among startups to get scientific buy-in. We facilitate getting a broad third-party platform for scientists to provide input. We host early protocols, we build a network of scientists, and we provide a structure for reaching scientific consensus and for being more scientifically robust about that decision-making process. Some suppliers have even been hosting these protocols publicly on their own websites, but there's an appetite for them to be able to do that through a third party.

Jubbawy: It's also completely understandable if a supplier has some part of their process that is competitive intellectual property that they want to keep to themselves for some period of time. We don't set requirements on what must be shared. It's an open platform for people to share whatever they want for feedback, and some share a bit more than others. It’s an attempt to accelerate early-stage CDR science, as opposed to forcing people to list something they might not want to share.

It seems like there are relatively few folks with deep experience in these fields. How are you hiring and attracting the best talent to Isometric? Especially if these experts would otherwise likely be career academics.

Troein: There are interdisciplinary Earth scientists who are passionate about Earth Systems, and especially how that applies to carbon removal. We've been able to build a really strong internal team with that core expertise. However, we know that a team of any size can only know so much, since the scientific world is so diverse. That's why we have about a dozen scientists contracting with us on early protocol development and providing scientific reviews of these protocols. We're looking to expand that even further and drive interest through the science platform. There's also the opportunity to collaborate directly with the Isometric science team. We're still all active scientists, actively publishing, so we're looking for collaboration. We think there are a lot of scientists who will be interested in increasing their impact by becoming more embedded in the carbon removal industry. We are looking to compensate scientists for their work. If somebody joins our network of scientists and is well-matched with a protocol we are developing, they can get selected for this more formal scientific review process. We also have no exclusivity requirements on the scientists that join the networks. We're very passionate about collaboration and not blocking anyone out.

Jubbawy: Instead of saying, “Trust us,” I would love to say, “Don't trust us, trust the science.” The Isometric logo is not about the company. It's about the network that surrounds it and governs it on an ongoing basis. Having a network of carbon removal scientists all over the world who are engaging in one-hour or one-week worth of review is a critical departure from how things were done in the past with regard to trust-building.

Who are your target customers and what is your business model? How will Isometric make money from carbon removal purchases?

Jubbawy: There’s two main groups. First are the large direct buyers like Frontier and Microsoft and other large tech or financial services companies that are accelerating carbon removal and have announced big offtakes recently. The second category is the indirect or marketplace broker-style buyer. These companies aggregate demand from smaller customers and make single purchases from suppliers on their behalf. Because we have this buyer-led model, aggregators are always helpful for us to be able to focus on doing our work well rather than focusing on managing hundreds of buyer relationships.

Buyers pay for the removal services from the supplier, and then pay us a separate fee for our services, which covers everything from protocol development, managing the network of partners and paying their fees, and also the registry and credit insurance services. That is a really important tenet and we're the only people who’ve ever done that in carbon markets. It certainly takes a bit of getting used to for buyers, but on the whole, buyers are really excited by it because it's another way for them to build trust by knowing that the person running the registry is not subject to the whims of the suppliers because they're not financially dependent on them.

CDR is not monolithic. How did you decide which technology pathways to start with and what’s next?

Jubbawy: We don't make these decisions in isolation. Because of our buyer-led model, if the buyers want us to focus on certain types of CDR or specific suppliers and get them to the point where they can be issuing credits, that's where we'll spend our time. Many buyers have expressed interest in certain pathways where there have been historical uncertainties and they're looking for support from our team and our product to help quantify or reduce those. It’s a fairly traditional customer and product development process, which is making what buyers want. We now have suppliers from five core pathways on the platform. We’re getting to the point where we're now pretty cross-pathways in the work we do.

Troein: With the science platform we are able to expand the pathways we cover and really help facilitate the expansion into verification frameworks that are internally consistent between pathways.

How does Isometric attempt to differentiate itself from other registries? Will you partner with other registries and verifiers or do you view them as competitors?

Jubbawy: We currently don’t partner with other registries because our offerings are an umbrella service for buyers, and there are some critical differences with other registries. We do partner with others on the protocol development side, the verification side, and on the technology side—many of which are already underway. Other partnerships are being finalized right now, but there is a network of verification partners. Some of these are traditionally known as VVBs in traditional carbon markets.

What do others get wrong about building, investing, or buying in the CDR space? What’s missing in the broader CDR ecosystem that if you could wave a magic wand, you’d fix?

Jubbawy: There is some conflation between traditional carbon credits and offsets and carbon removal. Unfortunately, that can sometimes make life hard and takes a bit of education. If I had a magic wand, I would quite like it if people move away from counting tonnes and move towards trying to use corporate balance sheets for high-impact climate activity and climate outcomes. Instead of focusing on offsetting 1000 tonnes at the cheapest price—which naturally lends itself to traditional offsets with very little climate impact—taking the same pot of money that you would have spent on those credits and saying, ‘We have $50,000. How can we be most impactful on climate change?’ Focusing less on the number of tonnes and more on deploying capital to capitalize markets and to drive climate action.

Troein: I'd love to see quicker feedback between science and industry and more data sharing. Closing that loop and making that fast and iterative and innovative.

What was it like to raise this round with these investors? What will the funding be used for?

Jubbawy: Lowercarbon knows their stuff and they went super deep on this. They are very thoughtful about carbon removal, providing advice and helping us think through how this could go wrong. What are the mistakes that might be down the line that we can start planning for today? They’ve connected us to scientists and academics. The other fund that we brought in to co-lead the round is Plural. All the partners are previous operators and founders who built some pretty iconic companies in Europe. They also have a big climate focus. With Plural, I had the pleasure of working with one of the partners, Khaled Helioui, in my first company where he was an angel investor. So that was a very natural one to bring on board.

With this funding, we're going to hire more scientists, more engineers, and build out the team. We're ~30 people in total right now. A significant portion of the capital is going towards deepening those partnerships with academic institutions, other startups, and tech companies in line with that collaboration pillar that we hold dear.

Do you go Greek for equality of measurement? Scientists working in carbon removal can apply to join the internal team or become part of Isometric’s network through the science platform. CDR suppliers that want to work with a carbon registry with high standards for rigor and transparency can also reach out to collaborate.

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