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Offsetting Your Carbon Footprint with Blockchain Technology


Bri Wylde

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Blockchain innovation continues to forge ahead, with use cases expanding to support social missions and environmental sustainability. One such project is (Task), a mobile-first technology built on the Stellar blockchain that focuses on helping social organizations gather data, provide incentives, and report on impact. Among many partners, Task works with impact venture Biochar Life to educate and engage smallholder farmers in developing countries on how to produce and use biochar. For every metric ton of carbon sequestered in the biochar process, one Stop the Smoke (STS) token is minted on Stellar and sold to those looking to offset their carbon footprint. Then, a portion of those funds goes back to the farmers to incentivize the creation of additional biochar.

That was a bit of a mouthful! Let’s break it down a bit. I had the chance to talk with Steve Walker and Matt Rickard, co-founders of Task, to learn about how Biochar Life, Task, and Stellar interoperate and the partnership’s exciting future.

So for starters…

What’s so great about biochar, anyway?

In developing countries, farmers typically burn organic agricultural waste (corn cobs, corn stalks, tree branches, leaf litter, seed pods, etc.) in open fields to speed up the farming process. This method releases large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, decreases soil fertility over time, and increases the need for expensive chemical fertilizers.

“In North Thailand, the pollution levels are extremely high during the burning season. It’s shocking,” says Steve, who currently resides in Thailand.

Producing and using biochar is a much more beneficial and effective alternative to open field burning. Biochar is a lightweight charcoal-like substance made from burning organic agricultural waste (also called biomass) in a controlled process with very little oxygen. As the materials burn, they release little-to-no carbon dioxide or methane, and the biomass is turned into biochar — a stable form of carbon that can’t easily escape into the atmosphere. And better still, the biochar can then be used for fertilizer, composting, and animal feed.

So, now that we’ve determined that producing biochar is a much better technique than open field burning, the focus becomes:

How to encourage smallholder farmers to use biochar

This is where Task and Biochar Life come in. Biochar Life representatives instruct participating farmers in developing countries on how to produce and use biochar. Then, the reps record all the farmers’ subsequent biochar-producing activities in the blockchain-powered mobile application developed by Task.

The necessary data inputted includes: how the biochar was produced, how much biochar was produced, the chemical analysis, and how the biochar was used once produced. When this data is submitted, it is verified by the Biochar Life team and committed to the Stellar blockchain to ensure it is permanent and publicly available.

For every entry, a formula calculates how much carbon dioxide was sequestered during the biochar process, and STS tokens are minted against this positive environmental impact. One STS token is created per one metric ton of carbon sequestered. STS tokens are then available for purchase on the Stellar decentralized exchange to any individual or organization looking to offset their carbon footprint. A portion of the liquidity generated from purchasing STS tokens is then used to pay the participating farming communities.

Because this data is recorded on the blockchain, the value is transparent and publicly available. Let’s explore how that looks a little more.

The value of STS tokens

There are several possible ways to issue assets on Stellar. Two of the most common approaches are to either (1) mint a large supply of tokens initially by sending them from the issuing account to the distribution account and then locking the issuing account; or (2) mint assets individually over time. The best method for asset issuance on Stellar really depends on your use case.

Task takes the latter approach with the STS tokens. STS tokens are minted individually and retroactively against the positive environmental impact of the production of biochar. One STS token is created for every one metric ton of carbon sequestered and recorded in the Task app, which means that every individual token has value — and the environmental impact data is audited and stored on the blockchain for everyone to see.

This value can be easily viewed. By not minting all STS tokens right off the bat, it is easier to see the journey and impact the project has from its inception. You can see its value and growth over time using Stellar Expert. It’s pretty cool — check it out here: navigate to Stellar Expert's STS page and let’s talk about what we see.

There have been (at the time of this article) 34 STS tokens minted, which means 34 metric tons of carbon have been sequestered through the Biochar Life and Task partnership.

Scroll down the page and click on an operation with accompanying memo text. Then copy and paste the memo into your address bar.

From this view, you should see the verified biochar data and pictures relating to a particular project.

What’s next for the Stellar, Task, and Biochar Life partnership

As with any project, there are always opportunities for growth and improvement - whether that’s enhancing what is already there or introducing additional capabilities. “The business is pivoting quite rapidly,” says Steve, who talks about how the MoneyGram-Stellar integration and issuance of NFTs on Stellar have the potential to provide unique solutions for the Biochar Life project.

There is a huge opportunity to make the current process more efficient, convenient, and decentralized with the launch of MoneyGram’s global crypto-to-cash services on Stellar. Currently, paying the participating farmers is a manual procedure requiring Biochar Life representatives to personally deliver the funds to the farmers’ locations. With the MoneyGram integration, Task hopes to make it possible for participating farmers to receive their assets in their Task wallet and then cash out those digital assets for fiat at a local MoneyGram location. This would allow for greater autonomy and scalability of the project.

In addition, Task (by way of their sister company, The Blue Marble) is experimenting with issuing NFTs instead of STS tokens to represent the carbon sequestered (see an example here: Carbon sink and social impact certificate). This would permit the project to go to places where open field burning is popular and talk to that population about investing in this project to encourage biochar production and improve the overall health of their area. Interested individuals would then be able to invest in the project by buying all (or a portion of) an NFT and earning dividends on their interest over time.

“We’re at the beginning of a five to ten-year journey to solidify and mature digital assets inside the environmental space. The value of Stellar’s environmental credentials can’t be understated given the concerns about blockchain energy use, and we have a window of opportunity to lead this adoption.” – Steve Walker, co-founder of Task

As you can imagine, the possibilities that blockchain brings to social missions and environmental sustainability are significant. Keep an eye on and The Blue Marble to see how they continue to bring innovation to the space!