Artificial trees could help save the planet. Here’s what you need to know about them.

Published on October 15, 2019

Climate change has always had a rather simple yet daunting solution: plant one trillion trees.

The world already holds approximately three trillion trees, so a 33% increase would be significant to say the least. The plan is viable in the long-term, but unfortunately it would require immense resource allocation and international cooperation in a time when mankind cannot agree about burning rainforests. Unfortunately, little action has been taken on the worldwide scale necessary to bring this plan to fruition. However, recent biotech innovations have offered a more efficient alternative: artificial trees.

The tech behind artificial trees

To clarify, artificial trees designate a lot more than the plastic ficus available at IKEA. Synthetic trees are actually machines called “bioreactors”. They use algae to sequester CO2 at a much higher rate than their arboreal counterparts. Algae uses a chemical process similar to plants’ photosynthesis to filter carbon out of the air. In fact, algae is capable of sequestering carbon at a faster rate using much less infrastructure. Several companies have attempted to adapt this natural process by integrating it into an urban setting and two new products were announced in the past month.

Companies at the cutting edge

One such company is Hypergiant Industries, a defense and artificial intelligence tech developer based in Austin, Texas. The company was just founded in 2018 and employs former Silicon Valley CFOs, astronauts, and generals, as well as Bill Nye, the Science Guy himself. This week they introduced the Eos Bioreactor that uses machine learning to accelerate algae’s natural carbon fixation process. Founder and CEO Ben Lamm claims “one Eos Bioreactor sequesters the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere as an entire acre of trees” making it approximately 400 times as effective as a standard tree.

When contacted, HyperGiant Industries provided ample information about their new bioreactor. The company is founded upon the idea of developing technology that improves people’s communities. They are currently showcasing the benefits of the EOS Bioreactor to spread awareness. Soon HyperGiant will begin working with potential buyers interested in carbon sequestering infrastructure.

A spokesperson explained that the bioreactor is a “close system model” that uses “AI monitors light, heat, growth, water speed, pH, CO2, oxygen output and more to ensure optimal [algae] growing conditions.” HyperGiant’s dedication to details and maximizing efficiency is obvious in the fully realized end product.

Another company, Biomitech is a Mexican manufacturer with a similar vision of the future. The Biomitech reactor has a more elegant design than that of the Eos; it looks like a street art installation rather than a high-end gaming PC. However, both accomplish the same goal despite their diverging designs. Biomitech claims the structure does the work of 368 trees, a similar statistic to Hypergiant. The technology is already employed in Mexico City, and may be spreading to other urban areas soon.

What does the future look like for artificial trees?

In the last 70 years atmospheric carbon concentrations have skyrocketed, and this trend has an undeniable direct correlation with climate change. Decreasing greenhouse gas concentrations is a necessity, however it can be hard to create actionable plans to address the issue. Artificial trees may not be the only solution, but they could help filter air pollution in urban areas due to their compact size.

Beyond innovation, there is also a financial opportunity for those in the carbon fixation business. The carbon fixated from the air is u in plastics, compost, and carbonated drinks among other goods. Additionally, HyperGiant’s representative explained that the biomass produced by bioreactor algae “can then be harvested and processed to create fuel, oils, nutrient-rich high-protein food sources, fertilizers, plastics, cosmetics, and more.” Economists have indicated that selling fixated carbon could be one a trillion-dollar market by the year 2030.

For now artificial trees, algae bioreactors, and carbon markets remain newly introduced possibilities to solve a mounting environmental disaster. Today Hypergiant and Biomitech may be newly founded companies who have only just introduced their algae bioreactors, but it will be exciting to see the field develop in the following years.

Brian D'Souza
Brian D’Souza

Brian is a writer at The Rising and a student in the pre-engineering program at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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