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Waving their strange limbs, beckoning....
February 23, 2003 9:00 PM   Subscribe

Synthetic Trees could purify the air - "It looks like a goal post with Venetian blinds," said the Columbia University physicist...synthetic trees could help clean up an atmosphere grown heavy with carbon dioxide..."You can be a thousand times better than a living tree...There are a number of engineering issues which need to be worked out," he said. (BBC) Hurry up, then - "Ice dams are blocking Latvian ports, winds and storms are battering Europe, Portugal is freezing, Vietnam has lost one-third its rice crop, and the cold has caused close to 2,000 deaths in usually temperate South Asia."
posted by troutfishing (18 comments total)

 
I drew a really rockin' robot today that transforms from a Panda into a Stealth Bomber, but I didn't get an entire fucking BBC article about it.
posted by Stan Chin at 9:02 PM on February 23, 2003


*sighs, puts another penny into the swear jar* whoops
posted by Stan Chin at 9:07 PM on February 23, 2003


"You can be a thousand times better than a living tree," he said.

So could a thousand trees. Wouldn't that be cheaper in the long run?
posted by Hildago at 9:26 PM on February 23, 2003


He predicts that one synthetic tree could remove 90,000 tonnes of CO2 in a year

And then do... what with it exactly?
posted by tss at 9:52 PM on February 23, 2003


You could make a shitload of fire extinguishers with that much CO2.
posted by kindall at 9:53 PM on February 23, 2003


Too complimicated (sp).

If CO2 reduction is your goal, just start your own plankton pond!

Natural and easy.
posted by shepd at 10:30 PM on February 23, 2003


IIRC, the thing about normal plants is that most of the carbon they bind ends up getting re-released when they decompose, or when their leaves or whatever decompose. So basically, if you plant a tree, the atmospheric carbon is only reduced by the mass of the carbon in the tree, more or less. Hence you need a LOT of trees to make a significant dent on that 22 billion tonnes of carbon released each year. I guess the advantage of something like this is that it would just keep taking in the carbon, at a rate faster than a tree grows.
(I'm not a biologist/ecologist or whatever, take all this with a grain of salt. Can anybody verify any of this?)
posted by Mark Doner at 11:39 PM on February 23, 2003


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer
posted by jpburns at 4:51 AM on February 24, 2003


"Ice dams are blocking Latvian ports, winds and storms are battering Europe, Portugal is freezing, Vietnam has lost one-third its rice crop, and the cold has caused close to 2,000 deaths in usually temperate South Asia."

damned global cooling.
posted by quonsar at 6:01 AM on February 24, 2003


Mark Doner: IIRC, the thing about normal plants is that most of the carbon they bind ends up getting re-released when they decompose, or when their leaves or whatever decompose.
Mark I think that the plants take in CO2 and produce organic compounds of various sorts. So it's not re-released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas at all. All that carbon in petroleum? It used to be CO2.
At least I think it did...
posted by talos at 6:23 AM on February 24, 2003


"You can be a thousand times better than a living tree," he said. He estimated that 250,000 synthetic trees worldwide would be needed to soak up the 22 billion tonnes of CO2 produced annually.

10,000*250,000 = 2.5 billion trees .. say an acre of forest has 25 trees (conservative) that is 100 million acres of forest land or about 156,000 sq miles or about the size of the state of California would be needed to clean up the worlds CO2. Doesn't make sense the world has much more forest by many factors, plus where do you store the carbon.
posted by stbalbach at 7:05 AM on February 24, 2003


Perhaps it'll be combined with this.
posted by TurkishGolds at 7:07 AM on February 24, 2003


Wait, isn't photosynthesis something like:

6 CO2 + 6 H2O --> C6H12O6 + 6 O2?

My memory of biology and chemistry is vague, but doesn't the above mean that mean the CO2 is converted into glucose? Then again aerobic cellular respiration converts glucose back to CO2 and water again, releasing energy in the process.

On second thought: What Mark Donner said about verification. It is too early to think about the decomposition of cellulose (plant fibers, long strings of sugars). I'm a philosophy major for god's sake!
posted by Tystnaden at 7:17 AM on February 24, 2003


Shepd - Oh no - agreement?! - yeah, plankton ponds would be cheaper, I'd bet. And then you could raise tasty tilapia in those ponds, too - as the oceans gradually get fished out.

Ask a phycisist, get a physics solution. I imagine that the plan would be to bury the carbon - to inject it into the deep earth, or solidy it. The BBC here reports on a "CO2 sequestration idea from Los Alamos which involves turning the CO2 into Calcium Carbonate. But here's the irony.....living creatures do this already! -"A wide range of marine biota including corals, foraminifera, molluscs, cocoliths, algae, echinoderms, sponges and worms precipitate skeletons of Calcium Carbonate via uptake of Calcium and Bicarbonate ions. Removal of Bicarbonate allows further atmospheric Carbon Dioxide to dissolve across the atmosphere - ocean interface."
"_ The oceans bind up a lot of carbon - this is called biomineralization

Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Carbon Dioxide Removal - Table of Contents - this gives an idea of what people in the carbon sequestration field are thinking of., such as: "Development of a Photobioreactor Incorporating Chorella sp. for Removal of CO2 in Stack Gas
Yoshitomo Watanabe and Hiroshi Saiki "


But they'd better put a rush on these sorts of solutions:

Quonsar - That was exactly my point: As Epstein and Macarthy write (bottom link) of my post: "Some climatologists are increasingly concerned about the stability of the climate system itself and the potential for abrupt shifts - to warmer or even much colder states."

here's a book about it, from the US National Academy of Science - Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises (2002). Also - an Abrupt Climate Change FAQ
posted by troutfishing at 7:44 AM on February 24, 2003


They could also package CO2 into a dry ice comet and hurl it towards Mars, where it would crash, eventually building a greenhouse effect on the red planet, thereby terraforming it into a habitable place!

$$
posted by titboy at 10:01 AM on February 24, 2003


More energy trapped in the system == more extreme weather. That's what global warming is all about.
posted by moonbiter at 10:15 AM on February 24, 2003


moonbiter - yup.

titboy - hey! there's money in that one fer sure. After we finish with all those pesky rogue regimes, we'll need somthing to occupy our time (besides garrisoning our new colonies) - a CO2 comet - Yes! - Call Los Alamos, quick.
posted by troutfishing at 12:07 PM on February 24, 2003


More energy trapped in the system == more extreme weather. That's what global warming is all about.

Then why didn't they call it global extreme weathering?
posted by kindall at 12:19 PM on February 24, 2003


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