ARPA-E Investor Update Vol. 16
On August 17, 2023, Yard Stick PBC announced $10.6 million raised in Series A funding for their low-cost, in situ soil carbon measurement technology in a round led by Toyota Ventures Climate Fund with participation from the Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Lowercarbon Capital, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Pillar VC, and others. Their Series A round brings Yard Stick’s total venture capital funding to over $16 million. Yard Stick will use this funding to expand commercial deployment of its soil carbon measurement services. This follows a previous $16 million in funding they were awarded in the Fall of 2022 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities initiative, additional grant awards from National Science Foundation and California Department of Food and Agriculture, and $5.6M in prior venture capital investment in 2021.
Originally, ARPA-E funded Yard Stick’s technology as a Soil Health Institute (SHI) project under ARPA-E’s Systems for Monitoring and Analytics for Renewable Transportation Fuels from Agricultural Resources and Management Transportation Fuels (SMARTFARM) program. SMARTFARM focused on bridging the data gap in the biofuel supply chain by funding technologies that can quantify feedstock-related emissions at the field-level. SHI set out to reduce the uncertainty around carbon sequestration quantification with their integrated, affordable, and user-friendly soil carbon measurement and monitoring system, then known as the DeepC System.
At that time, SHI’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Cristine Morgan, had spent nearly 15 years on this technology during her time at Texas A&M University, yet had been unable to find a commercial partner to bring the technology to market. Impact, therefore, was limited.
SMARTFARM provided the funding, demand, and clarity Dr. Morgan’s team needed to advance the technology. As part of the project’s tech-to-market effort, Yard Stick was incorporated and continues to collaborate with SHI in the SMARTFARM program.
“Yard Stick would not exist today were it not for ARPA-E,” explains Yard Stick cofounder and CEO, Chris Tolles. “The early funding that ARPA-E provided was an incredible signal to private-sector investors who lack expertise in measurement technologies for soil carbon, and the deep research collaboration we enjoy with SHI today is directly a product of that first SMARTFARM opportunity. By convening, funding, and promoting, ARPA-E has been an essential partner to Yard Stick since day one.”
Yard Stick’s in situ handheld spectral hardware device instantly measures SOC concentrations. Their web-based dashboard allows users to input field boundaries, specify project methodology requirements, and generate sampling plans which maximize the value of each sample site, therefore reducing overall cost. The software platform also displays real-time project progress and calculates total soil carbon stocks once sampling is complete. Yard Stick is the only technology on the market that measures in-field SOC concentration reliably. Traditionally, SOC concentration tests are done on samples removed from the field and sent to a lab. Yard Stick’s device includes novel spectroscopic sensors that measure SOC in the field, thereby avoiding the need for lab equipment.
Yard Stick’s in situ handheld spectral hardware device
“For years I’ve seen the potential of this technology,” notes Dr. Morgan. “SHI’s leadership role in the sector is essential and important, but our mission is not tech commercialization. SMARTFARM created the ideal circumstances for Yard Stick to emerge, and I’ve been proud to shepherd Chris and his team. Scientific rigor must be the backbone of all market solutions to our soil carbon and soil health crises. I am proud of their commitment to high-quality science, honored to be a part of the extended team, grateful to ARPA-E for their essential role in forming this impactful company alongside SHI, and excited to continue working together hand-in-hand for the foreseeable future.”
Yard Stick’s technology provides accurate, real-time data while lowering costs and easing barriers to use. This technology will allow for a host of carbon removal and sequestration programs to progress as climate mitigation strategies that may otherwise be stunted by the cost and uncertainty barrier of carbon measurement. This technology will also incentivize continued carbon emissions reductions and yield revenue-based incentives for producers to participate in soil carbon management.
Yard Stick’s device in the field
Critically, Verra, the organization that sets the world’s standards in certifying carbon emissions reductions, has accepted the readiness of soil spectroscopy for soil carbon measurement in a recent revision to their flagship soil carbon protocol, VM0042. In the future, Yard Stick is planning to deploy a 1-meter probe, add inorganic carbon measurement capabilities, and expand into forestry contexts, which feature large, under-characterized, and ecologically critical soil carbon stocks of their own.
Yard Stick’s low-cost SOC measurement technology is an industry first which will advance soil's critical role in responding to our climate crises.