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Mechanical trees to fight climate change

A new direct air capture technology could be useful for sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
In nature, as it is known, trees act as great carbon dioxide suckers and therefore are very useful to fight climate warming. Thanks to their efficiency, therefore, some scientists are seriously thinking of creating a “mechanized version” of them. Robotic trees are able to suck CO2 from the atmosphere.

In a recent interview published in Inverse, Arizona State University professor Klaus Lackner, a pioneer in direct air capture and carbon storage, explained that his lab is looking for a way to develop mechanical trees. These could represent the future of CO2 captured directly from the air, thus helping to curb the problem of climate change.

Mechanical trees in a desert environment

Not just “robot trees”

Talking about mechanical trees is not referring to fake trees with branches joined with bolts, but more like cylinders much more similar to common heaters. In fact, these are tall vertical columns of disks coated with a chemical resin. About 1.5 meters in diameter and with the disks about 2 inches apart. When air blows through, the surfaces of the discs absorb CO2. After about 20 minutes, the disks are precooled and sink into a barrel below. Then water and steam are sent in to release the CO2 into an enclosed environment. The result would then be a low-pressure mixture of water vapour and CO2.

Lackner explained how his mechanical trees would use less energy than other high-intensity carbon capture projects. But he also cautioned that better carbon storage will have to be key, or else in the future humans may find themselves battling another problem – that of captured carbon once it escapes.

Rendering of Mechanical Trees
Rendering of Mechanical Trees 

An increasingly confirmed trust.

Lackner also said he is concerned about the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) approach.

“The DOE is scaring me because they make it sound like the technology is already ready. After neglecting the technology for 30 years, we can’t just say there are companies that know how to replicate it and all we have to do is push it forward. We have to assume that this is a nascent technology. Climeworks is the largest company directly capturing CO2 for commercial purposes, and it sells for between $500 and $1,000 per ton, which is too high a price,”

Lacker

In July 2021, Arizona State University announced that Lackner had received $2.5 million in funding from the Department of Energy to work on its CO2 capture devices. Lackner has already built three farms capable of absorbing 1,000 tons of CO2 per day, and the first of those will open for business in April of this year.

the process of operation of mechanical trees

Below are other insights on all the tools and disruptive innovations that the science of the future is developing to save the planet:

1. Are space solar power stations on the horizon?

2. 3D printed school – an innovative, sustainable and humanitarian solution

3. Vindø: The world’s first energy island

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