Speeding Up Tree Planting By One Hundred Times Using Drones

BioCarbon Engineering wants to counter act climate change and carbon emissions by speeding the planting of trees by one hundred times by using drones. They have planted 38 species across Australia, Myanmar and the UK in temperate, sub-tropical and tropical environments. These include orthodox, intermediate and recalcitrant seeds. They are always adding more qualified species to their list.

Drone-based tree planting can speed up tree planting by up to 150 times and at vastly lower cost. Fast growing species have the potential to draw down and store more carbon in the soil.

Every year, 15 billion trees are destroyed from natural and anthropogenic causes. Despite US$50 billion a year spent on replanting, there remains an annual net loss of 6 billion trees. Governments have made commitments to restore 350 million hectares of degraded land—equivalent to an area the size of India, which could accommodate around 300 billion trees—by 2030.

They use satellite and drone-collected data to determine the best location to plant each tree. The planting drones fire a biodegradable seedpod into the ground with pressurized air at each predetermined position at 120 seedpods per minute. The seedpods are filled with a germinated seed, nutrients, and other vital components. These penetrate the earth, and, activated by moisture, grow into healthy trees.

Two operators equipped with 10 drones can plant 400,000 trees per day. Just 400 teams could plant 10 billion trees each year, with the capability to scale to tens of billions of trees annually. The fully automated and highly scalable BCE solution plants 150 times faster and 4-10 times cheaper than current methods.

They received $2.5 million in funding in 2018.

iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/uWmAX2-vraw” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen>

Biodegradable seedpods Providing a Scalable Wetland Solution

Wetland restoration has the potential to sequester carbon at rapid rates. The BCE pod is fully biodegradable, designed to ensure seed penetration to minimise tidal impact on germination

Designed to biodegrade in moist soils
Can carry multiple seed types and sizes
Scalable for challenging planting conditions

SOURCES -Biocarbon Engineering, youtube
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

27 thoughts on “Speeding Up Tree Planting By One Hundred Times Using Drones”

  1. The forests don’t naturally disappear because a dead tree stays right where it is and is digested by bacteria, fungus and termites. The minerals stay right there. It is only the human removal of the trees that causes the loss of minerals.
    I apologize for the tone of my previous comment.

  2. This leaving the roots thing is an irrelevant distraction to the discussion. It is the 7,000 lb of tree cut and hauled off we are taking about. That has minerals in it and is removed without replacement. That is not a theory, that is “conservation of mass”.
    The fact that you can now do it 35% faster just means it will take 35% less time until you can’t grow trees.

    Desertification can easily be done by people independent of climate. You think people picked out a spot with no plants as far as the eye can see to start the cities of Sumer? No, it was lush once upon a time. Farming for 6,000-12,000 years destroyed the land. If you got it in your mind to start a city, why wouldn’t you do it at the most choice location as no one owned any of it? The answer is that they did. There were maybe 10-15 places on the planet where the land was productive enough that you did not have to roam around to get enough food and could stay in one spot. Some of those places were the beginnings of settlements that became cities. Yes, things became hotter and dryer, but the vegetation itself produces these effects. Vegetation and soil hold water moderating temperatures. We see this with the redwood forests…they create their own weather.

    Desertification is a process. Trees first (they grew figs). Then when they can no longer grow you switch to vines and other smaller plants. When you can no longer grow that, you grow grasses for herds, when that can’t grow, that’s it.

  3. Super, more desert to forest will give a warmer more life friendly climate. If not as big region as Amazonas has converted from, desert to forest the las 20 years the global average temperature would have been lower.

    Try to calculate how much less energy Sahara would radiate to space if the region was covered with thick forest?

    If it was as the thickest rain forest it will radiate 16% less energy.

    Early in this inter glacial the norther hemisphere was closest to the sun during its summer and that give 7% more irradiated energy with give positive feedback from more rain and lower albedo.

    The other hemisphere has more water that distribute temperature.

    Then Sahara had rivers and the whole norther part of earth a more life friendly climate, the first human high cultures started then.

    The interglacial before hade 2,5 c higher average global temperature and 8 c higher for 6000 years on Greenland without any negative tipping points.

    5 C higher global average temperature will take the earth back to the much more life friendly global climate before this 2,6 million long ice age.

    Now when fresh water just “cost” 2,5 kWh per cubic meter with the latest revered osmosis all warm desert will be forest or the most of them and California can go on water theirs garden as crazy.

    In some way it is sad that the carbon dioxide threat is scientific rejected for people such as me who want a global welfare and know that the only technique we know work for that is small modular nuclear.

  4. correct, thanks for the math correction, of course. Forest soil is largely regenerative because you aren’t removing all the biomass, the trees themselves give off biomass as they grow, and there is decomp. Forests can be properly managed for thousands of years. With the right conditions and trees. My plot generates about 30-35% higher yield than the late 1800s. Some of this is due to higher CO2 levels in the air, but much of this is due to significantly better tech to manage the underbrush, proper drainage etc.

    Desertification is local to arid conditions, deforestation etc and not at all comparable to the boreal forests of the northern hemisphere.

    Your theory about extraction of minerals doesn’t compute for boreal forests. Or, over quite a short timeframe the forests would have disappeared. They haven’t, quite the opposite.

  5. Ah, yes, the folks at UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) are just a bunch of bozos, and you are a genius.

    A genius who thinks it takes a third of a year to grow a tree.

    I assume a tree takes about 30 years. 500/30 is approximately 17 generations. I am thinking the limit in Europe somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 generations. And, of course, diferent soils are going to run into their limit faster or slower than others.

    Land becomes more fertile? Sorry. The minerals are being extracted, and hauled away with the tree, not created out of thin air.

  6. Folks, this is mangrove planting. Germinate the seeds and plant the (little) seedlings about 1/2 inch in the soil. This drone method can’t handle coniferous or deciduous trees. Those seedlings are much heavier and require quite some depth. Imagine the effort needed for a drone to carry out the work of a human and planting shovel.

  7. there are trees and there are trees.
    I have planted >50k saplings on my place over the past 25 years (by hand, mind you, me and 2 others). Mostly spruce and pine. The area has been a managed forest for well over 500 years which means, roughly, the same land has gone through about 1,500 replantings. With proper forest management (clearing of underbrush, no clear-cutting, leave some biomass, leave some very old-growth) the land becomes even more fertile. Not less. My land produces more biomass than it did 100 years ago due to modern techniques and much better science.

    So I am afraid you are mistaken. Only poorly managed land becomes, well, poor.

  8. They might be using fertilizer in Europe…because the soil is already so close to the limits in some areas. I highly doubt they are doing much of that in the US or Canada.

    And I did not even talk about erosion. Any area with a significant grade or near rivers and streams should be off limits for logging. Otherwise, the soil gets washed into the rivers and streams and out to sea…or into reservoirs.

  9. You are ignoring the bark, and your numbers are dubious at best. Other sources say 98% is SIX elements, yes CHON but also P and S. I don’t know how much phosphorus and sulfur but they probably would have gone with just the 4, if they did not make up something over 1% each.
    Trees have a lot of mass. 4% of 7,000 lb is 280 lb. Then you have to look at how much of these minerals are in the soil the tree is growing in.
    Let’s say a tree takes up 10 lb of molybdenum and there is only 100 lb of molybdenum in the soil there, that means, at most, 10 generations of trees can be grown there and hauled off. And the last few will probably not be very healthy.

    Look, we know this is a problem. Europe used to be one big forest, but after a thousand years around the cities trees grow poorly, because too many generations of trees were cut down and burned in fireplaces to heat homes and cook food. And in the middle east it is far worse because those cities have been around longer. Search for the ruins of Eridu. Check out the plant life.
    The loss of nitrogen is not trivial either. Trees can’t just take nitrogen out of the air…that requires nitrogen nodules that grow on only a small fraction of plants. And that is not part of the plant either, it is a bacterial colony: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Root_nodule
    Trees need a lot of nitrogen, and it gets depleted fast.

  10. Trees respond to fertilization like any other plant. Bulk materials like sewage sludge is sometimes spread in forests to replenish nutrients. Another method is intentionally introducing nitrogen-fixing plants. Note that only about 1/4 of a lumber tree’s biomass is removed as logs. Half is in the root system, and 25% are branches and twigs too small to use.

    Note that all of this highly dependent on the soil type. Deep alluvial soils (river lowlands) can supply nutrients by soil decomposition, because it already had small particles with more surface area. Areas with shallow depth to bedrock are hard-put to do that.

  11. I just think the cost per tree for drone planting would be more than the cost per tree for plane planting. Human labor is expensive and I think a drone will only be able to plant a few hundred trees per flight while a plane will be able to plant tens of thousands trees per flight. I don’t think accuracy is that important.

  12. The composition of dried wood is:
    carbon 50 %
    hydrogen 6 %
    oxygen 42 %
    nitrogen 1 %
    Remaining 1% is sulfur, chlorine, silicon, phosphorus, with some trace elements, to include magnesium, boron, copper, manganese, zinc, and iron.

    Like most everything organic, CHON is 99% of the whole. All of these are found in the air, although some plants are not great at taking their own nitrogen that way, and have to get it secondhand from plants that are, like clover.

    The reason we know a lot of this is because the tree-farming industry is putting a fair amount of effort and funding in to learning how to make trees grow better and faster.

    The article says “The seedpods are filled with a germinated seed, nutrients, and other vital components.” I am going to go out on a limb (hardy har har) and guess the nutrients and vital components are things in that last one percent (and maybe a tiny bit of nitrogen).

    I just got rid of some old trees along the back edge of my property and replaced them this past winter with ten apple trees that, with only a small amount of fertilizer, appear to be finding everything they need (knock on wood).

  13. I don’t know of anyone that plants trees by seed, except for when mature pines are left to seed an otherwise clear cut area. If you have bare ground, some pioneer species, like a running grass is what you want.
    By planting seedlings, rather than seeds, it’s cheaper to use superior seed stock, you get a multiyear head start, and trees that are arranged in rows have much better spacing control. Planting of seedlings, mostly loblolly pine here in the southeastern US is done in the fall, and has a very high survival rate, even if the following summer is dry.

  14. I am not against planting trees by any means. Though saplings are not the equivalent of the removed full grown trees. We harvest and harvest, and just put back seedlings. This is not sustainable. Those trees had a lot of nutrients that they did not get from the air. That stuff was taken from the soil depleting it. If you do not replace that, you will get less healthy trees and then no trees.

    Every tree that is harvested should be exchanged for equivalent minerals, and a sapling, not just a sapling…especially any minerals that are not abundant in that soil. This is also one of the reason I really don’t like some kinds of biomass energy. Nutrients just lost.

  15. Planes aren’t cheap. And a bombing run may not be so accurate. I think drones sound just fine. “10 drones can plant 400,000 trees per day”…how is that insufficient?

  16. I was think more of saplings in biodegradable pods that would penetrate the soils. I figure a large plane would be able to plant thousands of these per flight.

  17. Rereading the below, I don’t think so. Not unless you are talking about putting acorns inside of smart bombs. For dandelions, however, your method would probably ensure maximum levels, for sure.

    “Satellite and drone-collected data to determine the best location to plant each tree. The planting drones fire a biodegradable seedpod into the ground with pressurized air at each predetermined position at 120 seedpods per minute. The seedpods are filled with a germinated seed, nutrients, and other vital components. These penetrate the earth, and, activated by moisture, grow into healthy trees.”

  18. Right, I should have phrased the question do they plant more germinated seeds per acre than they plant seedlings? As the area being reforested needs to be taken into account in a cost benefit analysis of the two planting methods.

  19. > Do they over plant the area to take into account a higher failure rate compared to using seedlings?

    Artificial plantings are often done on ~8 ft spacing, so as to place about 700 seedlings per acre. Some mortality is expected, and as the trees grow, you thin them out. A rough rule of thumb is you need 2 feet of spacing for every inch of trunk diameter. So, for example, if the trees grow to 12 inch trunks, you would want 24 feet between them. This is to allow branches to spread, and enough leaf area for each tree. Thus, you would thin 8 out of 9 of the trees as they grow up.

  20. Labor costs are lower; at the low end the drone operator is doing the work of 4 people. Also, rather than seedlings, they are planting germinated seeds which require less time and resources to produce.

    They can handle a relatively high failure rate and still be cheaper and more efficient that way.

    This reads like a lightly edited advertisement so I’m hesitant to try to wrap any hard numbers around it. I don’t see any logical flaws in the claim, but would need the actual operating costs (can you get high school and college kids who can run the drones for minimum wage or are you into licensed operators? Do they still need 4 wheelers to get to the areas or can they run it from the back of a pickup off a logging trail? How much does the drone cost compared to an ATV and shovel? Do they over plant the area to take into account a higher failure rate compared to using seedlings?

  21. I agree, although they do seem ideal to stabilize soils in mountainous regions. Maybe we have finally found a technology that can out-compete goats.

  22. Exactly. And it’s quite easy to fail when planting the seeds. You have to remove the “cover” and make sure the plants are in a suitable location (i.e. not on a root or something similar). Don’t really see how a drone would do this cheaper than some guy with a 4-wheeler. But I would be happy to be proven wrong…

  23. Trees are generally planted as seedlings, even by the acre with a planting tool in rugged terrain, or with a grain drill like device pulled by a tractor in open fields.

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