In Flux: Former UK Army Officer Leads Revolutionary Rock-Weathering Company In Kenya

Flux is collaborating with UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification) and consulting with Remineralize the Earth on a mineral-rock trial with 50 smallholder Western Kenyan farmers. The company has hired a community engagement officer, onboarded trial participants, and GPS-mapped fields while acquiring and processing basalt rock, with aims to spread it before the next maize-cultivation tilling cycle — an organizational feat benefiting from the military background of the rock-weathering firm’s CEO, Sam Davies.

“On the ground, it’s really just a logistics operation. It’s about complicated processes that must be streamlined and repeated again and again at scale with large teams” he said. “That’s basically the military. I’m suited much more on the operational side rather than to the agronomy or geology, which is where we’re filling those gaps with real experts.”

Sam Davies, CEO of Flux Carbon

For Davies, his journey towards remineralization began with an upbringing in the center of a small English farming community in North Yorkshire, which offered him an early-life connection to agriculture. Further, his father is a stone mason. This meant that in his youth, Davies spent time in quarries learning about rocks. The most important driver towards Flux has been Davies’s undying urge to contribute to the betterment of the world through his natural talents and ambition.

“Really, I tried to look at myself from an outside perspective and think, ‘If I was going to pick up Sam and put him down somewhere to be most useful for the world, then where would I put him?’ With that, I kind of settled on the fact that actually, I have the skillset to lead an impactful start-up and a company that enhanced rock weathering needs.”

Prior to his current vocation, Davies served as an officer in the British Army for six years and retired as a captain. What followed was an “incubating period” whereby he sought to do something as impactful and purposeful as military service. “That’s when I realized the thing for me is climate change and figuring out how to help solve global warming and the crisis that the world is in now.” 

Eventually, Davies moved to Nairobi with his partner, who works in conservation. The two became involved in the Kenyan climate scene and found inspiration from start-ups in carbon dioxide removal (CDR). Davies began to focus on rock weathering and using rock dust on crops. For the past year, the Flux cofounder has researched academic solutions globally, conducting trials in Kenya before now scaling up his efforts in this field. 

“Our ambition is to be one part of a bigger movement to help restore and remineralize our soils, and to capture CO2. We want to be part of an ecosystem that shares data and what we have learned here. I’m sure there are many comparable geographies and geologies around the world where what we’re doing will be appropriate.”

About Flux

For its part, Flux is a pioneering CDR company focused on restoring African soils whilst permanently capturing CO2. Utilizing crushed rock dust high in calcium and magnesium, such as basalt, the organization strives to remove one billion tonnes of CO2, contributing significantly to the global goal of achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century.

Sam Davies and exploratory geologist Cavince Adhiambo at a quarry in Kenya

In collaboration with UNCCD, the firm currently works with regional small farmers on the above-mentioned remineralization trials, hiring staff and identifying key stakeholders and operational areas, onboarding nearly all participants with an app to collect data and for GPS mapping. Davies is in the process of acquiring and processing suitable rocks from a quarry for the project. Corn is the target crop.

“When we did the initial onboarding, only  five percent of the farmers had ever conducted a soil test on their land, yet 45 percent were applying some sort of synthetic fertilizers. These statistics speak directly to the problem we are hoping to solve — giving farmers knowledge, and providing them with natural methods to remineralise their soils with what is needed.”

Biochar is not included in the current trial, Davies said, but that is something they are keen to incorporate in future trials. Further, he noted, Flux is developing an 800-acre farm in Western Kenya to be its research center. “Working with small farmers is fantastic, and operationally we learn a lot, but statistically it’s not the best experiment design. This farm gives us control to do a lot more variations and scientific rigor on how we conduct those experiments to get some cleaner data.”

He added: “Right now, we’re internally funded by the Tamu Group, and are currently raising our seed round. On the business-model side, we are also engaging with pre-purchase buyers of carbon credits and applying to funds like Frontier Climate and Milkywire to help accelerate our research.”

Technology Matters

Flux Carbon training day at KALRO FARMING.

A significant component of Flux’s business model involves tapping into the burgeoning carbon credit market. To ensure profitability in this evolving market, noted Davies, customers must be able to trust his firm’s data. As such, Flux has partnered with leading African climate platform CYNK to ensure transparency through cutting-edge technology, including GPS trackers, satellite imagery, as well as blockchain.

“One of the best ways to produce trust is through technology, recording data and having an audit trail,” he said, adding that Flux also accounts for emissions used to produce its carbon credits, working with a fuel-monitoring systems developer as an example. “They developed the tech for anti-theft purposes, but we just want to know precisely how many liters of fuel have been burned moving rock from place to place. At the first link in the chain, we know our emissions.”

During the Kenyan trials, Flux is also implementing a series of applications that track movement on some of the older equipment that small farmers tend to use. The whole system of data will be contained within a blockchain platform, allowing users to record transactions and share information securely.

“The thing about the blockchain is it creates a certificate that can’t be altered once it has been generated. Once we create a credit that’s on chain, someone buys the credit to offset their unavoidable emissions. They will be able to look down in that certificate and see all this data. The end point we want to get to is end-to-end transparency, with someone buying our credit, knowing the full journey and seeing the science and data behind it. Tech will have to play a huge part if this is to scale.”

Next Steps

Rock dust

Currently, along with the Kenya trials, Flux has agreed to a memorandum of understanding with a Senegal agricultural development company to pilot ERW on 20,000 hectares of Alfalfa farm. “We’ve sent our geologists up to Senegal, who have mapped and tested some of the quarries, finding suitable basalt that shows good potential. We’ll also be conducting a trial with them in Q1 2024.”

Meanwhile, Davies hopes to increase his company’s partnerships with academic researchers and tap into the broader scientific community as a source for much-needed expertise. “One of my big jobs at the moment is hiring the science team to push this forward. We’re at a place where we’re clarifying carbon removal. We need scientific rigor.”

Flux is “reaching out” to institutions in the U.S., U.K., and across Europe, collaborating with them on projects that are still in the discussion phases, but that Davies hopes to do on this company’s research farm. “The ambition is [that] these global scientific hires we make can then lead a Kenyan team of scientists here. A big part of it for us is unlocking the local talent that has been in Africa.”

RTE Advantage

Taking a soil sample in the field. Community members trained by Flux Carbon to take soil samples, which according to Sam Davies allows “them to accurately and efficiently collect randomised representative soil samples from their farms.

According to Davies, RTE has proven incredibly valuable in terms of facilitating initial connections with experts in the enhanced rock weathering community. Further, he noted, networking with RTE executive director Joanna Campe has proven to be “super interesting” and helped him understand how remineralization works and how to do it properly.

“For early developers of rock weathering, [RTE] is really a delightful resource. Moving forward, the traction and press that’s made by working with the organization is super important as well,” said Davies. “I think that being part of an ecosystem and group of organizations all working towards the same thing is also invaluable. It motivates everyone within that ecosystem that’s working towards the same goal. For us, that’s super motivating.”

He added: “There are a lot of different [remineralization] views out there. And so, at the moment, we’re a learning organization. We’re not saying that we’re doing everything right. We’re keen to hear from everybody.”

Gathering rock dust for the fields.

Carter Haydu is a senior content creator for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. Since 2012, he also has written about the Canadian energy sector for a Calgary-based trade publication. Carter has been a journalist since 2005, with much of his reporting delving into the environmental issues facing upstream oil and gas. He has written for Remineralize the Earth since 2018.

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