BioCarbon Engineering is a UK-based start-up that has the aim of planting 1 billion trees a year. And they say they can do so by using drones. The company’s CEO, Lauren Fletcher, has said that hand planting is not a feasible way to achieve this goal: “it’s slow and really expensive, and just can’t keep up with industrial-scale deforestation”. He hopes that his company’s “technology is going to provide opportunities to really scale up the reforestation and replanting rates.”
Fletcher, who has long studied climate change, is interested in the very critical question of how to reverse the immense damage that we’ve caused to the environment.
The scale of deforestation
Forests cover about 30% of the planet, but deforestation is clearing away these essential ecosystems at an alarming rate, with devastating consequences. Every year, forested areas half the size of England are destroyed. It is estimated that, at the current rate of deforestation, the world’s rainforests could completely disappear.
One of the biggest contributors to deforestation is animal agriculture, with farmers cutting down trees to either make room for grazing livestock or to grow the crops in order to feed them.
The most dramatic impact of deforestation is the loss of habitat for millions of species. Around 80% of Earth’s land animals and plants call the forests their home. Deforestation also drives climate change. As a case in point, trees play a crucial role in absorbing the greenhouse gases that lead to the warming of the planet.
Reforesting the planet is a necessary solution. And BioCarbon Engineering believes that we need to harness technology – specifically, drones – in order to save and sustain these precious and delicate ecosystems.
BioCarbon Engineering’s solution
When restoring an ecosystem, the company will select an area using satellite imagery and then carry out a mapping phase, with the help of a fixed-wing drone. The drone uses onboard sensors to gather as much information as possible about the area in question, including data such as surface topology and slope angles, surface composition and obstructions, existing biodiversity, and soil type and moisture.
Then, using this information, an optimised planting pattern is created. A trajectory is devised to ensure that the drones doing the planting can avoid obstructions, unplantable soil areas, and existing trees. An analysis of the soil, including its moisture and density, will also help in deciding which seeds should be planted. One of BioCarbon Engineering’s planting drones can carry 300 biodegradable seedpods, covering 1 hectare in 18 minutes, which is extremely fast and efficient in terms of planting.
After the planting, the site will be monitored, and this information – along with the mapping information – is combined so that planting can be improved in the future.
This is a highly scalable solution to the problem of deforestation and can be implemented in all kinds of ecosystems for the purposes of restoration. This technology could even have applications in terms of the colonisation of Mars.
If we want to be able to set up a human colony on Mars on a long-term basis, then we need to terraform the Red Planet. This involves changing the surface and climate of Mars in order to make it hospitable to human life. Once the Martian surface has been made suitable for life, we could use drones, just as BioCarbon Engineering does, to grow vegetation – both quickly and sustainably. Indeed, drones could very well help save Earth’s key ecosystems, as well as make the colonisation of Mars a whole lot easier.
About the author: Sam Woolfe @samwoolfe
Sam is a freelance writer who is particularly interested in space exploration, sustainability, tech, and agriculture.