Forests of Artificial Trees Could Slow Global Warming

Aug 28, 2009 by Lin Edwards weblog
Artificial trees. Image: Institution of Mechanical Engineers

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study on how technology could help to regulate climate change has studied hundreds of ideas, and selected three considered practical and able to be implemented quickly. The report's authors propose the construction of forests of artificial trees and installing tubes of algae on the sides of buildings to absorb carbon dioxide. They also proposed painting the roofs of buildings white to keep the Earth cool by reducing the amount of solar radiation absorbed.

The engineers from Britain's Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) have asked their government for an investment of 10 million pounds (around 16.3 million dollars) in these ideas to counter the threat to Britain posed by .

One of the authors of the report, Dr Tim Fox, said geo-engineering techniques could buy us a few extra years' breathing space while we transition to a low-carbon world, and may help ward off the scenarios we fear. The report claimed global temperatures could rise by as much as 6°C in the next 90 years if we don't act soon, and the results would include major refugee movements as well as food and water shortages.

Algae-coated buildings. Image: Institution of Mechanical Engineers

One proposal was the building of forests of artificial trees. Each synthetic tree could capture up to 10 tons of CO2 a day, which is thousands of times more than a real tree. Each tree would cost around $24,400, and a forest of 100,000 of them could be constructed within the next couple of decades using existing technologies. A forest that size would be able to remove 60% of the UK's total CO2 emissions. Globally, forests of five to ten million trees could absorb all the CO2 from sources other than .

The trees would have a special synthetic filter that absorbs carbon dioxide. When the filters had absorbed their load of CO2 they would be replaced with new filters and the old ones would be stored in empty gas and oil reservoirs, such as depleted oil wells in the North Sea. The trees are already at the prototype stage and their design is well-advanced. The prototype is the size of an average shipping container.

Another proposal put forward by the study was to install transparent tubes filled with algae on the outside of buildings. The " based photobioreactors", as they call them, would absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and could later be turned into charcoal, which could then be buried to trap the .

Reflective buildings. Image: Institution of Mechanical Engineers

The third idea proposed by the IME was to paint city roofs white to reflect sunlight back into space and prevent it warming the Earth. Cities can be up to 4°C hotter than suburban areas, and reflective roofs could reduce the need for cooling and save up to 60% of a building's energy use.

Dr Fox warned that geo-engineering ideas such as those proposed are not a silver bullet that will solve all the problems, and they would need to be used in conjunction with other measures such as reducing our emissions and adapting to changes in the climate.

More information: Read the full Institution of Mechanical Engineers report

© 2009 PhysOrg.com

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User comments : 33

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Adriab
5 / 5 (3) Aug 28, 2009
We don't want roofs to be too reflective as it might be a hazard for aircraft. I think a glossy white roof would work out ok though.

One thing about the artificial trees, designing and building these things is expensive, and probably produces CO2 emissions to make/move/install, so are we gaining less than we think?

I'd rather plant more trees, go with the algae approach.
DGBEACH
1 / 5 (2) Aug 28, 2009

I'd rather plant more trees, go with the algae approach

"...Each synthetic tree could capture up to 10 tons of CO2 a day, which is thousands of times more than a real tree"
Not only do real trees take many years to grow, but they only remove the CO2 when there is enough sunlight available for photosynthesis- unlike their synthetic counterparts
berwiki
5 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2009
very interesting indeed.

In the southern states, I find it appalling that we don't already coat our roofs with white shingles. How much cooler would that keep our homes!
alq131
not rated yet Aug 28, 2009
This is already available...
3M reflective roof shingles

http://www.elkcor...0302.cfm
El_Nose
5 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2009
An older article on the same subject only a few months ago

http://www.physor...180.html

But the trees could only remove 1000 kg a day

Adriab -- this above article states that the fake trees would produce 200 kg a day as a carbon footprint.

I wonder how an effeciency jump of 1000% could happen in such a short amount of time.... maybe this is a different technology but I do not think so.
Bob_Kob
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 28, 2009
I like the image of the trees absorbing on the sides of highways with turbines placed there.
cattiva
5 / 5 (5) Aug 28, 2009
Why continue sprawl. why not just real trees. why not lower emissions to begin with. Why not just plant trees, more trees on the sides of every road we can.
Psyleid
5 / 5 (4) Aug 28, 2009
Why continue sprawl. why not just real trees. why not lower emissions to begin with. Why not just plant trees, more trees on the sides of every road we can.


Because it's just too hard. Can't we do something really easy?.. Like not really doing anything at all?
Sepp
5 / 5 (3) Aug 28, 2009
Plenty of space on this earth to plant some real trees. And they just keep growing and growing, unless the fake variety that's expensive to manufacture to begin with and needs constant repair and upkeep.

I vote for nature - for planting real trees.
El_Nose
1 / 5 (4) Aug 28, 2009
Well there is a reason trees are removed from being close to roads --- branches tend to break in strong winds and that can be deadly -- and appearently this technology does the intended job better than the natural solution, ie plants
Caliban
4 / 5 (5) Aug 28, 2009
More trees. Reclaim wasteland, produce O2, sequester carbon in a harvestable, sustainable way. Provide habitat, grow food, filter toxins, and draw the rain. Only drawback- DOES NOT IMMEDIATELY PUT MEGABUCKS IN CORPORATE POCKETS.
Sepp
5 / 5 (2) Aug 28, 2009
It appears to me that close to roads is not the only space where trees can grow. There's plenty of room for the trees on mountain sides, for instance. And they have other advantages, too, beyond capturing CO2. They actually build soil, they prevent mudslides, and they are a great water storage and recycling mechanism. And to boot, they are much cheaper than the technological ones.

What would be the cost of - say a million artificial trees? Compare that with planting trees that take care of their own growth, and you can see what the makers of this report are trying to sell us.
Shootist
not rated yet Aug 28, 2009
Did the IME credit Freeman Dyson with this idea? If not, they're plagiarizing him.
Shootist
not rated yet Aug 28, 2009
very interesting indeed.

In the southern states, I find it appalling that we don't already coat our roofs with white shingles. How much cooler would that keep our homes!


Pournelle has been suggesting for a decade that roadways and rooftops be painted, or otherwise made, white.

http://www.jerrypournelle.com
Velanarris
4.5 / 5 (2) Aug 28, 2009
very interesting indeed.

In the southern states, I find it appalling that we don't already coat our roofs with white shingles. How much cooler would that keep our homes!


Pournelle has been suggesting for a decade that roadways and rooftops be painted, or otherwise made, white.

http://www.jerrypournelle.com


Pournelle is also avoiding the statistics of the exercise.

If you took all the manmade "anything", roads, roofs, cars, everything, and coated it white on all sides, this would only amount to about 1% of the surface area of the Earth.

Couple that with the massive increase in energy you'd need to use to produce the less durable non-tar shingles and oil based paints, and then add in the additional energy you need to heat the environments within.

It's such a dumb idea it's not even funny. Don't ever forget the tenets of being a contractor. There's more money to be made in prolonging the problem than there is to be made in providing the solution.
Shootist
not rated yet Aug 28, 2009
very interesting indeed.

In the southern states, I find it appalling that we don't already coat our roofs with white shingles. How much cooler would that keep our homes!


Pournelle has been suggesting for a decade that roadways and rooftops be painted, or otherwise made, white.

http://www.jerrypournelle.com


Pournelle is also avoiding the statistics of the exercise.

If you took all the manmade "anything", roads, roofs, cars, everything, and coated it white on all sides, this would only amount to about 1% of the surface area of the Earth.

Couple that with the massive increase in energy you'd need to use to produce the less durable non-tar shingles and oil based paints, and then add in the additional energy you need to heat the environments within.

It's such a dumb idea it's not even funny. Don't ever forget the tenets of being a contractor. There's more money to be made in prolonging the problem than there is to be made in providing the solution.


One. In Florida there are white roadways. Made of concrete. Lasts far longer than asphalt. The biggest problem is the local road contractors and their lobbyists. Concrete doesn't have to be paved every 2-3 years. And concrete shingles last 100 years.

Two. As a professional statistician (Pournelle, not me) with an IQ of 180, I do not believe Pournelle fails to take such obvious data into consideration.

Three. Reflecting only 10% of sunlight (not allowing shortwave radiation to be reradiated as longwave infra-red) in the 1% of surface area of the planet, would go a long way in reducing the urban "heat island" effect in comparison to neighboring rural locations.

Write Jerry if you wish (jerryp at jerrypournelle.com). I hope you can get past his SPAM filters, I know I can. "Say the magic words and win a hundred dollars"
Velanarris
5 / 5 (3) Aug 28, 2009
One. In Florida there are white roadways. Made of concrete. Lasts far longer than asphalt.
False, it does not last longer than asphalt. This is mainly due to it's rigidity and the fact is doesn't stand up well to rain without application of oil based (typically black) sealant.



Same with shingles etc. Concrete does not stand up to heavy duty variable loads. It's great for building where the stress is constant, but it can't take incontinuous stress. Hence the need to reconcrete so often.

Two. As a professional statistician (Pournelle, not me) with an IQ of 180, I do not believe Pournelle fails to take such obvious data into consideration.
He certainly did this time.

Three. Reflecting only 10% of sunlight (not allowing shortwave radiation to be reradiated as longwave infra-red) in the 1% of surface area of the planet, would go a long way in reducing the urban "heat island" effect in comparison to neighboring rural locations.


Yes but you're talking about local temperature. Let's talk global. What would a 1% decrease in IR amount to? About a 10ppm reduction in CO2.



Counteract that with the necessity to manufacture MORE concrete which is a CO2 intensive process, and no it isn't carbon neutral over time. Meanwhile you can recycle asphalt repeatedly and it has the handy benefit of reduction of gasoline and diesel used to plow the roads during the winter.



Again, there's a lot more to this than you or I are touching on and most likely neither of us have the entire scope of the idea in our sights, but there are some immediate red flags that lead me to believe this is a bunk idea that no one really explored fully.

In sunnier climates, I agree, white roofs are a great idea. Then again, the subsaharan africans came up with it thousands of years ago.
Shootist
3.4 / 5 (7) Aug 28, 2009
Killing quotes as too hard to deal with.

The urban heat island effect is well documented to have adversely affected temperature monitoring. In the US. Many of the NWS (NOAA) weather stations that were in rural environments in the '40's are now in urban centers. Any comparative measurements are void. Of course, the measurements from these stations were/are used to "prove" warming. All they do prove is that the stations are located in warmer areas now than they were 60-70 odd years ago.

London, Warsaw and Stockholm, hardly southern cities, suffer from this same "heat island" effect when compared to nearby rural settings.

Rising levels of CO2 always come after measured warming, not before. CO2 is non-causative in the current context.

The global output, from non-man-made sources (volcanoes, tar pits, oil seeps, et. al., ad infinitum), of "greenhouse gases", is an order of magnitude greater than the purely human made contribution. A medium volcanic (Mt St. Helens, Pinitubo) eruption produces more CO2, H2SO4 and CH4 during one eruption cycle than all of mankind in a year. The 1815 eruption in Java/Sumatra changed the world's weather for at least a decade. Mankind would have to explode a goodly number of its nukes to have the same effect.

AGW is bunk. It is just another "crisis" that cannot be wasted. However, the Global Climate does change, and it changes often (though perhaps not on a scale noticeable to humans as they go about their day to day activities).

CO2 has at least an order of magnitude less impact on warming than does water vapor and at least 30 times less impact than methane. Yet, other than "cow farts" and an occasional mention of rice paddies, neither is often mentioned in the literature. It is always about the putative human contribution. Propaganda, pure and simple.

The planet was warmer in A.D. 950 than it is today (Leif the lucky and his dairy farms in Greenland, now extinct (since the 11th century) Wineries in Scotland and Vinland (Nova Scotia/Newfoundland)).

Iceland was completely bound by sea ice in the 15th century. Heading for the Maunder Minimum, eh?

The planet was cooler in 1776 than it is today. (The Hudson froze solid enough at Haarlem Heights that Washington was able to drag cannon across to Manhattan. Haven't been able to do THAT trick in over 200 years, long before the "industrial age".

Reducing the urban heat island would allow for more accurate temperature measurements. That alone should be reason enough to pursue a course of positive environmental manipulation.

The biggest problem with the discussion of "climate change" is that no one will state what the planet's "correct" temperature should be. Only that it is warm now and getting warmer (Oh! The Humanity. Hogwash, I say). Better warmer than an ice age, I tell you what.
defunctdiety
5 / 5 (4) Aug 28, 2009
The biggest problem with the discussion of "climate change" is that no one will state what the planet's "correct" temperature should be.

The biggest problem with the discussion of climate change is that it distracts people from realizing that our government is preventing sustainable development.
Shootist
1 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2009
Sustainable development? I apologize, but that is just more Red (socialist) Green nonsense. In a closed system it would be a concern. But we live in anything but a closed system.

It is raining tea biscuits and honey 200 km above your head. Mankind is not limited to "the cool green hills of Earth". And the faster we get off this rock, the better our species chance for long term survival. It is only obvious when you think about it.

Sustainable development? That will be a worry AFTER humanity becomes a Class III civilization (one that is utilizing 100% of its galaxy's energy output). We're an eon away from that eventuality.

Aside: We are currently not even a Class 0 civilization (which utilizes 100% of the planetary output).

"A Step Further Out, Survival with Style" by Jerry Pournelle is a good place to "get your head right".

http://www.amazon...41785832
defunctdiety
5 / 5 (3) Aug 28, 2009
Sustainable development? I apologize, but that is just more Red (socialist) Green nonsense. In a closed system it would be a concern. But we live in anything but a closed system. ...

Right... unfortunately for your diatribe, sustainable development has no political affiliation.

And also unfortunately, your diatribe was based entirely on hypotheticals. Sustainable development IS a concern UNTIL we are able to get off this rock. Which, maybe you live in a different time than I and everyone else, but here in reality we are no where close to achieving that. Also in reality, every day demand for fossil fuels rises, while the supply does nothing but decrease. Yea yea, new sources yet to be discovered, it's still decreasing.

Also unfortunately, perhaps the most unsustainable part of our current world society is it's economy. Which it's success is 100% based on unsustainable economic growth.

The only goal of sustainable development is to facilitate the People of any society being as free as they can possibly be. Why would you seek to stifle that?

It's like you didn't even think, you just saw something you've been told is bad so you belt out your rhetoric like you were hit on the knee with a rubber mallet. Wake up, good sir, the truth is out there if you'll only look for it.
defunctdiety
1 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2009
And for the record, you're gonna love this... sustainable development is by definition impossible in a closed system. Maybe you should try understanding what you're talking about before you venture forth any more of those nuggets of wisdom.
Shootist
2.7 / 5 (3) Aug 28, 2009
diatribe; a bitter, sharply abusive denunciation, attack, or criticism:

Your hyperbole is unbecoming and a symptom of the problem discussions such as these have.

Had we maintained the planned course after Apollo we would have had permanently manned settlements on Luna and LEO by 1985. When they choose to be, Humanity is a minute away from being a truly space faring race.



defunctdiety
1 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2009
Your response was at least bitter and I would say abusive, and it wasn't even a criticism as there was no valid aspect of it.

And again with the useless hypotheticals. Congratulations on being completely ineffectual in your debating.
Shootist
3.5 / 5 (2) Aug 28, 2009
bitter, hard to bear; grievous; distressful, characterized by intense antagonism or hostility

abusive, using, containing, or characterized by harshly or coarsely insulting language

Is English your first language, or do you enjoy trying to be insulting?

I have been nothing but professional and polite, thoughout. Especially considering the source of your inspirations. We didn't fight and win the 70 Years War only to capitulate to refugees from International Communism.

I take solace in the knowledge that foreteller's of doom are nearly always wrong.

Space, and all its riches, are there for the taking. Mankind only needs the will, the rest is engineering. And most of that is done.
defunctdiety
3 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2009
I have been nothing but professional and polite, thoughout

LMFAO

Spoken like a true sociopath.

Passive aggressive is the most serious and evil kind of abuse and you, good sir, started it with that. Don't get all angry, like you are on some higher moral ground, if I have no qualms about finishing it with outright abuse.

Next item: What do you think you know about the source of my inspirations? Pleasure us with that tid bit next please.

Finally: If you think my words are foretelling doom, then you're not thinking about them.
WithOneT
5 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2009
We can take all of the trees and put them in a tree museum. And charge the people a dollar and a half to see'em!
donjoe0
1 / 5 (1) Aug 29, 2009
Don't it always seem to go? :)

Great idea, bozos, let's starve the plants of their main fertilizer - CO2 - and absorb huge quantities of it with some stupid machines. Every time atmospheric CO2 concentrations rise, the plants that are helped the most are those growing in dry regions, i.e. where agriculture is having a hard time. So tell me, do these people who want to artificially suck out the CO2 out of the air hate Africans for some reason? Sure seems like that, since they seem to be hell-bent on making Africans starve by killing their agriculture.
Velanarris
4.3 / 5 (3) Aug 29, 2009
Hold on guys, you're both talking the same point with different terminology.


Shootist, defunct is right when he says we need sustainable development. Coal and oil really are terrible methods of energy production, but so are solar, wind, etc.

Defunct, realize there are a lot of propagandists who are part of the governmental green machine of funding and propaganda that use the exact same terms you and I do when talking about things like sustainable development, which to us is nuclear or other energy types and to them is eating nuts and berries while they commune with bears.

Digi
not rated yet Aug 30, 2009
Concerning the algae based photobioreactors and then burying the charcoal - it's an interesting idea but not while we are still burning fossil fuels to generate our electricity. Why not burn the charcoal - at least it's almost C02 neutral and will raise revenue to expand the program. In the short term it will help. Sometimes I feel we aim too high.
bhiestand
5 / 5 (1) Aug 30, 2009
To everyone who says "Why not just plant trees", the answer is simple. We can't plant enough trees on this planet to compensate for all the CO2 we've been putting out. Seriously. We put out that much CO2, and trees are very slow carbon sinks.

To the attacks against environmentalism calling environmentalists communists, I'm shocked to see that kind of bologna on a site such as this. You should be ashamed of yourselves. We have to look at the actual argument, not just the ideology of some of the messengers. There's solid science and logic behind the green movement, and we'd all be better off if you'd evaluate that more seriously.

Painting roofs white isn't purely about reflecting heat to cool the planet. Yes, that would help out with the UHI effect, but it would also drastically reduce energy use. Much of the CO2 being released is, you guessed it, released at coal-fired power plants. Reducing energy use = reducing CO2 release. Further, it's a huge money saver. Anyone who has ever lived in a "green" house in a desert environment knows you can get power and water bills lower than they would be in a normal house in the city. It's not hard, and it makes sense even if you ignore the environmental concerns.
docknowledge
1 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2009
Velanarris
not rated yet Aug 31, 2009
Painting roofs white isn't purely about reflecting heat to cool the planet. Yes, that would help out with the UHI effect, but it would also drastically reduce energy use.

It costs more to heat a home than to cool it. Painting your roof white will serve to make winter that much more energy intensive.

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