Deforestation is a massive problem for the environment, leading to damage to ecosystems and contributing to global climate change. From the year 2000 to 2009, the Earth suffered the loss of more than 32 million acres of tropical rainforest. BioCarbon, an environmental engineering company, is hoping to reverse the damage done by deforestation through the use of tree-planting drones.
BioCarbon initially started its tree-planting drone program back in 2015, claiming that its drones would be able to plant around 36,000 trees a day. However, after increasing the technological sophistication and capacity of the program the company now estimates that one of their drones can deposit around 100,000 tree seeds a day. The company predicts that with 60 different teams it could plant over a billion trees in a year.
Almost six billion trees are cut down every year, and the traditional method of replacing them is to plant a tree by hand. This is obviously very expensive and inefficient, necessitating the need for methods which plants trees at a cheaper and quicker rate. Dr. Susan Graham, the Engineering Chief Technology Officer at Biocarbon, estimates that an entire fleet of their drones could multiply seeding rates ten fold at only a fifth of the cost of planting a tree by hand.
Biocarbon’s seed dispersal method is a two-step process. First, the area in question must be mapped out by a fixed-wing drone which creates a 3D model of an area being considered for planting. Sensors on the drone collect data on topography, slopes, obstructions, moisture and more.
After the 3D map has been created, the data is used to create a planting pattern for the tree-planting drones. The planting pattern is optimized and consideration is given to how to create a heterogeneous assortment of tree species. According to BioCarbon’s CEO Lauren Fletcher, one of their drones can carry up to 150 seed pods while in flight. Each seed pod is constructed out of biodegradable housing which degrades and helps ensure germination. A BioCarbon team has recently conducted a successful test of the tree-planting drone’s capabilities at a plot of land in New South Wales.
“The way we plant trees today is very similar to how we planted them hundreds of years ago,” said Faruqi. “So there’s major room for innovation in increasing the success rate of tree planting and also in improving the maintenance and monitoring of the restored land.”