It’s no secret: trees clean the air. It’s their super power. In a single year, one mature tree absorbs more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide and, in exchange, releases oxygen into the air. It’s a win-win and planting more trees is one of the best ways to fight climate change. Ambitious organizations like 1t.org have pledged to plant 1 trillion trees by 2030 to stem the tide of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, planting trees takes time and it’s labor intensive. One Seattle-based company claims it can plant 36,000 seeds a day using 15 drones and one drone operator.
Robots to the rescue
DroneSeed deploys swarms of drones to replant forests and mitigate climate change. “We work six times faster than a tree planter with a shovel doing approximately two acres a day,” Grant Canary, DroneSeed’s CEO, says. “And dispersing seeds from our drones is cheaper and easier than traditional hand planting.”
A fleet of five eight-foot drones can cover up to 50 acres a day dropping as many as 57 pounds of seed vessels. These cube-shaped vessels resembles a large block of dirt. It’s actually a dry fiber that absorbs moisture, “so it doesn’t dry out,” Canary says. “Drying out is one of the biggest causes of seed mortality.”
Planting this way is a faster process. “What we’ve done is instead of taking three years to grow a seedling in a nursery, we’re doing it in 30 to 60 days by utilizing seeds in a seed vessel,” he says.
Traditional trees take anywhere from 10 to 40 years to reach full maturity. “And trees in a nursery are planted by hand,” Canary says. “It’s the traditional way and it takes time.”
DroneSeed is speeding up the process. Dropping seed vessels overhead via drones is a much more rapid solution to combat climate change.
In addition to seeds, these cubes contain fertilizer and a natural pest deterrent that packs a punch. “Pepper is one of the ingredients that keep the squirrels away,” Canary says.
Managing the terrain
“One of the big obstacles to reforesting faster is the difficult terrain hand planters have to navigate,” Canary says. “They’re doing wind-sprints up and down mountains and each day’s work is equal to running two marathons in caloric burn. Drones navigate difficult terrain faster because they fly.”
DroneSeed works in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, and British Columbia, “We’re the first and only approved by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to operate heavy-lift swarms in all states west of Colorado,” he says.
Replanting the forests
Drones scatter the seed vessels where they have the best chance of taking root. Many of these areas, once vibrant forests, now ravaged by wildfires are ideal planting grounds. This year, 20 large fires have burned 77,489 acres in nine states, and 24,349 wildfires have burned 651,817 acres across the country, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Wildfires are not going away. A study in the journal Ecological Applications revealed wildfires’ size and frequency are on the rise across the western U.S. due to climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found wildfires across the U.S. occur earlier than in previous years. The EPA also found since the late 1990s, changes in temperature, drought, and snowmelt—may have contributed to warmer, drier conditions that have fueled wildfires in parts of the western U.S.
“We created DroneSeed to make a dent in carbon emissions,” Canary says. “And trees far and away are the best sources to do that. Using drones are the most cost effective and scalable way to replant today because drones work six times faster than humans.”
The real deal as Mother Nature intended
Canary is aware of Mechanical Trees™ invented by Klaus Lackner, Ph.D., director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University, who partnered with Carbon Collect Limited, an international climate tech company to develop Mechanical Trees™ that remove CO2 from the atmosphere 1,000 times faster than a tree designed by Mother Nature. These trees also capture and store that CO2, which eventually becomes liquid fuel.
Canary doesn’t see Mechanical Trees™ as competition. He believes “everyone working on tech to mitigate climate is interdependent. We need carbon capture both biological and mechanical to avoid the worst effects of climate change. There’s no silver bullet tech. We need to keep our forests from exponential decline. We need to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. We need to decarbonize. We need to electrify everything. We need to put a price on carbon pollution. If one of those things doesn’t happen, the effects of climate change and the negative impact to our future will be far more severe. Let me emphasize, not just our kids future, but our future.”
“We’re losing more trees faster than nature can regenerate or humans can regenerate. So we`ve got to have better tools to be able to reforest faster. We come in with heavy lift drone swarms. They zip up and down those mountain sides, deploy seed vessels in very targeted and precise locations, and make reforestation scalable.”