Synthetic Tree Captures Carbon 1,000 Faster Than Real Trees

July 9, 2009 by Lisa Zyga weblog
synthetic tree
A synthetic tree could collect carbon coming from small, distributed sources, which is usually very difficult to collect. Credit: Global Research Technologies.

( -- Scientists have designed a synthetic tree that traps carbon dioxide from the air in an attempt to combat growing emissions. The device looks less like a tree and more like a small building, but it can collect carbon about 1,000 times faster than a real tree. One synthetic tree could absorb one ton of carbon dioxide per day, an amount equivalent to that produced by about 20 cars, on average. After being trapped in a chamber, the carbon would be compressed and stored in liquid form for sequestration.

Professor Klaus Lackner of Columbia University has been working on the concept since 1998, and recently met with U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu to discuss moving forward with the project. Through his company Global Research Technologies, based in Tucson, Lackner has built an early model and hopes to have a fully working prototype within three years.

As Lackner explains, the technology is similar to that used at coal plants to capture carbon from flue stacks, but can be used anywhere. Lackner notes that half of come from small sources, including cars and airplanes, and is usually nearly impossible to collect. But since the carbon dioxide in the air is actually very concentrated, the device required to collect it can be fairly small.

Lackner's goal is to make the synthetic tree highly efficient for its size. Compared to the amount of carbon dioxide that a large windmill can avoid generating, for example, a synthetic tree of equal size could collect several hundred times the amount of carbon dioxide that the windmill avoids.

Each synthetic tree would cost about $30,000 to build, with most of the cost due to the technology used to release the carbon dioxide from the sorbent. In addition, since the device requires energy to operate, it also generates some carbon itself if plugged into the . Lackner calculated that, for every 1000 kg of the synthetic tree collects, it emits 200 kg, so that 800 kg are considered true collection.

via: CNet News

© 2009

Explore further: First Successful Demonstration of Carbon Dioxide Air Capture Technology Achieved

Related Stories

Scientists discuss carbon dioxide uses

March 13, 2006

The use of environmentally friendly carbon dioxide as a refrigerant instead of ozone-depleting chemicals will be discussed at Purdue University this week.

Oceans could slurp up carbon dioxide to fight global warming

November 19, 2007

Researchers in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are proposing a new method for reducing global warming that involves building a series of water treatment plants that enhance the ability of the ocean to absorb carbon dioxide ...

Reining in carbon dioxide levels imperative but possible

March 8, 2006

Implementing a plan to keep rising carbon dioxide levels from reaching potentially dangerous levels could cost less than 1 percent of gross world product as of 2050, a cost that is well within reach of developed and developing ...

Recommended for you

Signs of distracted driving—pounding heart, sweaty nose

August 15, 2017

Distracted driving—texting or absent-mindedness—claims thousands of lives a year. Researchers from the University of Houston and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute have produced an extensive dataset examining how ...

Researchers clarify mystery about proposed battery material

August 15, 2017

Battery researchers agree that one of the most promising possibilities for future battery technology is the lithium-air (or lithium-oxygen) battery, which could provide three times as much power for a given weight as today's ...

De-jargonizing program helps decode science speak

August 11, 2017

Science is fascinating to many, but sentences that are full of expert-level terms and description can scare away even the most passionate readers. Can scientists learn to talk about their research without using too many technical ...

AI, crowdsourcing combine to close 'analogy gap'

August 10, 2017

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem devised a method enabling computers to mine databases of patents, inventions and research papers, identifying ideas that can be repurposed to ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3.4 / 5 (7) Jul 09, 2009
I like technology. I also like improvements on nature. However, I do not think this is an improvement. Just plant a bunch of trees, or eat less meat and more pasta.
3 / 5 (6) Jul 09, 2009
.....the carbon would be compressed and stored in liquid form for sequestration.

I'd like to know more about this. Is it safe? Is it clean? How much more energy is expended to make this useful?

How about instead of cleaning the carbon out of the air created by burning petroleum, we work to stop burning it?

I can see this as a bandaid until the we take care of the source of the problem.
3.8 / 5 (6) Jul 09, 2009
How would you manage to plant 1000 trees in the same space as that building? As the article says, location in high pollutant producing hotspots is vital.

Most of those will by nature be either in urban areas or right next to major transit routes. Even in the case of many transport routes, short of ploughing under half a farm field that is being used to feed our population, where do you suggest planting these 1000 trees?
5 / 5 (6) Jul 09, 2009
The biggest problem with this invention is not the capture of CO2 nor the energy it takes to compress it to liquid. The problem is where one would then store this liquid CO2 so that it stays there and doesn't come out later. It is also a bit misleading to address this compressed CO2 as 'carbon' as they do in the text. Whereas trees capture CO2 and transform it into carbon chains with help of light energy and release O2, here is no such process involved.
5 / 5 (4) Jul 09, 2009
Should be stored deep underground for possible reclamation in case the climate gets too cold-
3.7 / 5 (10) Jul 10, 2009
"But since the carbon dioxide in the air is actually very concentrated"

HTF do you call .036% of the atmosphere, "very concentrated"?
5 / 5 (7) Jul 10, 2009
In regard to carbon sequestration, Norway has a pilot project going at a gas field. When extracting natural gas, a lot of carbon dioxide comes along with the "fuel" gas, and it would be most convenient to sequester that carbon dioxide at the source.
Therefore the Norvegian extraction plant separates the gases and pumps the carbon dioxide back into a depleted field. Since the oil and gas have remained underground for millions of years it is quite safe to pump carbon dioxide back. The supercritical carbon dioxide will then slowly react with minerals, and become a solid mineral reaction product.
There are many potential variations on this sequestration idea, including injecting the gas underneath sea-floor basalt layers.
1 / 5 (2) Jul 10, 2009
or you can turn that liquid CO2 and convert it to dry ice :) then sell dry ice or make soda :)

Why bury it when we can use CO2. Plant some sugar canes and make some sugar! (sweet idea no? :P)

eat the sugar or burn the sugar and make some graphite yea! pencils!
2.7 / 5 (7) Jul 10, 2009
one day aliens will arrive and they will find these scrubbers going and going... but life wont be here cause all the plants starved... :)
4.1 / 5 (7) Jul 10, 2009
How much land area would be necessary to build enough of these to have a significant impact on atmospheric CO2 levels? Let's assume that global CO2 emissions can be stabilized at 2007 levels for the next 100 years. We would then need to sequester 23.21Gt of CO2 per year to reach a target of atmospheric levels at around 350ppm by 2100AD. So 23.21Gt per year equates to .06359Gt per day. If these trees can capture 1 tonne per day, we would need 63,590,000 of these trees. Where are we going to put this many 'trees'? At $30,000 each the cost for these trees would be $1.9 Trillion. And that is before any consideration of the costs of the sequestration side of the operation. I wonder how feasible this plan is considering the scale of CO2 capture needed. I invite some clarification from the developers of this concept if they are listening to this discussion. Thanks.
5 / 5 (4) Jul 10, 2009
per wikipedia US Co2 emmisions = 6M tons a year

so 6000000 / .8 = 7,500,000 synthetic trees
@ 30,000 a tree thats $225,000,000,000 USD

ahhh ... maybe we could get a bigger tree for our money :-)
2.2 / 5 (6) Jul 10, 2009
Good point Choice! And I worry about the energy necessary to run 63,590,000 artificial trees, for example, and the problem of storing (or using) all the CO2 sequestered as mentioned by some people here.
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 10, 2009
I suppose that you should take mass production on your calculations as well - this tree concept was only on an early protostage so the cost would dramatically drop if they are planning on using those in a massive scale (like computers - early versions may cost $30,000 but when mass production began the machines cost only $1,000 or less). In addition, you forgot that nature itself already absorbs a lot of that CO2 so you don't have to reduce all of the emissions.

I still believe that the main point in this concept is to help to free polluted urban areas from dangerously high levels of CO2 where reasonable tree planting may be impossible.
1 / 5 (4) Jul 10, 2009
But wait a second,

Consider this:

The govenement gives a credit of about 1000 dollars for a Hybrid car.

The trees cost 30 000 dollars and replace 20 car's emisions.

So, It is 1500 dollars per car that would cost to convert them totally CO2 no emision.

add 500 dollars to the price of the car. and you would got a totally free emission car?

The price sounds much more lower said as this.

The price could be proportionated to the CO2 emmisions of the car, for exemple a big hummer would have 2000 to pay to avoid any emisions and a little golf would be 1000.

Theses are Just exemples.

Other thing:

Please listen the movie: planet earth

You will see that we do not have much time left before we need to reduce the emissions.

Since theses threes will not only reduce the actual emissions, it will cancel the emissons of the past if we reduce our ecological foot print at the same time.

This is a very important advancement and need to be considered, and reaserched even more
1 / 5 (3) Jul 10, 2009
Sorry, The real nave for the movie is: Home

Here is a link for it:

2.6 / 5 (7) Jul 10, 2009
jesus, carbon offsetting is such a load of shit

treat the disease (non-sustainable development) not the symptom

if you sever an artery you don't soak up the blood and throw away the rag and consider the problem solved, you stop the bleeding and sew up the cut

this type of thought and practice just enables us to stay addicted to fossil fuels, which is the true danger

wake the fuck up

"for every 1000 kg of carbon dioxide the synthetic tree collects, it emits 200 kg, so that 800 kg are considered true collection"

prove this "efficiency", and let's not forget the energy costs of manufacturing them and yearly maintenance energy costs

what a white-washed crock of shit
1 / 5 (3) Jul 10, 2009
How about you formulate an intelligent response instead of just ranking my comment, Oregon Wind?
2.8 / 5 (9) Jul 10, 2009
CO2 is a resource, not a polutant. "Sequestering" it should be made illegal.
4.3 / 5 (3) Jul 11, 2009
It would cost about $10,000 in electricity a year (@ 8 cents per kWh, using up 73 tons of CO2 a year at the rate of 0.6 kg of CO2 per kWh ) to run each "fake" tree, not including the cost of maintenance and personnel. And there would have to be about 27.5 million of those fake trees to take out 8 gigatons of CO2 that mankind's presence on Earth produces each year.

In reality, about half of man-made CO2 is taken out by nature, so the actual number is around 4 G-tons, or 13.75 million fake trees. At $30,000 a piece, it would cost about $413 billion to "plant" them; then it would cost additional $137 billion in electricity a year to run them. (As for the anticipated saving through mass production, forget about it: about 2/3 of the cost will be in real estate and building construction, not in the equipment--in fact, $30,000 figure looks suspiciously low).

By the time the cost of maintenance and personnel are included, we are probably looking at $150 to $165 billion a year to run the scheme. This assumes that the federal government owns the whole forest of those "fake" trees. If they are owned by for-profit entities, we are going to see a number in the neighborhood of $200 billion a year or more.

Expensive? Well, perhaps, but it would be nowhere near what it would be under the monstrosity called Waxman-Markey "climate" bill. If this CO2 sequestration scheme actually works then it will take care of the whole world's emissions, not just the US at the cost of about $200 billion a year to the developed world after the initial half a trillion dollar investment cost (the US cost should be about half of the aforementioned numbers).

Even for a non-believer in AGW, CO2 sequestration would be far more palatable than a worldwide cap and trade scheme that the UN and EU are pushing which will surely cost many times more a year and far less effective than this CO2 sequestration scheme.

The natural alternative to this is to plant about 14 billion real trees, which probably would add about 5% or so to the Earth's existing arboreal population of 150 to 300 billion trees (assuming the arboreal plants to be about half of the Earth's total plant mass with 100 G-tons of CO2 consumption rate a year). But planting 14 billion trees by human hands is probably an unrealizable chore that should be left to Mother Nature. After all, an increase of additional 10 to 20 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere should certainly be able to grow Earth's arboreal mass by at least 5%.

The best course of action then? Do precisely NOTHING!

Incidentally, how many starving people in the world would $137 billion a year save? More than all of them. Now, this is something we need to do EVERYTHING right now.
4 / 5 (2) Jul 11, 2009
Sythetic trees is a solution, and unless of course someone wants to come up with free electricity or nuclear power; instead of burning cole for electricity. Until that day, we are just going to have to improve upon existing technology and learn to improve upon what we have. The problem with this project is the money involved, but I think this technology can be improved. I propose someone come up with a way to use carbon nanotechnology to turn the co2 into carbon chains and release o2 via some photovotaic process thereby mimicing real plants.
5 / 5 (2) Jul 11, 2009
Why would we want to sequester the CO2?
Hook one of these units up to an algae system, and dump the algae from that into a biofuels processor. Automate the whole process and plop them down along highways for an easy biofuels infrastructure.
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 12, 2009
This is just another attempt to acquire money to solve a problem that does not exist.
The basic assumptions of the whole Global Warming (GW) movement is that GW exists, that man is responsible for it and that man can do something about it. All these assumptions are provably wrong.

The following fundamentals are clearly illustrated using Department of Energy data with tables and graphs at http://www.geocra...ata.html

95% of GW is due to water vapor.
5% is due to green house gasses (GHG).
Only 0.28% is due to man-made GHG.

The US generates less than 20% of global man-made GHG.
The Cap and Tax bill (HR 2454) calls for reducing US man-made GHG by 17 % by 2020.

If HR 2454 is successfully implemented, the US would reduce its man-made contribution to Global Warming by 17% of 20% of 0.28% or 0.00952%

If by 2050 the United States reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 83%, it would reduce global warming by less than three-thousandths of a ºC per year.

The Global Warming hoax is based on ten years of ten year old data using obsolete/compromised ground station readings.

Satellite data shows:
The world is cooling.
The oceans are cooling.
The seas are not rising.
Both polar ice caps are growing.
More than 90 percent of the world%u2019s glaciers are growing.

Snow seasons are getting longer.
The frequency and intensity of hurricanes and cyclones are declining.
Coral reefs are recovering from bleaching.
Polar bear populations are increasing.

Companies, government agencies and foreign governments stand to make billions form the Cap and Tax bill. For instance GE is no line to sell its wind turbines, solar panels and cells, Hybrid locomotive engines, etc. GE is also pushing the Health Coverage bill because it has software to sell the US to compile and maintain every citizens%u2019 medical info and health history file. (Watch for the advertisements on NBC.)
not rated yet Jul 13, 2009
"But since the carbon dioxide in the air is actually very concentrated"

HTF do you call .036% of the atmosphere, "very concentrated"?

That's what I have been trying to figure out. I finally gave up trying when I realized that the math does not compute! :)
5 / 5 (2) Jul 13, 2009
"Snow seasons are getting longer".....??????

Have you ever even seen real snow my friend? Here in Montreal our snow is coming later and leaving earlier each year. This statement is based upon 45 years of observation on my part, seeing as I actually live here, and all. Ask any Canadian farmer, they are planting at least 2-wks earlier (weather permitting of course) than just 20-yrs ago.

You conspiracy theorists are getting boring. We can now see the effects of warming, maybe not globally, but definitely regionally. And although we probably can't do anything about it, we obviously have to adapt to it if we are to survive. Just saying something isn't real doesn't make it go away!
not rated yet Jul 13, 2009
"But since the carbon dioxide in the air is actually very concentrated"

HTF do you call .036% of the atmosphere, "very concentrated"?

By re-reading the article for what it actually said. These are to be sited at emitting sources. As for what to do with the captured carbon -- for now, store it. In 10-20 years we'll be building structures out of carbon just like nature does.
1 / 5 (2) Jul 13, 2009
eat less meat and more pasta? oh dear Lord.

This is a science site not an outlet for Greenpeace.

Global warming (and Cooling for that matter) has been in effect from around ...lets see..... 6 BILLION BC.
Australia was not a desert all the time... it had vegetation which died way before we even got round to frying out 1st steak.
not rated yet Jul 13, 2009
I think that it is funny that humans have this lack of long term memory... Every summer it is either the hottest summer or wettest summer, every winter it is either the coldest, the snowiest, the hottest, the whateverist. I forget what is a typical summer or winter? We have reliable data what for like 100 years? When I say reliable I mean somebody making detailed notes about happenings...Not ice core samples and applying out limited logic to try and piece together a past. I mean come on look at the tunguska event, there were detailed accounts of what happened and people still couldn't figure it out. Imagine if there were none and we didn't examine it until 2 million years from now, what exactly do you think science would have attributed it to? There are endless things that we as humanity haven't seen and there is no telling what the results of those things happening could be. Now GW may be all man made, but the fact of the matter is this earth has been through much more than we could ever throw at it, and yet life has still survived. All I see is money grubbing whores trying to make a buck in their life-time off of fear.
5 / 5 (1) Jul 13, 2009
Now GW may be all man made, but the fact of the matter is this earth has been through much more than we could ever throw at it, and yet life has still survived.

This is why the rhetoric needs to change regarding global warming and climate change. We are NEVER going to "kill the earth" with CO2 or any other greenhouse gas or emission, or really with anything at all short of blanketing the earth with nuclear bombs, even then life would re-emerge eventually. Infact, higher CO2 and a warmer planet would undoubtedly lead to higher biodiversity, especially in plants. Ultimately, the only reason people care is because it can affect our ability to feed and water our populations, or live comfortably in a given area. That's why carbon-offsetting is such a waste. It's completely off the mark in what needs to be accomplished i.e. develop infrastructure and policy -a way of living- that makes any given population unit more indefinitely self-sufficient, less import/export -extreme energy consumption- reliant, accomplishing this will accomplish the same thing carbon offsetting sets out to do and far more towards preserving the health of the earth, and it will make our world-society more stable.

These "artificial trees" [puke] do nothing to make our world-society more sustainable, indeed it only increases wasteful consumption and enables us to justify remaining more addicted to fossil fuels longer, which is the real crisis (when it turns economic). It's pseudo/feaux-environmentalism at it's worst and people who believe it's "the way to go" really need to do a lot more looking into the principles and goals of what we're trying to do.

READ about it. THINK about it.

And by the way, the largest factor in the temperature and climate of the planet always has been and always will be the sun and the physical earth, what man has done/is doing is a very small (likely not very significant) fraction of the story and always will be. Focus on the real problem behind mankind's survival into the future: indefinite energy availability and the economics related to that, and you will also be solving the worlds environmental problems. The above article is just more, woeful short-sightedness.
not rated yet Jul 14, 2009
Very true...
not rated yet Jul 15, 2009
Here's a great idea, it's called a cyclical system.

Current coal and oil infrastructure can be converted to burn paper and other wood pulp products at a similar energy density for very little cost.

Convert all the coal and oil plants of the world.

Start planting trees.

When the trees mature, cut them down and plant new trees.

Rinse and repeat.

Or, go nuclear, clean, cheap*, easy.

*cheap if you do away with the ridiculous anti nuclear legislation currently plaguing the US.
not rated yet Jul 16, 2009
This is idiotic. Those who measure the cost of these synthetic trees in dollars don't get it. The world does not run on MONEY, it runs on ENERGY. As energy becomes exponentially more expensive to produce in the future, it won't matter how many zeros you print on a paper bill, the energy won't be there to back it up.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.