Lauren Fletcher, a former NASA Engineer is aiming to tackle global climate change by planting one billion trees per year with his fleet of drones. His company, an Oxford-based BioCarbon Engineering (drone startup) is developing planting technologies that will be integrated with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and sensors, allowing them to carry out “precision forestry“. This uses geospatial information in forest planning and management, as well as site-specific silvicultural operations.
With two operators manning multiple drones, Lauren thinks it should be possible to plant up to 36,000 trees a day, and at around 15% of the cost of traditional methods.
“Destruction of global forests from lumber, mining, agriculture, and urban expansion destroys 26 billion trees each year. We believe that this industrial scale deforestation is best combated using the latest automation technologies.” says Fletcher.
How the drone works
The BioCarbon Engineering drone uses detailed terrain data to build high resolution 3D maps of the areas to be reforested. The planting drones then fly out and perform “precision planting activities” in those areas, by firing a pregerminated seed pod into the soil with pressurized air, with the pod being encapsulated in a nutrient-rich hydrogel for “high up-take rates.” After planting, the drones will also be used to audit and monitor the reforested sections to assess the recovery of the areas.
“There are a variety of tree-planting techniques, including planting by hand and delivering dry seeds by air. However, hand-planting is slow and expensive, and spreading dry seeds results in low uptake rates. Our solution balances these two methods. First, by planting germinated seeds using precision agriculture techniques, we increase uptake rates.
Second, our scalable, automated technology significantly reduces the manpower requirements and costs. Finally, our mapping UAVs will also provide invaluable intelligence on planting patterns, landscape design and appropriate timing.” – BioCarbon Engineering
This approach, using an industrial-scale reforestation method, isn’t quite ready for prime-time, but its prototype, which won £20k in funding from the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship last year, is expected to be built into a fully functioning platform by the end of the year.