Synthetic Trees

Could we scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere with synthetic trees? I recently read about this invention. Essentially, it’s a box designed to capture carbon dioxide (CO2), similar to how trees and forests naturally capture CO2. In our efforts to control greenhouse gases, perhaps we’ll be installing CO2 collecting windfarm-like installations of these synthetic forests in remote areas.

Synthetic Trees - Image from Stonehaven Productions
Image from Stonehaven Productions

The prototype synthetic trees produced by Global Research Technologies have 1000x better rate of CO2 uptake then an actual tree. So, what does a synthetic tree look like?

“This tree looks a bit like a box, think of a rectangular box standing up on its end. It’s current rendition is about 9-10 ft tall and is taller then it is wide or deep. [..] Inside the box there are hanging vertical panels of material that do act similar to leaves in that they have an affinity for or they attract CO2 which sticks to them. Now a leaf is a little different because leaves do many more things. They give off oxygen, they make food for the tree, etc. etc. This material just picks up CO2 and does it at a rate that is much more efficient then a tree would.”

Engineer Alan Wright, from Global Research Technologies talking to National Geographics News in the Jan 4, 2008 Podcast

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Joanne often gets really excited when she talks about Science. Luckily, she works in the Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory, the educational arm of the Michael Smith Labs. She likes all kinds of science but has a special spot in her heart for biology, technology, and well, sports. As a scientist and educator at UBC, she hopes that she never becomes so specialized that she loses her global perspective. (When she gets around to writing an intro post, I'm sure that she'll link to it here).

5 Responses to “Synthetic Trees”

  1. Sam Dance

    I understand these devices are solar powered and can be placed along mountain and desert ridges. They capture CO2 and sunlight, and through a form of photosynthesis release oxygen, and form carbon crystals, which drop to the ground around the support towers. Maintenance workers come along periodically to clean the synthetic diamonds from the ground, and to clear the intakes of the collectors.

  2. Brenda

    More like giant fly swatters… but very interesting indeed!

  3. Joanne

    Hi Sam,

    Your description sure sounds ideal. I think that was the hope for many of these synthetic trees when they were first invented. However, from what I’ve read about this particular prototype of synthetic trees it works a little differently.

    These fly swatting cheese grater trees use a sorbent* material to capture CO2. *sorbent means to “suck up stuff” – I had to look it up. Essentially, it acts like a trap for CO2. It’s not actually doing photosynthesis and turning CO2 into oxygen. Instead, it’s just capturing the CO2. In fact, the makers say that these synthetic trees are 1000x better at capturing CO2 as compared to a real tree. From the information on this FAQ, they end up washing the CO2 off the collector sheets using a chemical reaction. Chemistry 101 in action.


  4. Terry » Archive » Upcoming UBC Talk: Carbon Storage

    […] Interestingly, nearly all of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by humans originated from long term storage reservoirs – coal, oil and natural gas stored deep within the Earth’s crust. ┬áThe question now is whether we can put it back (for a chemical solution covered on Terry*, see Joanne’s post here). […]

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