Cloud spectrometer reduces soil test costs for farmers

Founded in Newcastle in regional NSW, Hone Carbon has commercialised innovative new ways to measure carbon in soil, unlocking the potential for carbon storage in Australia’s agricultural environments.

According to co-founder and chief executive Dr Philip Ireland, Hone Carbon was set up initially in 2014 by a group of PhD students – Dr Antony Martin, Dr William Palmer and Dr Jamie Flynn – while at the University of Newcastle.

“Three PHD students based out of Newcastle University looked at spectroscopy and its ability to measure different things at a much lower cost than traditional methods. That technology was commercialised out of the university – and that’s the origin story,” Dr Ireland says, having joined Hone Carbon as CEO in 2020, bringing experience in governance, climate change, and policy.

The company – a finalist in the 2022 InnovationAus Awards for Excellence in the Food and AgriTech category – offers hardware and software that uses spectroscopy and machine learning to bring accurate analytical testing into the field. The winners will be announced at a black-tie gala at The Cutaway venue Barangaroo in Sydney on November 17. You can book your seat or reserve a table here.

Hone Carbon chief executive Dr Philip Ireland

Dr Ireland said Hone Carbon’s mission is to unlock the potential for carbon storage in Australian agriculture, and to become a global leader in the measurement, verification and optimisation of soil carbon projects.

The idea is to enable farmers and landholders to have the knowledge they need, when they need it, to make critical decisions about their crops and their farming practices.

“Building on six years of hardware and software development, we’re commercialising a hand-held, wireless, cloud-connected spectrometer that radically decreases the cost of soil testing.”

Specifically, the hardware and software measures a range of soil analytes, including soil organic carbon, across land management. It produces spectra using direct reflectance near-infrared (NIR) spectrometry to quantify soil carbon and other associated analytes.

“Our purpose in providing our chain of custody is to be the end-to-end soil contributor. We want to enable a healthy soil economy with project managers, regulators, landholders and scientists (for example, agronomists).”

‘Measure anything, anywhere, anytime’
Dr Ireland said the company’s solution is differentiated because it combines three separate technologies to provide a seamless experience for customers.

“We combine hardware – which is the spectrometer or the sensor that uses light to look at a material – that then connects to our proprietary machine learning platform, which then takes that data, generates a result, and then delivers it back to your phone or computer.”

With climate change a huge challenge, the vision is to enable anyone to “measure anything, anywhere, anytime” – and to widely lower the cost of measuring across the board.

“To address the challenge of climate change, we need to both reduce the emissions going into the atmosphere, and draw carbon out of the atmosphere,” Dr Ireland says.

“The challenge to date has been there’s no real way to measure and quantify that change. What we’re trying to do is to enable anyone, anywhere to quantify their soil carbon using spectroscopy so that it can be measured; but then farmers and land holders can also generate carbon credits, so they can be paid for their environmental custodianship.”

Global activity
Assembled in Newcastle, the hardware and software is already in use in regional NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia. The company also has commercial pilots in France, the US, and New Zealand.

To date, it has ten business customers and is on track to achieve approximately $500,000 in revenue after its first year of operation, the company said, with over $100,000 per month in the final few months of FY22.

Hone Carbon’s 2025 mission is to provide measurement to one million hectares of carbon farming projects by FY25, resulting in over $6.7 million in revenue and positioning Hone as the leading measurement provider for soil carbon projects in ANZ.

Going global is a major focus, Dr Ireland explained. The company has secured long-standing customers in India with ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics); and in the Philippines with IRRI ((International Rice Research Institute).

Both international programs focus on solving world hunger and malnutrition in third world countries, and empowering farmers to plant better crops and improve management procedures.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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