Energy Efficiency

Nationwide protocol for storing carbon proposed

BCarbon, developed by a working group at Rice University, is a scalable soil carbon storage standard designed to work for landowners and soil carbon storage buyers. Ten principles are highlighted.

By Jeff Falk November 4, 2020
Courtesy: Steve Rourke, CFE Media

A working group led by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy has developed a measurement-based standard — “BCarbon” — for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil as organic carbon. BCarbon is a scalable soil carbon storage standard designed to work for landowners and soil carbon storage buyers. The proposed standard allows landowners to monetize soil carbon storage as a property right.

The proposed system is designed to enhance economic resilience for both the agricultural and industrial communities, offering solutions that could result in a new multibillion-dollar market while restoring the robust ecosystem of the native prairie and grasslands, the group said. This proposed standard is voluntary and designed specifically to work for landowners and businesses in the United States. The approach could unlock the potential for removal, storage and certification of upwards of 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

The group, established in fall 2019, is co-led by attorney Jim Blackburn, a professor in the practice of environmental law at Rice.

“The proposed system is practical, will work for landowners and is absolutely needed now in our attempts to address atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide,” Blackburn said. “This effort has the potential to transform ranching and farming in the U.S., restore ecological systems and help carbon emitters by providing lower-cost carbon capture and storage options. It is a win-win-win concept.”

BCarbon will have robust independent verification and certification requirements to ensure the validity of soil carbon storage. Implementation of BCarbon will therefore require the creation of an independent certification process by establishing a 501(c)(3) nongovernmental entity to certify credits. This entity will likely be based in Houston and will be part of a Houston-centered effort to establish global leadership in the emerging carbon market.

“Nature-based solutions are gaining traction in climate policy discussions around the world,” said Kenneth Medlock, a senior director of the Center for Energy Studies. “BCarbon presents an opportunity to establish a new value chain in the agricultural sector that will commercialize soil carbon measurement. This will, in turn, accelerate a nascent market that has enormous potential to serve growing demands to offset corporate carbon footprints rooted in an expanding array of net-zero aspirations.”

BCarbon is comprised of 10 principles:

  • Principle 1: The credits under this system are issued for the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by photosynthesis and storage in the soil as carbon.
  • Principle 2: Any landowner who sequesters carbon dioxide in the soil within a given calendar year is eligible for soil storage payments for that year.
  • Principle 3: Transactions may occur on an annual basis after an initial declaration of intent to participate in the soil carbon sales program and the initiation of soil carbon testing requirements.
  • Principle 4: Transactions can be based upon estimated values subject to verification. Soil carbon testing is required for verification.
  • Principle 5: To become eligible for payments, a landowner must agree that the land will be maintained and protected in a way that promotes and protects soil health and landscape ecological health for 10 years. Transactions occurring in subsequent years will require renewal of the 10-year commitment, creating a “rolling” 10-year requirement.
  • Principle 6: Landowners are not required to manage their land in any particular fashion. However, certain land management techniques will lead to greater carbon sequestration than others.
  • Principle 7: A buffer account will be maintained to ensure all credits issued under this standard are protected against failure risks.
  • Principle 8: It is anticipated and specifically allowed that third-party entities will act as assemblers (also described as “aggregators”) of credits creating the market between buyers and sellers.
  • Principle 9: All credits issued under this standard must be certified.
  • Principle 10: All credits certified under this standard may be bought and sold until retired, with all transactions being recorded with the certification entity.

The principles are endorsed by the diverse group of 38 organizational stakeholders from nongovernmental organizations, governmental entities, corporations, universities and consulting firms as well as numerous individuals.


Jeff Falk
Author Bio: Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.