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Empress trees absorb about 103 tons of carbon a year per acre (bloomberg.com)
236 points by hourislate 75 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 185 comments

> Empress trees (...) absorb about 103 tons of carbon a year per acre.

In 2016, U.S. GHG emissions were 20.15 metric tons CO2-equivalent per person[1].

So basically each american would have to cultivate about 0.196 acre of empress trees (792 sq meters, or 8522 sq foot) to become carbon neutral.

[1] http://css.umich.edu/factsheets/us-environmental-footprint-f...

Empress trees certainly have some impressive specs, but no one plant is going to be the silver bullet.

Can we eventually take per capita carbon footprint down to a fraction of what it was in 2016? I think so, if the people can be convinced to elect sane leaders in the US and elsewhere.

Can vast regions in the USA and other countries be re-forested? Yes, if the willpower is there.

Is it worthwhile to develop artificial carbon sequestration facilities that operate on vast scales? Yep.

It might be done quite quickly with a proper carbon pricing regime. The UK carbon price is about £35/ton. Times 104 tons/acre is about £3500/acre which is probably enough to make a profit. Then just get VC funding for your carbon startup and off it goes.

There are political and practical difficulties doing that but there are also difficulties with wrecking the climate that might outweigh those.

It is basically in progress by largest forest owner in Poland - state company to be exact.

It is called Carbon Forest Sylviculture (Leśne Gospodarstwo Węglowe). Over all it is more of a marketing scheme with very small impact. We tried to increase sequestration rates with correct sylvicultural regimes.

Currently it is more like a way for companies to sound ecological. IDK if it can be profitable, remember land and everything cost and I think those profit margins would be very small.

Might be a worthwhile start-up idea... I'm wondering...

Ah. To summarise those some previous companies, Timbercorp and Great Southern pushed planting similar trees as a get rich quick thing and then went bust leaving useless trees and a lot of people with large losses. World Tree, featured in the Bloomberg article say they are different and do it better. I guess it's a tricky business to do well.

I'm in.

It would only cost about as much as the futile wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to implement Be/CCS solutions at scale to reduce CO2 to pre-industrial levels (280 ppm). The key is sequestration because without that, like the recent virtue-signaling in Africa, growing a bunch of trees in poor soil is pointless: it doesn't stop desertification, increased risk of forest fires and dying/burning trees above ground doesn't capture any net carbon.

How much is it in comparison to the subsidies for drilling oil?

We need to research what kind of mycorhizal fungi and microbes can be inoculated into the soil to best optimize for tree growth rate.

It is heavily researched topic. You would need some way to microdose water and nutrients into plants.

Forestry is science. There are loads of smart people working in this area currently.

>Can vast regions in the USA and other countries be re-forested? Yes, if the willpower is there.

China and India already plant a lot of trees.

US can sit back relax and dedicate that space to more research centers and get ahead while China/India are busy squeezing their population and putting up large pieces of land for reforestation.

Not every country has to do it, not many in Europe will shell out for reforestation.

The carbon in atmosphere will have effect nomatter where the tree is.

Large part of Europe already did it. USA is backwater it seems...

Based on what?


The US is more forested than it has been in the past.

This is a very selfish view. Plus, I don't think it's even valid.

well said :), i vote for you!

> elect sane leaders in the US and elsewhere.

honest question: can you point me to any US politician that has stood up to a corporation or corporate interest with laws that effectively say, "No, you can't have what you want, the people need <this> instead." and - most importantly - got those laws passed? I can't think of one. I think obamacare came close (which became one of the most hardfought wins ever), and yet the health insurance lobby still came out ahead. I dare say that no congress shall ever pass a law that harms a corporation (a de facto constitutional amendment).

What does that have to do with carbon control ? ICE auto industry, coal industry, oil and gas, etc, would all be "harmed" if US lawmakers passed anything that had a material impact on CO2 emissions. It would require multiple layers of alternative realities for that to ever happen, in my (admittedly cynical) opinion. I'm sorry if this sounds like I'm saying we should give up/not try. I _want_ us to solve global warming. I just can't picture it happening (at least for the redress method I listed above).

I don't know if this is the kind of answer you were looking for, but Elizabeth Warren was very successful in her efforts to get the CFPB off the ground, much to the displeasure of the financial sector: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumer_Financial_Protection_.... It's true that under the Trump administration the bureau's behavior is being...modified...but it was quite a success when running as originally intended by Warren.

Furthermore, both Warren and Bernie Sanders seem to have genuine convictions w.r.t. climate change, health care, social inequality, etc. Whether or not their particular points of view are desirable is open for debate, but their multi-decade commitments to these issues are beyond question. They seem to have non-trivial support in the electorate as well - I encourage you to check them out, especially if you're feeling cynical or anxious about the future.

ok, they created a bureau, not a "rip consumers off and your executives go to jail (viz. wells fargo, HSBC...)" law.

Great convictions are a start. but in order for them to actually pass legislation, they need other congress members to vote for them. and that's where the dirty tricks start (I wont vote for your X unless you vote for my Y, etc).

I guess I'm contradicting myself a bit, because I said "name one" without acknowledging that it takes a majority in congress to pass anything. So yes, Warren and Sanders have the courage to face corporate interests. Thank you. I just yearn for the day where shareholders of XYZ get a 30% haircut because laws were passed that reigned in their company's behavior.

This is a misunderstanding how how government works. You need to have some kind of institution in order to get anything enforced. Building up institutions full of competent people with a mandate to craft and enforce carefully designed regulations and respond to changing circumstances is the way to attack these kinds of big problems.

(Of course, institutions can only be so effective when their leadership is unlawfully replaced with incompetent industry hacks by the next administration; the only way to tackle that is with higher-level political action: court fights, impeachment, and ultimately elections.)

Just laws on the books doesn’t accomplish anything. There are already plenty of laws against ripping off consumers, but corporatist ideologues in control of the US Supreme Court have spent the last several decades watering down the potential liability via increasingly tendentious reinterpretations.

you misunderstand how enforcement works. It's done via law enforcement agencies that exist already. It doesn't need a special new "bureau" for each type of rule. If you don't believe me that there are law enforcement agencies, I can show you how to summon them very easily.

Now, the question is, why don't these agencies enforce the same laws against corporations? That's the premise of my initial comment, which you also misunderstood.

There are many different organizations within the US federal government (not to mention state governments) which deal in one way or another with regulation and enforcement.

Many of the ones commonly considered to be “law enforcement agencies” per se are listed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_law_enforcement_in_the... but there are many other federal agencies which might also be considered “law enforcement” under a broader interpretation of that term.

Different agencies have different focus, different mandate, different institutional powers, etc.

Arguably the functions established for the CFPB to perform could be undertaken by some other institution. But the point of the legislation and its implementation (which Warren and others worked very carefully on) was creating a semi-autonomous institution solely focused on consumer financial protection.

During the Obama years the CFPB was pretty effective, despite unified and extreme opposition from GOP politicians. (Its effectiveness explains why some folks were eager to see it defanged.)

Even with cigarettes, a product that kills its consumer even when used exactly as designed, congress wont' ban them because that would negatively impact a corporation. But you seem to think that corporations don't need to abide by clear-cut rules. they need some kind of "bureau" so that there can be a constant back-and-forth, give-and-take, so that we don't impact that poor, tender corporation. Why is that required, but we don't need a "domestic violence bureau" ? Clear-cut laws seem to work fine for poor people. Why won't they work for corporations?

> corporations don't need to abide by clear-cut rules

This is a straw man. Nobody thinks this.

> but we don't need a "domestic violence bureau"

There are several federal institutions which deal with domestic violence (alongside additional state and local ones). For example the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, and has the mandate to “understand, respond to, and prevent” domestic violence.

The FBI can also investigate specific domestic violence crimes, but my impression is that it is not their highest priority.

Domestic violence is a huge problem and is famously underreported, underinvestigated, and underprosecuted. Probably not the best example you might pick; arguably having additional government agencies with the power to do something about domestic violence might make a positive difference. (Disclaimer: I know very little about this subject.)

you keep backpedaling about bureaus, ignoring how 99% of the law in this nation is enforced. we can't have a conversation if you do contortions by reading the most implausible interpretation of everything I say.

Federal agencies enforce crimes that cross state boundaries. With rate exceptions, domestic violence cases do not. Agencies exist to enforce the laws of Congress. That if their entire reason for existing.

OTOH, most corporate crimes do cross state boundaries and thus are within the jurisdiction of both state and federal authorities.

With respect to cigarettes, the product itself doesn't kill people. There are people that live for decades smoking multiple times a day. The secondary effects kill many people, but there isn't a sufficiently strong correlation to ban cigarettes outright.

Unfortunately we all know that dems will proceed with Biden and that's how we will get 4 more years of our current president.. :\

teach them to shaft Bernie next time!

You can't count all 103 tons. The Empress wood is really just substituting for other wood that grows more slowly and less efficiently. So, if you grew Empress trees that yielded 10M board feet, there would be less of some other tree grown. Since the Empress is so efficient you could use less land to grow those 10M board feet worth of trees. And if that land which you wind up not needing to grow plantation trees on instead becomes undisturbed forest, then you could count that portion as a net reduction in carbon emissions.

It also possible that Empress is so efficient that the market for wood expands more than it would otherwise. Say you use more wood to replace concrete in buildings [1]. That would also count as a reduction. But in neither scenario would you be able to count all 103 tons per acre per year.

A confounding factor, can it really compete on a mass scale with existing lumber?

> Paulownia trees take a lot of work to manage. They require pruning twice a year to establish a clear timber trunk. They need particular growing conditions, and don’t like wet feet or strong winds. [2]

Is this why the industry is not already growing the tree?

[1] http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190717-climate-change-wood...

[2] https://thisnzlife.co.nz/how-a-small-waikato-farm-harnesses-...

No one is suggesting we cut down other trees though, there are large expanses of deforested land and the goal here would be rapid reforestation.

Replacing a complete lack of tree with any other tree is an improvement.

Not quite true with regards to local and downstream environments. The best case here is probably to identify deforested areas that are geographically constrained - ie difficult for seeds to be blown or washed away, and plant there - noting that iot's now a sacrificial area for decarbonising forestation.

Maybe not replacing lack of tree with exotic invasives trees

The principle reason for favoring this tree (not arguing whether it's good or bad) is the vastly superior rate of carbon sequestration. Most trees are (apparently, just according to the article) only capable of sequestering 1.1-9.5 tonnes of carbon per acre per year, this type can apparently take up more than 100 tonnes per acre per year.

I also did a similar back-of-the-envelop calculation the moment I saw this 103 tons per acre figures.

Global CO2 emissions: ~40GT/year

Area required: ~600K square miles

This is approximately the size of the entire state of Alaska. Every year.

There is not one solution for Global Warming and CO2 emissions. No silver bullet, just as in software. This is one more tool, which needs to be used when appropriate. But we also need better legislation, technological improvements, and changes in consumption behavior, locally and worldwide. If we look at each of those things and do the math, the answer will be "it's not enough" or "it's too expensive". We mustn't let that be a showstopper. Of course some solutions are really not viable at all and should be ignored in favor of others, but every solution that helps enough (for some definition of enough) needs to be pursued.

The year is 21XX. Multi-story "tree towers" pierce the skyline in every direction, competing for vertical supremacy with even the tallest of skyscrapers. Solar and other renewable energy sources provide the lighting necessary for the unexposed levels.

Grow 100 foot trees, fell them into central points into a teepee like structure. Move soil to the points plant a new tree on top.

Not every year. Given the article's assertion of the 103 tons per acre per year, your Alaska of Empress trees would do it until they all die and presumably those forests will be maintained into perpetuity.

When the tree dies, it will release 99% of the stored carbon back to the atmosphere. Unless you bury the tree in an anaerobic environment or treat it in some other way, the tree is just a time-delayed release mechanism.

New forest can store a buffer in perpetuity, e.g., a new trillion trees can store 133 Gt. But current emissions are > 40 Gt/year, so this is < 4 years worth of emissions.

> When the tree dies, it will release 99% of the stored carbon back to the atmosphere.

It's not the tree which does that. It's the organisms consuming the tree during the decomposition process which do that. And that doesn't happen all at once. Indeed, if you grow another tree then you're likely to still be net-positive.

If you use the tree for other purposes -- construction, for example. Or burning for energy production -- then it becomes a useful part of the lifecycle.

> Or burning for energy production

Doesn't that just release the C02 again? Construction purposes might help, or any other way of sequestering.

Yes, but its net-zero carbon, so still an improvement over using fossil fuels.

Net-zero CO2.

Probably other factors are small, but hard to predict (particulates, volatile chemicals, other effects of growth). Might be positive or negative.

Fair, so that implies it doesn't really help, but at least isn't actively making things worse.

Makes me wonder if in the future the solution will be to create synthetic crude and pump it back into the ground.

Or just:

>Once the trees reach maturity, farmers harvest their wood for use in houses or musical instruments

as in the article. You could make chunky log cabin type buildings to use more. I'd quite like a log mansion.

Maybe this is where the oil came from In the first place. A desperate attempt to dump co2 by a doomed civilisation in the deep past. Obviously not, but could make a good short story :)

It definitely seems like the ideal solution is bacterial sequestration of carbon into some inert, non-toxic, storable chemical.

Make charcoal and then bury it

There is a guy here who cuts them down and regrows them from the stumps, selling the timber and feeding stock with the leaves and small branches. Presumably this increases the carbon capture.


Ironically the stored CO2 destroyed the 'civilisation' that fixed it in the first place

The carbon stored in a tree is proportional to its weight, about half its dry weight is carbon [https://scied.ucar.edu/sites/default/files/images/long-conte...].

Also in all those discussions of processes(!) I find people even here seem to be looking at points in time only, and usually at the start of the process. That also includes the issue of looking at just one tree instead of a forest. When you look at the whole system individual tree life cycle doesn't matter any more. Some trees grow old and die or are harvested (what happens?), others grow in their place, overall the forest remains at a pretty stable and fixed weight. Unless you find trees that keep growing for miles and miles higher for thousands of years.

Look at total biomass, not at tree life cycles! The equations at that point of a mature forest are balanced. The whole forest stores a fixed amount and that's it. As long as we keep bringing carbon from very ancient forests back out of the earth, it does not matter how many forests there are. You will only get a temporary dip.

This whole thing is ridiculous: Even if we decided to bury grown trees deep underground to remove their carbon from the surface forever - why not save the huge effort (and the energy that process needs which again has to be fed somehow - with even more fossil fuels for quite some time to come) and simply leave the ancient forests where they are (deep underground)?

You can plant trees as much as you like, as long as we continue to bring up carbon from underground it is useless - apart from a temporary (small) dip. The above-ground forests will never be big enough to compensate for the below-ground forests being brought back up.

A quick search shows links and links of opinion and "studies" all about "we can store carbon underground!" Well, wait, what?? I don't get it. - it's already (down) there!! Earth did just that a long time ago! Just stop bringing it up, then you don't need to find ways to get it back down, which according to the laws of physics is a net-negative process. For the same amount somehow stored underground we need far more for the energy to do so, as long as we rely on carbon for energy (which won't change any time soon at scale across the world). And if we don't need the carbon for energy we won't bring it up any more (about three quarters of oil is used for energy or heating, an even higher share of natural gas and coal).

I really don't understand the discussion at all. It seems like a great distraction, all those studies and headlines and discussions about storing CO2 underground? For the reason mentioned. After you get it out and burn it (i.e. turned it into CO2), you will need even more of it to get the energy to get it back down where it already was to begin with. Even if we would have 100% solar/wind, the whole scenario does not sound very useful to me at the imagined scale. Even using it as temporary energy store/source for energy demand when wind/solar are not available should be done with what already is above ground, or if it involves a blow-ground cycle it should be one far smaller than the current extraction and the imagined reburying.

Having more forests is wonderful for many reasons (even though at this point vast areas are removed - https://www.livescience.com/27692-deforestation.html). However, the attention it gets as some sort of "solution" for global CO2 levels amazes me (in combination with the fact I just linked even more - stopping what we are doing would be soooo much more impactful, both destruction of current and previous forests above as well as underground).

You don't bury the trees underground to store their carbon.

You bury them in buildings. As lumber.

Replace concrete (which produces CO2) in new buildings with wood (which sequesters it) and you've tackled quite a bit of carbon emissions.

You again look only at points in time or short periods and only at individual items instead of systems. Buildings are not a final permanent storage and they are not a different storage compared to trees, they basically serve the exact same purpose if you model global CO2 storage and have pretty much the same characteristics. Nothing changes by including buildings, you could just model it as a larger forest.

Unless you add additional options by having two different items (tress + buildings), e.g. the option to stack them on top of one another, it does not matter if the carbon is stored in a tree or a building made from it. They all share the same limited surface space and you could just replace all buildings with trees in the model, or vice versa and it does not change the total storage capacity here on the surface. I refer back to everything I wrote.

You again look only at points in time or short periods and only at individual items instead of systems. Buildings are not a final permanent storage and they are not a different storage compared to trees, they basically serve the exact same purpose if you model global CO2 storage and have pretty much the same characteristics. Nothing changes by including buildings, you could just model it as a larger forest.

Unless you add additional options by having two different items (tress + buildings), e.g. the option to stack them on top of one another, it does not matter if the carbon is stored in a tree or a building made from it. They all share the same limited surface space and you could just replace all buildings with trees in the model, or vice versa and it does not change the total storage capacity here on the surface. I refer back to everything I wrote.

Maybe carbon pricing schemes will do that - shift the economics to more closely match the physics. If what you say is true, then eventually the price of dug-up carbon should roughly equal the price of digging it up, processing it, and shoving it back in storage. That should incentivize leaving it there in the first place.

well, if you convert it all to biochar (say with a 50% volume fudge factor to account for non-carbon components and packing density), you just have to stack an area the size of pennsylvania with 1 meter of biochar each year to zero emissions.

And the carbon cost of the energy it takes to convert it all to biochar?

The energy and carbon come from burning off the volatile organics from the wood. It impacts the amount of carbon sequestered but it's still a net positive.

Presumably you don’t have to harvest and replant them every year though. I’m guessing it takes them several years to get to the point that they’re full grown.

Sure, but there's also got to be some sort of diminishing return.

Definitely. We’d have to do something with all the trees every few years or whatever.

and even if this were possible, it requires a significant amount of freshwater to supply that many trees.

Presumably, some of that 103 tons are taken care of already by existing plants/trees.

Absolutely, not to mention the ocean. A third of existing emissions are already absorbed by the oceans: https://www2.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/sea-carb-bish....

> In 2016, U.S. GHG emissions were 20.15 metric tons CO2-equivalent per person

Is that per year or per average lifetime?

I planted one of these trees a few years ago and I think it's absolutely gorgeous. I can't get over how absolutely huge the leaves get. A lot of people hate them though, for the same reason outlined in the article: you can't kill them. Many consider them weeds.

> you can't kill them

If you're trying to do carbon capture, maybe this is a feature? Assume you mean that literally, and you can just chop one down and another will grow in its place, that's pretty great, since trees only capture carbon when they are growing.

That's exactly what they say in the article, if you cut the tree down, another will grow from the stump, they are quite literally grass-trees

And yeah, this is actually a huge bonus for carbon capture!

Then it will be great to constantly log them down and sell them as carbon credit.

To sell them as carbon credits, you’d have to bury the logs or something — otherwise they might burn, or their mass would be absorbed by other animals/fungi/bacteria which would eventually convert the carbon into CO2.

I beleive the traditional solution is to turn them into furniture. Or houses! Building with farmed wood is very eco friendly since it produces a negative amount of CO2.

That just delays the CO2 release. Furniture breaks. Houses get old and get demolished. Even if it takes 100 or 500 years, it will happen.

You need to store wood long-term somehow. Or burn it and store CO2 underground, turning it into rock.

True. But if we could buy a couple hundred years, that would be amazing with the timescales we're looking at now.

Yup. Looks like they're often classified "invasive" --


All I remember about empress trees is the extremely strong smell of the flowers. Not very pleasant, to me.

>A lot of people hate them though, for the same reason outlined in the article: you can't kill them. Many consider them weeds.

I reread the article and I see no mention of it?

This page has a good overview:


>...its ability to sprout prolifically from adventitious buds on stems and roots allows it to survive fire, cutting and even bulldozing in construction areas; making it difficult to remove from established areas.


> Cutting or girdling trees with power or manual saws are effective at preventing seed production, but an herbicide treatment is necessary following cutting since Paulownia readily re-sprouts. Hand pulling may be effective for young seedlings. Plants should be pulled as soon as they are large enough to grasp. Seedlings are best pulled after a rain when the soil is loose. The entire root must be removed since broken fragments may re-sprout. Cutting or pulling is the preferred mechanical treatments of the Paulownia tormentosa; do not use fire because this species is able to survive fire and then quickly proliferates and out-competes native tree species post-fire.

They mention it’s “easy to regrow from the stump” what that means is cutting it down doesn’t kill it. Additionally many trees that easily regrow from a cut stump also regrow/produce new tree from their roots.

Seems like a recipe for an invasive plant (much like those awful pear trees the were used for landscaping)

After one research it seems like only one variant of Paulownia is "invasive" - as in super aggressively spreading, but it does make me wonder if have acres and acres filled with them will result in some mutant offspring developing the super aggressive spread that the species is clearly capable of. Very much like what happened with that invasive pear [1]

[1] I dug up the article https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/how-we-tur...

It also seems handy for growing timber. There seems to be a growing market for it too. https://thisnzlife.co.nz/how-a-small-waikato-farm-harnesses-...

It's in a caption of one of the images:

> "After the first year of growth, trees are cut down to the stump, the rest sold for timber. This process, called coppicing, promotes bigger and straighter growth the following year."

That should be a method of carbon sequestration.

Huge leaves creep me out for some reason. I think it's because small leaves are normal in my region--I associate big ones with tropical regions, rainforests, jungles, etc. When I see a fast-growing tree with a narrow stalk and big leaves, it can't hurt me of course, but it vaguely arouses the same disgust as a parasite or fungus.

They are beautiful, grow absolutely huge at maturity, and produce lovely (enormous) bluish-purple flowers. The leaves are comically huge, and the seed casings form a sort of organic baby rattle. It's wild.

One of the firms referenced in the Bloomberg article actually offers the plants (and opportunities of investment in them) and has a number of answers to the questions asked in the thread:


Though I have personally never heard about anything actually manufactured with the actual "empress" or "princess" timber.

It seems like in Japan it has a number of tradititonal uses, the family is that of the Paulownia:


And they're going to have to think of something to do with that wood, if it's going to be part of a carbon reduction methodology. The trees don't live forever, and if they are left to rot or burn, they release all that CO2 back into the environment.

Lumber would be one use. So would charcoal, or paper. Or possibly even burying them. But either way, growing them is only half the battle.

In Chile big forestry companies (?) which dedicate themselves to grow and then sell timber are growing eucalyptus trees for their business, but said eucalyptus trees have great externalities, in that they use colossal amounts of water , given that said trees come from a dry climate, they simply evolved to capture as much water as possible.

I wonder if there's a business here, replacing eucalyptus trees for empress, which might very well grow faster and without as many externalities, such as the water cost, or the bark eucalyptus trees shed which is a fire hazard

World Tree is solid. I've talked with the owner and she has a good program set up with the farmers who grow the trees to get the capital they need to plant them and then revenue share from the sales. They raised money (about $1 million) on WeFunder earlier this year to help grow the program.

Good, so you can maybe know (and tell us) what is manufactured from the actual timber (i.e. to whom it is sold and for what use).

You can see here who they plan to market the lumber to: https://worldtree.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/World-Tree...

Note that they are not harvesting until 2022 according to the plan, so it remains to be seen if they can effectively execute on their sales strategy.

Thank you, rather lenghty, but really interesting.

Even if it is - understandably in a prospect for investors - a tad bit (IMHO) scaring, this is the central issue:

>No Market for ES Lumber in North America

>A return on a Subscriber’s investment in the Company is dependent on the aggregate of board feet of ES Lumber that the Company is able to harvest from its ES Tree crops and the price per board foot for which it can sell its ES Lumber, both of which are subject to numerous external factors beyond the control of the Company and the Company.

>The market for ES Lumber in North America is unestablished.

>If the Company is unable to develop the market or if the market does not expand on its own or if the Company is unable to sell to the Asian market, the Company may not be able to sell its ES Lumber for a profit or at all, which may result in a loss of some or all of a Subscriber’s investment in the Company.

In a nutshell the issue is that there is not (yet) a market for the wood, and in order to create the market one needs to have substantial quantities of the material to offer.

The provided "Fender" example is typical (egg and chicken):

>WTT contracted with Fender Guitars in 2010 to supply ES Lumber for the building of Telecaster and Stratocaster Guitars. Fender was pleased with the results of their prototypes and requested thousands of board feet to build more guitars and speaker boxes. Due to limited availability of ES Lumber, WTT was unable to fulfil the demand at the time. However, the Company has recently located a source of 3 million board feet of ES Lumber and is currently negotiating the sale of the lumber to Fender and other buyers.

The Janka Hardness is 260-290 which is softer than most soft woods. Seems like that could limit its usage.

But its harder than Balsa which is a hardwood...

They are suggesting scam like levels of profit: https://worldtree.info/investment/

25k -> 355k in 10 years is at least 29% year over year return. That seems... improbable.

The profit is all based on lumber sales too. If profits really were that high it seems like capital would flow in until there were so many of these trees that prices would go down (though I'd imagine they're a small part of the global lumber market), especially if you can only use their wood for a limited number of things.

On the other hand, if they really do such a great job storing carbon, seems like there is potential for them to make money on the fact people are willing to pay to offset their emissions.

I think this is a neat idea but have one question. I'm not a chemist but am curious what happens to all that carbon after it's taken in by the tree. Does that carbon become something else? Or does it just kind of hang out in the tree until the tree dies? Once the tree dies, does all that carbon just go back to the atmosphere again? Thanks for any insight!

Interesting tidbit about this. The reason we have so much fossil fuel in the first place is because of what happened during the Carboniferous era. Trees evolved the capability to produce lignin, the 'woody' material in trees. However, it took millions of more years for microorganisms to evolve the ability to decompose lignin.

So instead of what happens today when a tree dies and rots, the tree died and just piled up in the forest. I always think it's amazing to imagine what a forest must have looked like during the Carboniferous with all these dead trees just piled high. Trees were essentially like today's plastic: non-biodegradable refuse that stuck around for millennia. Eventually all those trees got buried and turned into fossil fuels (mostly coal).

And, interestingly, this process let to huge climate change back then, too - basically the reverse of what's happening now (and at a much slower pace). Trees sucked all this carbon out of the air and reduced global temperatures by about 8C.

Edit: One other note - there were of course still forest fires during the Carboniferous. It's believed they would have been incredible raging infernos with so much undecomposed combustible material.

so when the ability to break down plastic becomes widespread amongs organisms and they devour all the microplastics in the ocean, our co2 levels are going to skyrocket...

Also not a chemist, but here's my basic understanding.

The tree absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere and combines it with water (H2O) from the soil to produce more complex chemical compounds (such as carbohydrates). This process uses sunlight as the source of energy, and is better known as photosynthesis. The chemical compounds thus produced are used by the tree as structural material (the wood), or as stored energy (basically, reverting the photosynthesis reaction, aka "burning", releases the energy).

If the tree matter gets consumed by animals, those animals are going to use the stored energy, and ultimately re-release the stored carbon as CO2. If the tree just dies and is allowed to decompose, bacteria and other microorganisms will do the same: they'll eat the carbohydrates that the tree produced, and they'll breathe out the resulting CO2. If the tree is burned as fuel, the CO2 gets re-emitted directly.

So, to truly remove that CO2 from the atmosphere, the tree needs to be felled once it's stopped growing, and the resulting wood stored someplace where it can't be decomposed by microorganisms. Burying it is one solution to this (and this is what happened during the carboniferous era, when much of our coal and oil got created: dead trees fell in shallow swamps and were quickly buried under a layer of silt which prevented the decomposition).

Again, I'm no expert, so I'm happy to stand corrected if I've made any mistakes above.

The easiest thing to do is to burn it into biochar and then either bury that or use it as a fertilizer on fields where it will get taken up in the soil.

There are some active land management techniques which do something similar with shrubs/plants/grasses which generate an enormous amount of soil and therefore trap a lot of carbon.

Interesting, I hadn't realized pyrolysis (used to produce biochar) does not release CO2. Seeing "pyro" (Greek for "fire") I had assumed oxidation. Sounds like a good technique for making the wood "indigestible" for microorganisms. I wonder if it's worth doing energywise, compared with just burying it somewhere.

It turns into wood! It's actually pretty amazing. I always though the physical substance of wood came out of the ground, through the roots, but in fact wood is made almost exclusively out of air. Trees are frozen air.

As an aside, that's also how we lose weight! When we burn away fat, we breathe it out.

As it turns out, the vast majority of any plant is actually Carbon! That it got from the AIR!!!! I remember when my friends' brains were blown that all trees are essentially made out of "air" that got converted to wood.

Technically it's the 2xCO_2 -> 2xO_2+2C and the Carbon that sticks around becomes the wood. (also insert Water and energy into that equation. Photosynthesis is crazy).

And yes, if it gets burned or decomposed that carbon can get released back into the air (usually as CO2) but if you instead bury it you essentially lock it into solid form. And over years and years that becomes oil!

I'm really pleased to see people in this subthread being so excited about the fact that plants are made out of carbon they extract from the air.

Question, though: isn't this something you learned in school?

The carbon becomes part of the wood of the tree.

After the tree dies, it would only go back into the atmosphere if the trunk was burned.

> After the tree dies, it would only go back into the atmosphere if the trunk was burned.

To nitpick: or if it decomposes in other ways.

And what if we bury it? Can we do landfills with the trunks of these trees, like filling up old brown coal mines? This was something that I was thinking about while driving past a few former mines in Germany. Great places to fill up with decomposables. At a certain point the top layer will stop the bottom layers CO2 from leaking, I expect?

There are a lot of things wrong with this idea.

- Shallow burying the wood would not stop emissions from escaping into the atmosphere. Doing so would deprive it of oxygen which would cause the production of methane which is even worse than co2

- Wood is way less dense than coal so even if the idea worked you would only be able to store a fraction of the amount of co2

- Its hard to imagine the sheer scale of collecting all the wood to ship back to the mines. As mentioned wood is much less dense than coal so the effort to ship the wood to coal mines would be much more difficult than shipping the coal out of the mines. Not to mention that the wood would be coming from a much wider area.

There are ideas about burning wood to produce electricity, capturing the CO2 exhaust and pumping that deep underground. The concept is called Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).

If you bury it you might be able to stop oxygen from getting in and turning into CO2, at least with any speed. But if water gets in you can still have methanogen bacteria come in and turn the wood into methane. Which you might be able to capture and sell and displace methane mined out of the ground but that isn't the same as locking it away forever.

This process is why you have methane production in swamps and conventional landfills.

It is part of the wood itself. Apparently wood is about half carbon. All known living things are made of carbon.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood#Chemistry_of_wood https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon-based_life

Many have commented about carbon becoming part of the tree however one also has to consider carbon in the soil around the tree. Plants put carbon into the ground through their roots and leaves, bark and other material that comes off of them that then feeds soil bacteria, fungi, worms, etc. Think about the soil underfoot in a mature forest is versus that under a lawn. In the forest you have soft, airy soil that teems with life and goes down for meters, whereas a lawn is compacted dirt after about a foot. There's a huge difference in stored carbon between them.

Its a complex ecosystem with the plants at the center, and trees, since they have the deepest roots do the best at promoting carbon uptake. Of course, if you clearcut a forest the soil ecosystem dies and the carbon eventually comes back out of the ground.

As others have said the carbon is locked into the physical wood. When it rots or burns, that carbon is released back.

However, you can hijack the process a little and keep the carbon locked away by doing things. You could use the wood as lumber or you could burn the wood in a special way which produces biochar.

The carbon goes back into the atmosphere if you burn it. If you just let it decay, turn into top soil, and ultimately become entombed by the surface of the Earth it will, ultimately, suffer the fate of most of the ancient plants we today burn in their carbon-storage form: underground oil.

Yes, it's only captured until the tree dies. After that the tree rots etc and carbon is released again.

The clue to net carbon capture is to plant new forests and make sure the forest stays alive. While the forest lives, all the CO2 is safely sequestered.

The carbon is essentially the entirety of the tree itself

Not an expert in this... at 103 metric tons of CO2 per acre per year, how many acres of this do we need to plan to make an impact?

Look like according to this random Medium blog, we should aim to remove 10B metrics tons every year? So that's 970MM acres? https://medium.com/@friedmann2/going-negative-time-to-suck-i...

Carbon and CO2 "emissions" numbers are different

"Carbon" is 10B "CO2" is 40B

This article says Carbon in the headline but CO2 in the body

From the body of the article:

> While each acre of most tree species can capture and store 1.1 to 9.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, an acre of empress trees can absorb 103.

40 billion / 103 = 388 Million acres of Empress Trees

China is around 2 billion acres in size 22% of China is covered by forests

22% of 2 billion is 440M

In theory China alone can solve this problem by replacing the indigenous trees with these trees. Bad idea though for obvious reasons.

In practice if every compatible country just got rid of some sub-optimal tree and replaced it with this tree, it could probably work.

If we gathered up the annual amount of money spent on "solving" Climate Change - one example that comes to mind is the recent Google summit where all the B-tier Celebrities went to in Yachts and Private Jets. What if we took all the money that these kinds of events cost and devote it to this single exercise. I'm pretty sure it could be done. All it would take is some governments to say OK. They can get paid for it by the other countries too as a one-off payment.

For people like me who don't have a good mental image of the size of 970 million acres, I did the math and that is just over half of the land in the continental United States.

That's like 6x the size of Texas. Can probably pull that off if everyone in the world pitches in.

Not sure what other effects like invasiveness of the species factor in.

> The Empress Splendor tree belongs to the genus Paulownia. There are many different species of Paulownia and only one is classified as invasive, the Paulownia tomentosa (http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/plants/printree.shtml). We do not use this variety, choosing instead non-invasive species such as the Paulownia fortuneii.

So like 2% of the worlds acreage...

Don’t we need to take into account the local ecology? If we deploy one single plant to “solve” our carbon capture needs aren’t we both going to reduce biodiversity (they out compete local species) and set up a single point of failure? (Like banana trees now)

Well, we do have to factor in the potential irreversible loss of biodiversity from the current climate change as well.

Folks should still be preserving the seeds and protect the local ecology as much as possible but they don't mean anything if the climate change isn't slowed down or reversed resulting into the same loss anyway.

I thought Bamboo was the fastest growing tree? I remember it grows more than an inch every hour. Since no one has done mass planting of Bamboo, there must be some down fall that wasn't well known?

Edit: Turns out Bamboo is classified as plant. But the question remains the same.

> Bamboo’s carbon sequestration properties have been studied in countries where it naturally forms wild forests, such as Mexico (Castañeda, 2006) and China (Song, 2011). Contributing to these efforts, Ricardo Rojas Quiroga—an environmental engineering student at the Universidad Nuestra Señora de La Paz—studied Guadua angustifolia, a species of bamboo that grows in the Carrasco National Park of Bolivia. He measured the density and masses of bamboo plants in the forest, estimating the amount of carbon stored per hectare. Rojas concluded that, in addition to forming part of one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, each hectare of the bamboo forest of Carrasco National Park stores levels of carbon comparable to some large tree species such as Chinese fir and oak. This finding is consistent with that of many previous studies, a review of which can be found in this 2010 report by INBAR.


Don't know too much about this but I can speculate.

Bamboo is hollow so probably doesn't capture as much carbon compared to a solid tree. You can also use the wood from trees in a lot more places than bamboo.

Maybe because they are hollow they can store relatively little considered their height?

Also: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/03/160324-bambo...

I think you mean classified as a grass

A unique carbon capture solution I don't hear much about is kelp. The key is that you want the carbon captured to stay out of the air, and the deep sea is a great place for it to end up. https://carboninstitute.org/kelp-and-carbon-sequestration-br...

3) Ocean Afforestation via macro-algae forests covering 9% of the world’s ocean surface can produce sufficient biomethane to replace all of today’s needs in fossil fuel energy, while removing 53 billion tons of CO2 per year from the atmosphere, restoring pre-industrial levels. This amount of biomass could also increase sustainable fish production to potentially provide 200 kg/yr/person for 10 billion people. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259892834_Negative_...

Offsetting current carbon emissions would require some 50 trillion trees. An alternative offset would be to cultivate kelp forests. Kelp can grow at 2 feet per day, 30 times faster than terrestrial plants. Planting kelp across 9% of the oceans (4.5 x the area of Australia) could provide the same offset. Additionally, the kelp would support a fish harvest of 2 megatons per year and reduce ocean acidification. Large scale open ocean forestry would require engineered substrate and added nutrients.


Is there something similar in freshwater? A carbon capturing plant like kelp in lakes?

Not sure planting a "highly invasive tree" is the solution: http://www.ecosystemgardening.com/paulownia-princess-tree-on...

The USFS [1] page on Paulownia tomentosa cites a lot of research suggesting that it’s a “transient” invader that rapidly settles harsh or disturbed (e.g. by fire) environments, but is highly shade intolerant and gets outcompetes in the long run. So it seems to me a good strategy is to use it to rapidly colonize non-forested areas, sequester that biomass, and eventually cultivate more diverse species (or something like that).

>”...thus, princesstree frequently establishes and spreads after disturbances that create these conditions, such as fire, windstorms, pestilence, floods, landslides, and anthropogenic disturbances such as construction, cultivation, mining, and logging”

> “Hu suggests that by the time Paulownia grows to maturity, the seeds it produces likely cannot survive within the same habitat as the parent plant because the succeeding vegetation has ‘modified the physical environment so much that no new Paulownia has any chance to get established’. Thus, princesstree may not alter the successional pathways of some native ecosystems.“

[1] https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/pautom/all.h...

The hybrid Empress Splendor tree is not invasive.


Quoting the website:

>Is the tree invasive?

>The short answer is: No, the Empress Splendor tree is not invasive.

>The Empress Splendor tree belongs to the genus Paulownia. There are many different species of Paulownia and only one is classified as invasive, the Paulownia tomentosa (http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/plants/printree.shtml). We do not use this variety, choosing instead non-invasive species such as the Paulownia fortuneii.

>The Rainforest Alliance has chosen Paulownia as an ecologically sound tree for the purposes of reforestation and carbon sequestration (View the Rainforest Alliance Report).

>The Rainforest Alliance is internationally recognized as a certification program for sustainable forestry and best practices for tree planting and agroforestry.

My question here, is, if this tree proposed a possible slice of solution to carbon capture, is it a "bad" thing if we let it spread over the world which would otherwise be hit by possibly run-away global warming?

From my perspective, and quoting interstellar "There's no time for caution"

I would go over and say that maybe even doing genetic altering of the tree, so it could fit our purposes better might be a good idea. Be it making it extremely vulnerable to specific herbicide or make it grow/capture carbon even faster

Given what we are doing about the climate crisis (nothing), I would be very happy to plant "highly invasive trees" and have them spread around like crazy. Too many of those trees is a much better problem to have than a cooked planet.

I guess you would be trading a carbon problem for mass extinction.

Mass extinction of what? I haven't heard of a tree that's so invasive that it kills everything in its way, animals and plants alike.

Any idea whether this is damaging/depleting for the soil because it is so fast-growing? If so, to what extent can the soil be artificially rejuvenated through fertilizers or other tools?

No, it's one of the only nitrogen fixing trees in the world. That's part of the reason it can grow as fast as it can.

I would also like information about this. How much does this tree deplete the soils, or do they help build them up?

This can be helpful, but it's still a shortsighted solution. There are two types of carbon cycle on the planet: the short-term and the long-term [1].

The only natural mechanisms to transfer carbon between the two cycles are the planet's tectonic and volcanic activities. This has changed in recent history and we are constantly extracting carbon buried underground (long cycle) and release it into the atmosphere (short cycle). Capturing the atmospheric carbon into trees can be helpful, but it still remains on the surface.

The real solution is to stop burning fossil fuels altogether.

[1] https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/CarbonCycle

I mean, it sounds like the real real solution is to bury trees deep inside the earth.

> I mean, it sounds like the real real solution is to bury trees deep inside the earth.

Which is effectively what oil and coal are. Hence why we need to stop digging them up and burning them first.

It doesn't make a lot of sense to dig a deep hole to extract carbon from the ground at the same time and you're digging a different deep hole to put it back in, when you could save yourself a lot of trouble and just leave it there. (And burn the wood to generate electricity if that's cheaper than alternatives like solar and nuclear, which it isn't.)

Agreed! Eventually, some form of carbon sequestration is necessary.

Would be interesting to know what you think of project Vesta [1]. Their approach involves weathering olivine on beaches to speed up the long-term carbon cycle.

[1] https://projectvesta.org/

I would be interested in knowing who is coordinating the Vesta spam attack, and why. EW could hardly be called "a technology" as of today. http://www.geoengineeringmonitor.org/2018/05/enhanced-weathe...

Thank you for putting project Vesta into perspective.

As a layman in this field I can only observe, that topics regarding climate change and carbon sequestration appear alot more frequently here than a year before. I can only guess, that more people are realizing that there's a need for change. But there's no clear path forward.

So every project providing even a small chance for success gets into the news. I don't know if that is good or bad, but it's fricking hard to get a good picture of the current situation and what projects are worth investing in...

Yes they appear more frequently as people (finally!) understand that CC is not a "projected future" but a rapidly deteriorating present.

I'm kind of worried we're getting lots of CC propaganda though. I usually consult project drawdown or IPCC for facts-check.

Same here, I'm having a hard time telling which one will actually help. The one that seems most promising to me is Climeworks. I wrote a bit more about what they told me in another comment last week: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20544179

DAC definitely shows potential. But do note the numbers: climeworks, GlobalThermostat and CarbonEngineering combined sequester few thousand metric tons/year - less than the output of 500 Americans.

They claim they won't give out more certificates than they captured. Once they hit the limit, we'll know, and they'll have enough subscriber money and incentive to start expanding I should hope!

How do you mean "spam attack". Is Vesta some kind of scam?

Can we just drop these trees (organic matter) into subduction zones?

I've assumed carbon capture would be implemented by burying it. Maybe even pump it back underground, to also help counteract subsidence. Or really far-fetched is making misc kinds of bricks.

Given there was an article about hemp a few days ago, how much carbon/acre does hemp take?

Looks to be about 108 tons/year with 2 harvests.


i can't figure this out: https://worldtree.info/investment/ this seems far too good to be true. Back of the napkin calculations show they're saying the returns could be 28% a year compounded. That's better than buffet level returns. Surely this is a scam right?

Yeah those numbers seem really good - $25,000 invested over 8-12 years results in $1,423,125 profits of which you get 25% ($355,781). If those kinds of returns were really there wouldn't people quickly saturate the market, devaluing the lumber and breaking the model?

Well yeah, by definition we already have the world's best version of any technology.

"I wanted to build the world's longest suspension bridge, but I found out someone else had already done it." - Jack Handey

I think the idea here is that this version is largely unknown?

I wonder if there is any investment in bio-engineering a better plant or tree? Maybe just simple evolution working from our best carbon sinking trees, rapid prototype through generations, only breeding from the best stock?

There are very limited cases where growing trees for carbon sequestration purposes is a net benefit for the planet. Yes, there are places where land is un-utilised, and water is sufficient but it's often better for the environment to allow wild plants grow so wildlife can flourish. Here is a very good article by the respected Bob McDonald speaks to this topic: https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/trees-carbon-emissions-bo...

> There are very limited cases where growing trees for carbon sequestration purposes is a net benefit for the planet.

Could you elaborate on this? I couldn't see anything in that article to back up that statement.

Forgive me, but it doesn't look like much. How can a tree with such a small mass contain more carbon than a massive tree with trunks and branches? They don't even seem to be very close together in those photos:


It's not about carbon per tree. It's about carbon per acre*year. Dense woods grow slowly so they take in very little carbon per year even though they grow very large. Fast growing trees are much better at quickly taking CO2 of the atmosphere.

Fast growing matters. The ability to harvest them and have them regrow matters a lot too. That’s what makes bamboo so effective at carbon capture.

Only if you harvest them without releasing CO2 - no firewood for instance

I don’t think the pics in the article show a fully grown tree. According to the Wiki picture, this thing is an absolute unit (for a 8-10 year old plant): https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulownia_tomentosa#/media/F...

If you don't cut them down the first year, they become decent sized trees. However, it isn't about total individual tree size. It is about the fact that they trap more carbon into wood tissue per year, because they grow so very quickly. An oak may take 20-50 years to reach the size an empress tree will reach in say, 5-10 years. Therefore an oak traps carbon far more slowly. Oak is stronger, nicer, harder wood, because it grows more slowly, but also captures carbon more slowly. Different growth habits, different speed, from different ecosystems, with different uses.


Anyone got a good source for the 103 tons per acre stat?

All I've found so far is the Bloomberg link, which I think is from the World Tree Website (the company spotlighted in the article). World Tree [1] says the source is The Environmental Resources Trust, but doesn't provide a link.


My parents have one of these bastards growing against their house. We had no idea what it was until this story.

They’ve cut it down twice, butchered the stump, given it a chemical bath. It is currently back at gutter height.

Genetically engineer or selectively breed a salt-tolerant version?

The best thing we can do for the earth is take a lot of the money being spent and plant tons of trees, then use the wood as co2 storage in the form of furniture.

Isn't most furniture already made out of wood? I'd imagine if we made every single piece of furniture out of wood it wouldn't make a bit of difference. We need to make things out of wood that are not already made of wood, like skyscrapers and large buildings. If that's not enough we need to cut down trees and bury them so they don't decompose and then plant more. I think you are vastly underestimating the amount of carbon in the atmosphere that needs to be removed.

about 5.5B tons of new wood furniture a year would be needed. That is 70tons of furniture for each person born in a year.

Company information for those interested - https://worldtree.info

Does anyone knows the scientifical name for the tree pictured in the article ?

Paulownia tomentosa. Known in my area as the princess tree, but also goes by royal paulownia, foxglove tree, kiri, and empress tree.


Do Empress trees make for good firewood?

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