Co-innovating sustainable solutions to challenges across agricultural value chains: A view from the world of energy

Author: Jeremy Shears

To deliver on Shell’s net-zero commitment, we are reducing emissions from our operations, and from the fuels and other energy products, we sell to our customers. Promising solutions to support our efforts include using and providing more low-carbon energy and deploying technology to safely capture and store carbon emissions. For the remaining emissions, we use and offer carbon credits including credits from nature-based projects. We also work with our customers, sector-by-sector, to change and grow demand for innovative low-carbon energy products and services. One of these sectors is the agricultural sector. Our strategic thinking and innovation agenda in this domain involve identifying and working with partners from top universities and research institutes worldwide to develop and de-risk technology to increase carbon storage in biomass and soils while supporting food security. With successful acquisitions like that of SelectCarbon2 and company creations like Quanterra,3 Shell is looking for more companies to partner with on the journey to net-zero.

In line with this goal, Shell has partnered with SVG VenturesITHRIVE to launch the Climate-Smart Agriculture Challenge4 to identify and support start-up and scale-up innovators driving the global transformation to climate-smart agriculture practices.

From an applicant pool of almost 400 companies emerged three winners, SilicateCarbon, Gazelle, and Lucent Bio. They each bring an opportunity to use innovative soil improvement technology to reduce the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and will be supported by Shell in de-risking their technology further. Working together with such innovators is very exciting for us in Shell’s technology organization.


Shell aims to accelerate innovation in several key areas such as agroforestry, rice cultivation, and digital agtech solutions, among others, to make the agriculture sector more sustainable. As Chief Scientist for Biosciences, I lead the company’s strategic thinking and innovation agenda in this domain, and my organization focuses on areas such as bioenergy, the use of natural ecosystems as carbon sinks, and developing chemicals from renewable feedstocks. We identify, de-risk, and bring to commercial maturities technology to produce better biofuels, including sustainable aviation fuels, and grow the availability of carbon credits5. By working together with other stakeholders, we can make the agriculture sector more sustainable and reduce the effects of climate change.

Beyond the Climate-Smart Agriculture Challenge, Shell has undertaken a number of initiatives to help reduce carbon emissions in agriculture to increase the availability of carbon credits from nature-based projects. For example, we work with farmers to increase soil carbon with alternative grazing practices and help them achieve broader benefits in ecosystem services, productivity, and risk management while improving biodiversity. The area of agriculture-based carbon credits make up only about 1% of the total global voluntary carbon offsets (15-20M tons)6. This highlights great opportunity, especially when compared to the potential for global soil carbon sequestration at an estimated 5.5B tons.7 By 2030, we want to grow the availability of carbon credits from the agricultural sectors by accelerating innovation in several key areas shown in the box below.

Shell recognizes that methane is also a significant greenhouse gas that must be mitigated. Rice cultivation, which makes up 12% of global methane emissions, is one of the agricultural practices that need urgent attention. Shell is involved in several R&D projects for rice cultivation. These projects replace the traditional continuous flooding method for rice cultivation with an intermittent flooding technique, allowing for controlled irrigation and drainage according to rice growth, saving water and reducing methane emissions.8

There are great hurdles across the environmental landscape with even greater opportunity to solve them. At Shell, there are continued efforts to come up with and foster solutions to these challenges with the Climate-Smart Agriculture Challenge
being one of the many ventures. Through these efforts, Shell is
taking strides to push forward innovation for agriculture, helping
make the future more sustainable.


Integrated offers by Shell for the agriculture and forestry value chains


1 Shell’s operating plan, outlook and budgets are forecasted for a ten-year period and are updated every year. Our current operating plans do not reflect our 2050 net-zero emissions target. Read the full disclaimer on www.shell.com/our-climate-target.
2 https://www.shell.com.au/media/2020-media-releases/shell-to-acquire-environmental-services-company-select-carbon.html
3 https://qtsys.com/
4 https://thriveagrifood.com/shell-challenge/
5 Carbon credits are certificates representing quantities one tonne of carbon dioxide, or in some markets, carbon dioxide equivalent gases that have been kept out of the air or removed from it. McKinsey estimates that in 2020, buyers retired 95 million carbon credits. The volume of VCM credits could increase by 15 times from 2020 to 2030. Sources:https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/sustainability/our-insights/a-blueprint-for-scaling-voluntary-carbon-markets-to-meet-the-climate-challenge ; https://climatefocus.com/so-what-voluntary-carbon-market-exactly/
6 https://gspp.berkeley.edu/research-and-impact/centers/cepp/projects/berkeley-carbon-trading-project/offsets-database
7 https://www.carbonbrief.org/restoring-soils-could-remove-up-to-5-5bn-tonnes-of-greenhouse-gases-every-year/

About the Author
Jeremy Shears
Jeremy Shears
Chief Scientist Biosciences, Shell

Jeremy Shears is Shell’s Chief Scientist for Biosciences since 2018. He leads the company’s strategic thinking and innovation agenda in bioscience. His work areas include bioenergy, the use of natural ecosystems as carbon sinks and producing chemicals from renewable 

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