Technology 3 min read

New "Mechanical Trees" Offer Cure for Climate Change

After successful tests, Arizona State University and Ireland-based startup will deploy 1,200 carbon-capturing "Mechanical Trees" in Arizona.

graphicsdunia4you / Shutterstock.com

graphicsdunia4you / Shutterstock.com

Trees have evolved to become powerful carbon-capture systems.

Trees suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and therefore contribute to reducing the impact of this main greenhouse gas on the global climate equilibrium.

During daylight, trees use photosynthesis to convert water and CO2 into energy in the form of carbs and oxygen. By night, the reverse process that takes place by which the tree converts sugars into carbon dioxide and water.

A single tree can capture 48 pounds of carbon per year and, over a 40-year lifetime, it can sequester 1 ton of carbon.

But what about artificial mechanical trees that are thousands of times more efficient?

Mechanical Trees: Powerful Carbon Sink

Professor Klaus Lackner, director of Center for Negative Carbon Emissions (CNCE) at Arizona State University developed an innovative carbon capture solution to help address the challenges of transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

This mechanical tree system acts like a tree “that is thousands of times more efficient” at removing carbon from the air. Captured carbon can then be sequestered in geological deposits or sold for industrial re-use.

The idea that professor Lackner first introduced in the 1990s, and which sounded nuts back then, is about to become real.

Arizona State University (ASU) and Dublin-based startup Silicon Kingdom Holdings (SKH) have partnered to deploy Lackner’s carbon-capture technology in Arizona.

Unlike other carbon-capture solutions, this system can pluck carbon from the air without the need for energy-intensive devices. It only takes the blowing wind to draw air through the system, which “makes it a passive, relatively low-cost and scalable solution that is commercially viable.”

“Each [mechanical tree] contains a stack of sorbent-filled disks. When the tree-like column is fully extended and the disks spread apart, airflow makes contact with the disk surfaces and the CO2 gets bound up.”

Read More: Why Sinking More Carbon in Soils is Vital to Paris Climate Pledges

SKH, which acquired the rights to Lackner’s technology and recruited him as a scientific adviser, ran a successful two-year test in Arizona.

Now, the company is planning a pilot project with 1,200 mechanical trees that together would eliminate 36,500 metric tons of carbon a year, the equivalent emissions of 8,000 cars per year.

Direct air capture technologies exist but high costs render any large scale deployment simply impossible. SKH, which didn’t disclose the costs of the pilot project, claims it would capture one metric ton of pure carbon for less than $100, and according to Lackner, this is where “things start to get economically interesting.”

Read More: Study Claims Climate Change Could Soon Eradicate Clouds

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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