A Rapid In-Field System to Measure Deep Soil C Stock

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North Carolina
Project Term:
04/30/2021 - 07/29/2023

Critical Need:

Agricultural and land-based carbon removal, management, and storage is critical to comprehensive climate change mitigation strategies. New technologies to support necessary carbon markets are needed, although robust carbon markets already exist for biofuels. The goal of removing and sequestering more carbon along the biofuel supply chain than it emits requires feedstock producers to adopt new technologies and practices that simultaneously improve yield, drive down production-associated emissions, and enhance carbon sequestration in soils. Carbon management incentives exist downstream in the biofuel supply chain, but not in feedstock production because monitoring and verifying its emissions are too costly to conduct at the field level. Feedstock producers receive the national average for feedstock-production emissions despite significant variations in state and regional averages, as well as field-level estimates. Producers need detailed accounting of biofuel life cycle inputs (e.g., energy, nutrients, chemicals) and outputs (e.g., energy, co-products, emissions) to establish a reliable baseline against which to measure progress.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

The Soil Health Institute aims to develop an integrated, affordable, and user-friendly soil carbon measurement and monitoring system—the DeepC System. The system will be designed to meet current and future needs for farmers, landowners, and agricultural carbon markets nationwide. The system’s three main components are in-field measurement hardware, an optimized spatial sampling algorithm to select measurement sites, and machine learning calibrations that leverage the current infrastructure of national soil spectroscopy libraries. These components synergistically enable a user to obtain rapid, non-destructive measurements of soil carbon stock. Measurements are obtained with (1) an ATV-mounted, hydraulic penetrometer that measures to a depth of 100 cm and (2) a novel handheld device to easily measure soil carbon to a depth of 45cm. Without pulling a soil core, the system can measure carbon stocks across diverse landscapes at the scale appropriate to account for within-field soil variability at approximately $7.91 (100 cm depth) to $2.43 (45 cm depth) per acre per year.

Potential Impact:

Reducing the uncertainty of emissions quantification is critical to realizing the revenue potential of carbon management markets.


New technologies will maintain U.S. leadership in sustainable biofuel production and advanced carbon removal and management.


These technologies will help incentivize continued emissions reductions throughout the biofuel and bioeconomy supply chains while enabling new opportunities to leverage agriculture and managed land systems to perform carbon removal, management, and storage to address climate change.


Enabling producers to participate in carbon management markets would complement yield-based revenues with economic incentives for input efficiency, climate change mitigation, and restorative practices.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. David Babson
Project Contact:
Prof. Cristine Morgan
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


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