Australian government names soil carbon measurement as investment priority

The Australian government wants to hit a 90% reduction in the costs of measuring soil carbon to ‘transform the economics’ of soil carbon projects for farmers.

The Australian government has made lowering the cost of soil carbon measurement one of its five priorities for reducing emissions in its new strategy.

Energy minister Angus Taylor outlined the change as part of the government’s First Low Emissions Technology Statement – 2020, published this week.

The statement highlights five priority areas for reducing emissions that the government will support:

  • getting the cost of hydrogen production to below A$2 ($1.4; €1.2) per kilogram;
  • enabling long duration energy storage (six to eight hours or more) to be dispatched at less than $100 per MWh;
  • the development of low-emissions materials production, such as steel and aluminum;
  • support for carbon capture and storage to lower the cost to below A$20 per tonne of carbon dioxide;
  • and lowering the cost of soil carbon measurement to below A$3 per hectare per year, representing a 90 percent reduction from today’s measurement costs that would “transform the economics of soil carbon projects for Australian farmers.”

The government will introduce new legislation that will expand the remit of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to give it more flexibility to support the priorities.

The government agency made its first investment in bio-sequestration earlier this year with a A$1.7 million investment in the Soil Carbon Company, a start-up that is developing a microbial treatment for seeds with the potential to increase the level of organic carbon in the soil in which they are planted.

It also committed A$8 million to Tenacious Venturesinaugural fund, which held a first close on A$20 million in Q1 2020, and invested A$100 million in Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets’ agriculture platform in 2018.

The Australian government said it will explore opportunities to partner with industry and researchers to improve soil carbon measurement, the cost of which currently acts as a barrier in Emissions Reduction Fund soil carbon projects.

Energy minister Angus Taylor said the government will launch a “soil carbon innovation challenge,” where industry and researchers can put forward proposals for meeting the goal of lowering measurement costs to less than A$3 per hectare per year.

A Technology Investment Framework, published as part of the statement, aims to leverage a 3.5x level of co-investment from the private sector and other levels of government in supporting the wider strategy. The government said the soil carbon measures would be supported by the Emissions Reduction Fund, which is administered by the Clean Energy Regulator.

The CEFC said in a statement that its investments had helped drive more than A$27.3 billion in additional private sector investment commitments Australia-wide since its inception.

“This experience and our commercially rigorous investment practices will enable the CEFC to continue to spearhead investment in new and emerging technologies, as foreshadowed in the Low Emissions Technology Statement,” it said.

A ministerial reference panel of industry figures that advised Taylor in advance of the Low Emissions Technology Statement’s publication will also be made permanent, chaired by Australia’s chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel. Macquarie Group managing director and CEO Shemara Wikramanyake will be one of the seven members of that panel.