Funga – a new carbon removal startup, is using a different approach that harnesses the power of nature to sequester CO2, bringing another climate change solution to the table. The company is reintroducing fungi to the tree environment to improve its fungal microbiome which accelerates the forests’ ability to sequester carbon.
In its recent paper published in Nature Microbiology, the company analyzed 80 experiments to show that native soil microbiome restoration can accelerate plant biomass production by 64% on average.
The company has just announced a $4M funding round and we used this occasion to interview Dr. Colin Averill, founder of Funga that explained in more detail the company’s climate approach, scale-up potential, and recent projects updates.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How was Funga created and why?
After 15+ years in academic research, I realized the forest microbiome, and particularly fungi, had the potential to drastically affect how much carbon was being stored in forests. Furthermore, we could do this while also restoring essential microbial biodiversity in both forestry and reforestation environments – rewilding the forest microbiome. The urgency of the biodiversity and climate crises led me to set aside research and build the Funga business to scale this science into biodiversity and climate solutions.
What are the climate change approach of Funga and its business model?
Funga core technology is the ability to reintroduce fungal biodiversity into forests, in the process accelerating tree growth and carbon removal from the atmosphere. To accomplish this, Funga reintroduces fungal biodiversity onto our partner forester owner’s land.
By doing so, we accelerate tree growth and wood production, a tree farmer’s first bottom line. This wood aboveground is also where our carbon removal outcome lives. We measure the additional carbon captured as a result of our work and sell this carbon removal on the voluntary carbon markets. Our first projects are already in the ground and are accruing carbon.
Funga is driving toward a vision of regenerative forestry as a win-win-win for the enormous community of people involved in producing timber, for fungal biodiversity, and for the climate. This is especially important as timber is expected to become a critical commodity in a low-carbon future if we aim to displace other high-emission building materials like concrete and steel.
We know nature is complex, so could you please describe your process of how you introduce biodiverse communities of fungi to accelerate plant growth, in a way that is simpler to understand? What types of fungi exactly do you introduce in nature and at what places?
All trees form a symbiosis with underground fungi through their roots, and this relationship helps the tree get the water and nutrients it needs. But through destructive agriculture practices like clear-cutting, the soil microbiome can become degraded, and might no longer contain the soil fungi that have historically been optimal for that environment.
Using historical forest data, soil samples, and weather data, we use algorithms to determine which fungi need to be reintroduced into an environment to restore the forest microbiome to its full potential. Unlike commercial microbial inoculant products, we do not provide a one-size-fits-all solution. Like any responsible restoration effort, we reintroduce biodiverse communities of microorganisms, capable of surviving and thriving under current and future environmental conditions.
A large body of work has formed over the past 20 years, conducted across ecosystems from forests to grasslands, showing restoration of wild soil microbial communities, and particular fungi, can accelerate plant biomass accumulation and carbon capture. We recently published a synthesis of this work in Nature Microbiology, showing that the reintroduction of wild soil microbial biodiversity can accelerate plant growth by an average of 64%across greenhouse and field studies.
In addition, we have been running an 11-hectare forest restoration project in Wales, UK testing the effect of soil microbiome restoration on forest regeneration. Results are still early and unpublished but suggest a 30-70% enhancement in tree growth and carbon capture.
Does your approach face any limitations in terms of the kinds of forest, soils, locations, etc. where it could be applied?
Every ecosystem on the planet has a microbiome, and so the potential for this work to generalize is potentially global. As we scale up and move our methodologies into new production tree species and different ecoregions for reforestation and restoration efforts, we need to collect large datasets on tree productivity and the soil microbiome to accurately inform soil microbiome restoration.
Our approach provides a scalable solution by integrating with existing forestry infrastructure and reforestation efforts. This allows us to more quickly gain information on managed landscapes where data and field collection efforts happen regularly.
What is the carbon removal achieved per acre of land, for example, using Funga’s technology? How is it calculated?
The degree of change is very dependent on the condition of the soil when we start the process, and while we can predict with a good degree of reliability the amount of additional carbon that will be stored in a given specific project, it wouldn’t be accurate to “zoom in” and make a per-acre claim. The CO2 removal is calculated by measuring the additional wood volume, which makes our monitoring of the projects extremely efficient, as foresters already monitor tree growth and wood volume regularly.
What is the durability or permanence of the CO2 removed using Funga’s methodology?
Funga only sells the carbon removal that is expected to stay out of the environment for 100+ years. When wood is harvested, 40% will end up on long-lived wood products such as building materials with 100+ year of durability.
Your company’s goal is to sequester at least 3 billion tons of CO2 through rewilding forests by 2050. How do you plan to achieve that?
We have an aggressive plan, continuing to rapidly expand our acreage by partnering with others, like forestry and large-scale reforestation projects which already operate at massive landscape scales. By doing so, we can introduce large-scale microbial solutions quickly.
What resources do you need to scale up?
To scale our efforts, we will eventually need to expand past the loblolly market, and even past the US forestry market. But most importantly, we need a sustained interest in carbon removal projects by corporations and governments.
Could you please share some more details about your first microbiome restoration project launched in Lexington, Georgia?
Our first project was a small, but important 2-acre field trial. This laid the groundwork for our first 100+ acres this year.
Have you planned further restoration projects?
Since our first planting in Lexington, GA, we have reforested over 50 hectares (~125 acres) of operational loblolly by planting 75,000+ seedlings with our soil fungi inoculations. Our efforts are now pivoting to the start of the next planting season (winter in the southeastern US), where we aim to plant 1.5 million seedlings across 1,000 hectares (2500 acres).
Could you please also tell us more about your partnership with Conservation Resources? Do you plan to partner with other companies?
We are partnering with Conservation Resources to scale-up capture carbon through fungal restoration in their working forests and restoration efforts. Conservation Resources owns and operates over half a million acres of southern timber, making them an excellent partner for our work. We are interested in meeting other major REIT working in southern timber!