Streamlining carbon removal projects


Sustainability, 16.02.2024

We all know how difficult it is to fill out tax forms at the end of the year. Imagine how dire of a process it is to assess carbon projects and generate carbon credits. Berlin based start-up PLENO set out to simplify the process significantly. Our columnist Markus Sekulla talked to PLENO Co-Founder Nura Linggih to find out how climate project applications can be simplified to the max.

PLENO: Streamlining carbon removal projects  

Hi Nura, it's good to have you here. Let’s start easy: Can you give us an intro? Who are you? What does your start-up PLENO do?

Hi Markus, thanks for having me. My name is Nura, and I'm originally from Indonesia. I've been living in Germany for the last five years, where I moved to do my master's at that time, during my MBA at WHU business school. My background is always on sustainability. I've been working in Indonesia, Asia, Australia, and then spent many years in Germany in tech companies, either working on internal sustainability or helping companies on carbon management. From these experiences, I learned that companies are trying to reduce a lot of carbon emissions, but there are some parts that cannot be avoided. That's why companies are either investing or buying carbon credits. This is what triggers me to learn about it. I've been engaged with many carbon projects, especially nature-based projects, and learned that there are many challenges in the industry.

That's why, since last year, I was trying to find someone that can support me in my journey and find the best solutions to solve the problem and the nature-based project market. That's where I got in touch with my childhood friend, now my co-founder, Nino. Nino is half Indonesian, half German. We spent the same primary school a long time ago and met again in Berlin. Fortunately, he is a software engineer with a focus on AI and machine learning. When I pitched the idea to him, he said, "If it's a difficult problem, I'm in."

PLENO is an automation platform for carbon projects. We help carbon project developers and corporates assess various projects globally using satellite and AI solutions. Currently, we're focusing on blue carbon, everything related to marine ecosystems or wetland ecosystems.

How many people are working for you? Is it just you two?

We are working full time, so it's me and my co-founder. Now we have several freelancers supporting us. An external team, half of them is to build a product, engineers. The other half includes forestry and marine experts to support on the scientific side.

“This is what we're trying to do with PLENO for the process to assess carbon projects and generate carbon credits: simplifying and automating a very complex process.”

Nura Linggih, CEO & Co-Founder of PLENO

Let's dive into what PLENO does. Can you describe it as if I were a four-year-old?

Everyone who is familiar with the process of filing tax returns in Germany knows how complex filling out forms can be. And then you might have heard of a software solution like Taxfix that is trying to help people who are not familiar with the process to do tax file returns. This is what we're trying to do with PLENO for the process to assess carbon projects and generate carbon credits: simplifying and automating a very complex process.    

They need to follow certain standards, ensure that the calculations are correct, and follow the required methodology. Currently, many of these projects globally need support either from experts or consultancies to make sure that what they are doing is following the standards and the calculation is correct and accurate to be certified and issued credits. On the other hand, many nature-based projects are under strong pressure to prove that they are not overestimating the expected carbon emissions sequestered. This is why we’d like to streamline the whole process by developing a software that integrates directly to data sources such as satellite and scientific databases and uses machine learning to accurately estimate the carbon emissions. 

What makes you stand out from your competition?

What sets PLENO apart from other player in the space is our emphasis on process automation. Beyond basic data provision and monitoring dashboards.

One example of our distinctive approach is developing an algorithm designed to predict carbon removal in a given area by benchmarking to the surrounding ecosystem. We use computer vision and machine learning to analyze similar ecosystems in proximity and look into the historical growth of that ecosystem from the last 30 years. For instance, when assessing a mangrove area, the system automatically identifies nearby mangroves and examines their historical growth, considering factors such as tree height and bio mass. This helps projects to move away from using proxy data from scientific journals to regional data.

Furthermore, we are actively developing a model for automatic identification of different tree species. This advancement aims to enhance precision in estimating carbon absorption by understanding the specific types of trees present in an area.

Can you describe the moment where you found this idea? The moment you thought, “Wow, this could really be something“?

I think as many other founders, it doesn't come overnight; it comes from personal challenges. I was looking into various carbon projects at that time to understand the market and to see which one is of good quality for the companies What I've found out is that these projects are really complicated and they all have to put together a huge report, sometimes hundreds of pages long, filled with lots of calculations that are done manually.

There was no aha moment but an endless pondering about the problem. What if we can simplify the whole process, meaning projects can improve the way they calculate the expected carbon removal to increase accuracy, while at the same time reduce the time needed and lower the costs.

It’s also important to note that this is a billion dollar problem and expected to grow rapidly as more and more companies are setting net zero emissions target.

You said you started in summer 2023. What is your most important milestone for 2024?

I'll start from last year, where we raised our first funding after completing an incubation programme, received grants from EIT Climate-KIC carbon removal programme supported by Munich RE and ERGO, and also accepted to the European Space Agency business incubation Northern Germany which would accelerate our earth observation technological development.

This year, we have a clear milestone to launch our full product in the next months and help various blue carbon projects globally. We are also preparing to expand to other categories such as forestry and agriculture so that we can serve more customers and create more impact with an efficient and accurate measurement of carbon credits, which is the sole reason why PLENO exist.

Most entrepreneurs in the green tech sphere feel that they are in a rush to scale up because the world is in a climate urgency. I would like to have your opinion on whether the climate change glass is it half full or half empty?

When I get into these discussions, I like to compare with my personal experience, especially from my background growing up in the global south. When I came to Europe, for example, I saw that climate or the environment is a fragile ecosystem that we need to do everything that we can to protect them. Where I came from, we have a philosophy to live together with the environment. Balancing social and environmental harmony, action and reaction.

Yes, there is an urgency to fight climate change and we need to do our best. But also, the most important thing is ensuring sustainable development specially in least developed region but most affected by climate change, such as in Africa, and Asia or Latin America. What they need is financing, to develop projects that could reduce emissions globally while also improving their livelihood. This is one example what we need to move fast, ensuring that climate financing is flowing in to the most impactful efforts globally. By cutting down the redtape and rent seekers and involving local and indigenous communities in the discussion.

“If I can inspire at least one person to start a project on climate, it is already an impact that I am proud of.”

Nura Linggih, CEO & Co-Founder of PLENO

What are you doing on a more personal level to fight climate change? Is there anything aside from your start-up that you're doing?

I am a big fan of thinking at the macro level. Meaning that, of course, at the micro level, you can do things to be more sustainable at home or reduce your flight and so on. But at the macro level, what I can contribute most is raising awareness about climate change. For example, I used to write a blog about how new technologies like blockchain can be used for various sustainability use cases. Now, I am focusing on sharing my stories as a climate tech entrepreneur, especially for younger people in the global south. That they can take actions with their own hands to address the climate crisis by starting climate projects or building companies. As the wise man says, “If you can’t change it, build it”. If I can inspire at least one person to start a project on climate, it is already an impact that I am proud of.

Interview: Markus Sekulla

Markus Sekulla

Author: Markus Sekulla

Hi, I'm Markus. I'm a freelance management consultant in the field of creative/digital communication. In my free and working time, which is not always clear-cut, I like to focus on new work, trends, gadgets and sustainable iedas. In my real free time, I'm quite a health freak: eat, run, sleep, repeat.

Markus Sekulla on LinkedIn

Further Readings

What is the Carbon Removal ClimAccelerator?

Interview with Strategic Programmes Builder Carla Erber (EIT Climate-KIC) 

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