It is a known biological fact that plants and trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. The process of photosynthesis uses carbon dioxide and releases oxygen thereby reducing the damaging effects of CO2 in the atmosphere. Is it possible to create a piece of “equipment” that can function like a natural tree?
Recent science has shown that “50% of global carbon dioxide emissions are emitted from non stationary and dispersed sources with… 20% from the transportation sector…” (IME, Institution of Mechanical Engineers 2009). If an artificial tree can duplicate a natural process, then it is possible to reduce carbon emissions on a global scale provided of course, that the trees are mass produced and well distributed.
An artificial tree can operate in 3 phases – capture, removal and storage. In phase one, the conventional carbon capture and storage.
Some of the obvious advantages of the artificial tree include portability – it can be placed anywhere. With some tweaking of existing technology, the artificial tree can surpass a natural tree in its ability to capture and release the CO2. The obvious disadvantage with an artificial tree is its cost of production and relative energy consumption in the removal and storage process for CO2.
Despite these limitations, imagine the possibility of urban highways and forests with artificial trees that may each remove up to 1 ton of CO2 per day, the equivalent of 20 vehicles in the U.S.
For some perspective on the natural versus artificial argument, consider the regenerative capacity of the natural tree, the limitation imposed by type and location of urban forests, and the energy used to produce organic compounds in the photosynthetic process. An artificial tree can be:
- manufactured to specific carbon capture standards so there is no need to wait 100 years to see its carbon capture potential
- can be placed anywhere
- there is no need to use energy to produce organic compounds like sugars to “feed” the tree
This type of commercial scale carbon sequestration strategy is already occurring in countries like Canada and Norway. Here in the United States, the U.S. Department of Energy is conducting research on using the technology.