16th September 2022
We chat with Alexander Shenkin about his venture SilvaFlux, which aims to increase reforestation by leveraging a new climate cooling service provided by forests. This project is part of the Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) Accelerator 2022 Cohort.
Q: What is your academic background and what are you currently working on?
My academic background is pretty varied. I started my career as an electrical engineer, so I have a degree in Engineering Physics from the University of California at San Diego and worked for a number of years as an engineer for Lockheed and others, doing satellite communication and also software engineering. I have a master’s in engineering as well, and then I eventually moved laterally over to ecology. So I studied environmental science at Yale for a master’s and finally got a doctorate in interdisciplinary ecology at the University of Florida. I was at Oxford for eight years as a postdoc, and I’m now an assistant research professor at Northern Arizona University in the US.
Q: How did you come up with your venture idea? Why did you decide to focus on this idea?
It came from a collaboration that we dreamed up when a colleague was visiting Oxford and giving a talk, so it takes advantage of my research in 3D tree and forest structure and my colleague’s research in forest biogeochemistry. By combining our two research tracks, it turns out that we have come up with an entirely new climate cooling service provided by forests, and, together, we are able to scale that and understand its importance in individual forests as well as in the global carbon cycle. It turns out to be quite important and particularly important for reforestation, so we are hoping to use it to increase profitability of reforestation by issuing further carbon credits, and, from there, increasing the amount of reforestation that is happening, particularly in the tropics.
Q: What does your venture aim to achieve and how does it tackle the issue?
We aim to increase reforestation, both in the number of projects and the scale of the projects, globally and particularly in the tropics. We know that increasing the carbon stocks of forests is important to transitioning us to a zero carbon world, zero carbon economy. And we know that by reforesting as much as possible, we can decrease the peak warming of the globe by 10%. So we are aiming to make that a reality. We are going to do that by leveraging our discovery of a new climate cooling service provided by forests that will add value to reforestation projects by increasing the number of carbon credits that they are able to issue and therefore sell. Oftentimes, these reforestation projects are strapped for cash in the beginning, so either they don’t start in the first place or they fail. We are hoping to lower that hurdle to initiating and sustaining reforestation projects by improving their profitability.
Q: Who would be your ideal user?
To begin with, we are targeting project developers. These are companies that work with local landowners and others to establish reforestation projects, mostly in the tropics. That is our initial focus. We will also aim to focus more on a consultancy basis with national governments who have committed to report their greenhouse gas inventories to the UN. So as a consultant to them to help them integrate this new service into their inventories.
Q: How is the ARC Accelerator supporting you in bringing your venture to life?
I think the number one thing is that ARC has hooked me up with a mentor, Sarah Jones from the Creative Destruction Lab. She has been supremely helpful and has really helped to guide me. I know nothing about startups and business, so giving me the real primer for how to structure my venture and how to move forward with it has been invaluable.
Q: What have you learned through the programme that you will bring back to your work or research?
I think I will probably have more of an eye towards commercialisation, because I’m going through the process now and now also understand more about how that works. So, I think just more of an eye towards commercialisation opportunities overall.
Photo credit: Alexander Shenkin