Can Drones Capture Carbon Dioxide?

The British Startup BioCarbon Engineering develops drones to restore wetlands by planting mangroves. Wetlands sequester a huge amount of carbon dioxide in plants above ground and in the soil. In fact, they store five times more carbon dioxide than tropical forest.

The soil of mangrove forests alone may hold the equivalent of more than two years of global emissions—22 billion tons of carbon, much of which would escape if these ecosystems were lost.

Besides capturing carbon dioxide, mangroves provide protection from storm surges. Once restored, they clean the water and bring back marine animals.

Unfortunately, mangroves are being cleared at an alarming rate. More than half of the world’s mangrove forests have been lost in the last 50 years. That brings me back to BioCarbon Engineering’s drones and how they help to restore coastal wetlands. So, how does it work?

Drone crates a 3d map, drops seedlings, and monitors reforestation

First, a drone flies over the area to create a 3d map. This map is then used to decide where to plant. It drops biodegradable pods that are filled with a germinated seed and nutrients while recording each pod’s location. After planting the drone monitors the progress of the reforestation.

One of BioCarbon Engineering projects is in the Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park in Myanmar. Locals appreciate the restored mangrove forests because they are flood barriers and bring back crabs and fish. Long term success of the restoration can only be achieved with support from locals. Non-profits such as Worldview International Foundation work with local communities to train them to fly drones and monitor progress. Instead of making a living by selling the mangrove wood, locals are now making a living by restoring these wetlands.

And who pays for it? Non profits such as Sustainable Surf are launching projects for consumers and companies all over the world to finance the restoration of coastal ecosystems.

What I like most about BioCarbon Engineering is how the drones can scale up the reforestation of wetlands. We need all the help we can get to balance out our carbon dioxide emissions and this looks like a promising approach.

Sign up for weekly inspiration right in your inbox

Success! You're on the list.

How Studying Temples Lead to Carbon Capture

I read this inspiring afforestation story in one of my favorite books, Drawdown. The story is about Akiri Miyawaki, a Japanese botanist who developed a novel afforestation method.

In the 1970s and 1980s he realized most forest trees where not native trees to Japan. They had been introduced over centuries for timber. He studied original vegetation around shrines and temples and his idea was to reintroduce those native species back to Japan’s forests. This is the method he developed:

5 steps to growing a native forest
The Miyawaki method: 5 steps to growing a native forest

“The Miyawaki method calls for dozens of native tree species and other indigenous flora to be planted close together, often on degraded land devoid of organic matter. As these saplings grow, natural selection plays out and a richly biodiverse, resilient forest results”

Drawdown: the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to roll back global warming, Hawken – Penguin Books – 2018

He became a champion of creating indigenous, authentic forests. They are more resilient to climate change and other threads. Over the years he has planted more than 40 million trees around the world, from Brazil to France, India and China.

What I like most about his approach is that it only takes 2 years of watering and weeding for the plants to become self-sustaining and they are mature after only 10-20 years. These original forests are denser, more biodiverse, and capture and sequester more carbon than plantations. What an inspiring story. Let’s plant more forests!

Can a Planter Help Capture Carbon?

Native Forests are not only some of the most biodiverse systems, they are also some of the biggest carbon sinks on the planet. Trees store carbon not only aboveground in biomass but also below ground in the soil. To mitigate global warming we have to stop deforestation. But what about the forest we have already lost, can we re-grow it?

You can try and replant cleared forests but protecting those young saplings from the elements and ants is vital. It’s a hugely labor-intensive process that is too costly to carry out.

Bruno and Pedro Rutman, two brothers from Brazil, think we can replant native forest. The BBC highlights their ingenious invention, Nucleário. It is a device to regrow forest without the need for human maintenance.

Biodegradable planter with rainwater capture and weed and insect barrier
Biodegradable planter to protect saplings and provide water for the first three years

It is made from biodegradable materials that decompose after three years. In the first three years of the seedling’s growth, Nucleário protects it from ants and weeds, and provides captured rainwater.

What I like most about the idea is that it’s a complete system for rainwater capture, sapling protection, and it’s made out of biodegradable material.

Right now prototypes are being tested all over Brazil, and Bruno and Pedro plan to have the product on the market in 6 months. I’m looking forward to updates as they go into production, let’s hope they are successful in regrowing native forests.

Sign up for weekly inspiration right in your inbox

Success! You're on the list.

How Counting Trees Might Save the Planet

Trees use sun, rain and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen
Trees capture carbon from the atmosphere

Over the last few months I have been reading up on carbon capture technologies. I have been wondering for a while why there is so little discussion about carbon capture of trees. We are developing complex carbon capture technologies, a lot of high-tech solutions. But what about planting plain old trees, is that too low tech? So let’s take a look …

An interesting article from the Independent pointed me to ecologist Dr. Thomas Crowther and the Crowtherlab in Zurich. That in turn lead me to Trillion Trees, a collaboration between WWF, BirdLife International, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.  Their goal is to end deforestation and restore tree cover.

It turns out we have been underestimating the number of trees on earth. Crowtherlab is using a novel approach of counting by combining data from ground-based surveys and satellites. They arrived at a much higher number of trees than we previously thought: Three trillion, seven times more than we thought.

That sounds great! More threes than we thought. But not so fast… They also estimate that there were 6 trillion trees at the dawn of civilization, and that we continue to lose around 10 billion trees per year to human activities.

OK, now we do get into high tech again: By using AI and machine learning Crowtherlab predicts the number of trees that could be planted in empty patches and on degraded land worldwide. Their vision is to add another trillion to our current three trillion trees.

How can we add that many trees? The Trillion Trees collaboration’s vision has three components: 1. Planting new trees, 2. Halting tree loss, and 3. Protecting established forests.

While this is a vision for now, adding that many trees would capture massive amounts of carbon.

Planting an additional trillion trees would cancel out 10 years of carbon emissions.

What excites me most about this research is that translates into action. Based on Crowtherlab’s numbers, the Trillion Trees collaboration has developed updated targets. The conclusion? Planting trees on a large scale could capture massive amounts of carbon. Stay tuned for updates, more results and numbers.

Carbon Capture: Can Rocks Do the Job?

Here is an inspiring approach to removing carbon from the atmosphere: Pulverize volcanic rock, and then spread it over fields and farmland instead of fertilizer. The technique is called “enhanced rock weathering”. The Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation is investigating if this technique can be used to safely remove carbon from the atmosphere to cool our planet.

In a blogpost, Prof David Beerling, director of the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation, explains how it works:

In nature, rain erodes rock over millions of years, breaking it down into small pieces. The rock grains react with carbon from the air. They pull carbon from the air into soils and eventually into the ocean, where it’s stored.

Pulverized rock sequesters carbon and is washed into the ocean
Pulverized volcanic rock captures carbon from the air and stores it in the ocean

His project is speeding this million year process up by using pulverized rock. By spreading it over fields, it pulls carbon into the soil and eventually into the sea.

Even though the project is a very early research project and estimates are still uncertain, here are some mind boggling numbers: Applying basalt powder to the corn belt of North America might sequester as much as 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide – equivalent to 13% of the global annual emissions from agriculture.

What an inspiring project, I can’t wait to hear more about it as their research progresses!