Carbon removal — technology that aims to remove carbon emissions from the environment by breaking it down and turning it into something less harmful — saw a big splash of attention last year after Stripe, Shopify, Meta, Alphabet and more collectively agreed to pump $1 billion into funding removal startups. Today, a London startup called Isometric hopes to give some structure to that nascent industry. The startup is launching today armed with $25 million, one of the largest seed rounds this year for a climate startup.
Lowercarbon Capital and Plural are the co-investors in this round, alongside Niklas Zennström (Skype’s co-founder and founder of the VC Atomico), David Helgason (founder of Unity Technologies), Ross Mason (founder of MuleSoft) and Ilkka Paananen (founder of Supercell).
Isometric will use the funding both to hire more scientists and technologists, and to work on its products. Chief among them is a carbon removal registry to provide data to enterprises, looking to buy removal credits, to the various startups building that technology. Isometric claims it will be the first registry for “high quality, long duration” carbon removal credits.
More immediately, it is today launching what it refers to as a “science platform,” which will provide a way for carbon removal companies to publish and share their data with those interested in seeing it, and for Isometric’s team itself to do more first-hand, human vetting, too.
Some of the first carbon removal startups on Isometric will include Charm Industrial (a specialist in bio-oil sequestration); Eion (focusing on rock weathering); Planetary (ocean alkalinity enhancement company), and Brilliant Planet (a microalgae burial company).
Charm recently announced a big tranche of carbon removal sales to JP Morgan, Stripe, Shopify, Meta, Alphabet, McKinsey and more totalling $50 million. Isometric said that its science team has been “independently reviewing historically delivered tonnes” for Charm, posting them on the new science platform.
Eamon Jubbawy, the founder and CEO of Isometric, is a repeat entrepreneur in the London tech world with his startups ranging from other climate work through to enterprise businesses.
He was the co-founder of identity verification startup Onfido (which has been backed by hundreds of millions of dollars from many investors); and more recently he was also the co-founder of Sequence, a financial operations platform (younger, but also backed by big names like Andreessen Horowitz). He also co-founded recycling startup Safi (formerly known as TrueCircle).
He said that Isometric is addressing a specific gap that has been identified in the market.
Carbon offsetting has been a popular route taken by companies that want to contribute something positive to the environment while still running their businesses, but it’s also full of flaws. Critics have pointed to the fact that the exchanges don’t really address the root causes of pollution and carbon emissions, and that many of the projects, unregulated or not, could turn out to be worthless, or worse.
“I was looking at carbon markets and how badly they work,” he said in an interview, and he saw how thinking was starting to shift around them, and the believe that “there was more drastic change needed.”
That has led many in the industry to search for alternatives and complements to offsetting, and carbon removal has emerged as one of the key areas to watch, helped in no small part by the efforts from Stripe and its Frontier Initiative co-investors, as well as moves from Apple and Microsoft to incorporate removal into their own ESG strategies.
But given relatively nascent state of carbon removal — and some of the learnings of the pitfalls in more widespread carbon offsetting — there is an opportunity to provide some structure and order to how removal credits are accounted for, and to vet what the removal companies are claiming to do.
While there are registries out there for carbon offsetting, Jubbawy believes that carbon removal required a new approach.
“The carbon registries that existed missed the mark so badly that the only real option was to build another platform to fix all that, focused on removal,” he said.
To be clear, there are still some significant conditionals around carbon removal. A lot of the technology being built and applied by removal companies is still largely untested at scale.
And there are definite leaps of faith that have to be accepted for how some of this might work — for example, if the model is based on decades of in-ground storage of biofuels but the company developing completely that technique is only a few years old.
On the other hand, the tech and order that Jubbaway and Isometric hope to bring to the space, vetting and making their work more transparent to would-be customers and researchers, could be a significant step in separating what works, and what does not.