With Drones, BioCarbon Engineering Shows Money Actually Can Grow on Trees
Climate change is a sprawling, complex problem. However we all know one very simple way to have a positive impact on climate change: plant more trees. Trees scrub pollution from the air, reduce erosion, improve water quality, provide homes for animals and insects, and enhance our lives in countless other ways.
In a new report by World Resources Institute (WRI) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), it appears many businesses around the world are making money by planting trees. The new report, ‘The Business of Planting Trees: A Growing Investment Opportunity’, shows that restoring degraded and deforested lands is not only a boon for the environment, but a lucrative opportunity for investors and entrepreneurs. “The long-term growth outlook is positive as technology lowers the costs of tree-planting, consumers reward companies who restore forests, governments make large commitments to rehabilitate their land, and business model innovation continues,” said Sofia Faruqi, Manager at WRI and report co-author. “The confluence of these factors signals that now’s the time to invest in restoration.” The report identifies four emerging themes in the restoration economy: technology, consumer products, project management and commercial forestry.
As countries push to regrow forests, startups are dreaming up new, faster ways to plant trees. For some innovators, like NASA veteran Dr. Lauren Fletcher, that means using drones. To tackle the problem of deforestation he created the company BioCarbon Engineering. Working with colleagues, he came up with a 30-pound unmanned aerial vehicle nicknamed “Robin.” It can fly over the most rugged landscapes on earth, planting trees in precise locations at the rate of 120 per minute. Step one was finding the right species of tree. Step two was building tree-planting robots.
BioCarbon Engineering now has a fleet of drones whose goal is to plant 500 billion trees by 2050. Flying ten feet off the ground, the drones gently fire seed pods into the earth at the rate of two per second. A fixed wing drone maps the area to be planted, optimising the planting pattern to avoid obstructions. One drone can carrying 300 seedpods can cover 1 hectare in 18 minutes. It’s a system that buoys the hope of our planet’s climate predicament.
Technologies such as this pave the way for faster, cheaper, more efficient tree planting, allowing rapid reforestation of broad areas of land. From seed-planting drones to companies enabling credit access for small farmers, technology is changing the face of restoration. Technology brings down the costs of restoration; demand will rise, as it did in the case of solar energy.
Cutting-edge green infrastructure will improve air quality, health and community cohesion, while providing cost-effective storm and water management for cities. Another avenue that could benefit from aforestation is the timber industry. Although the timber industry has been around for decades, sustainably managed timber that improves land quality has been a bright spot for innovation. Sustainable timber has a rising role to play in the growth story of restoration. More entrepreneurs continue to enter the restoration economy, finding new ways to make money while restoring degraded land.