In 2002, two mycologists wondered if atmospheric CO2 could be sequestered in soil using ectomycorrhizal mycelium. The academic literature said it was possible, but there was no work in the field showing real-world results. They theorized that not only would mycelium help sequester carbon in soil, but would allow plants to exchange nutrients between species.
The enterprising mycologists developed a unique blend of mycelium and applied it to dozens of sites in Chicago, including green roofs, urban farms, and vacant lots. Soil samples measuring carbon content before inoculation and one year after were tested at the prestigious Chicago Botanic Garden’s soil laboratory – and the results were astounding. This mycelium was able to sequester up to one hundred tons of CO2 and N2O in sites as small as 500 square feet (about 46 meters square). Additionally, mycelium improved overall plant health and helped them thrive through drought, heat waves, and smog.
Despite these astounding results, there wasn’t a well-developed carbon market in the US at that time. The two mycologists moved on with their careers and families, leaving this project to die on the vine.
What is Mycelium?
Mycelium forms a symbiotic friendship with the root systems of plants, extending them a thousandfold, and allowing the plant access to nutrients like phosphorus, more water, and protection from bacteria, viruses, and nematodes. The mycelium gets carbon in exchange to build its matrix below with soil. This matrix allows plants to exchange nutrients even between different species and the carbon stays in the soil nearly indefinitely. A great overview of this interconnection between the soil and the plants is given in Suzanne Simard’s TED Talk How Trees Communicate.
Why Mycelium is a Drawdown Solution
Fast forward to 2015 – Joseph Kelly, a lifelong entrepreneur and environmental activist, met one of the mycologists at a conference on climate change. Kelly was dismayed that all the solutions presented were mechanical rather than biological. He knew that plants were the best drawdown option for pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere, and that soil was the best repository for the carbon created.
Kelly bought the rights for the technology and invested his life savings to rebrand the company, revived the technology, and pitched it to hundreds of the world’s largest CO2 emitters. He also optimistic that with the signing of the Paris Agreement, companies would be looking for drawdown solutions that didn’t rely on fossil fuels.
Fossil Fuel Companies Seek Out Drawdown Solutions
By 2016 Cummins Diesel, the world’s 7th largest CO2 emitter, was interested in working with HiveMind to help them meet their carbon budget – they needed to eliminate 16.5 million tons of CO2 by 2025. HiveMind began two pilot projects, one on a green roof atop a diesel factory in the UK, and the second was a meadow outside a factory in Germany.
In the first pilot, 135 metric tons of CO2e were sequestered on the green roof, and over 200 tons in the meadow. The results were better than expected, and Cummins granted HiveMind $50,000 to have Energy Efficiency Verification Specialists (EEVS) review not only the pilots, but all the meta-data for all the sites, as well as in-depth analysis of the technology. After six months, EEVS verified all the results and technology as sound and Cummins became HiveMind’s first Fortune 200 company client.
Shell heard about the Cummins results through EEVS and requested HiveMind use their solution to help Shell eliminate over 230 million tons from their supply chain by 2030. This project begins in April, 2019 and includes covering gas stations in London with green roofs inoculated with mycelium. Shell already has mechanical drawdown technology, but the public visibility afforded by a family pulling up to a gas station with a green roof and a plaque explaining that the mycelium inside is drawing down CO2 is a game changer. Learn more in this PDF about how it works.
HiveMind is also in talks with IKEA, Engie (France’s largest utility), The Crown Estates, (the organization that manages all of the British royal families properties), and the Welsh Government’s Decarbonisation and Energy Division, among dozens of other energy, construction, governments, and power companies.
Until recently, the work of HiveMind has been focused in the UK and Europe, as the countries and companies that remain committed to the Paris Agreement have the greatest interest in innovative drawdown solutions like this.
Many Americans, frustrated by the current administration’s lack of climate policy and a feeling of hopelessness about domestic climate action, are inspired to take individual action. To empower such citizens, HiveMind is also launching a retail brand – NetZero. This solution, available May 2019, is a home-based mycelium solution used to sequester carbon in a lawn, garden, farm, forest, or an urban lot.
As traditional financing models are not always focused on mission-driven businesses, and a seed round is often too small for traditional VC or venture firms, HiveMind has partnered with WeFunder to do a seed raise of $107,000. They are offering an early adopter discount of 20%. This gives investors an opportunity to support HiveMind and join the fight against climate change. Learn more in the video below and on their campaign page at WeFunder.
Disclaimer: This article was sponsored by HiveMind. While we at CleanTechnica do like to promote companies and technologies we think are helping the world and have a bright future, we do not provide investment advice — use your own judgement or consult an investment professional if you are thinking about investment into a company or project.