Solutions Summit

Michael D. Pulliam

Arizona State University and Irish renewables company Carbon Collect have designed a carbon dioxide-eating “mechanical tree,” roughly 1,000 times more efficient at carbon capture than natural trees. And it uses almost no power.

The mechanical tree is a large column covered all around with resin strips, like leaves. The special coating on the strips absorbs CO2 when dry and releases it when wet. The column stands passively in the wind, and as the ‘leaves’ rustle in the air they gather up CO2. When the leaves become saturated and heavy they fold down into water, where the carbon washes away for storage or reuse. The process takes about half an hour, then automatically starts over.

Facing the urgent need for radical action against global warming, German physicist Klaus Lackner, head of Arizona State University’s Center for Negative Carbon Emissions, calls this invention our best hope for avoiding climate catastrophe. “[Global warming] is not a problem that will go away on its own. Therefore the capturing and storing of CO2 is unavoidable. It is too late now to argue whether we need to eliminate CO2 or not. We must get it out of the atmosphere.”

Some readers may wonder why we don’t simply quit using fossil fuels and plant more actual trees — after all, trees are Nature’s carbon-eaters. Lackner replies, “Too much CO2 is already in the atmosphere. It can last for thousands of years, and it is our responsibility to clean it up. Nature itself cleans up, too, but too slowly, and we can’t wait that long…. Until we’ve made the switch [to renewable energy], the CO2 will be so high that we have no choice but to lower it.”

Many engineering organizations are working on technology to help lower atmospheric carbon levels. A Swiss company recently opened the world’s largest direct air carbon-capture plant, whose giant fans are capable of pumping around 4,000 tons of CO2 underground each year. The carbon is then turned into stone (another of Nature’s carbon-capture techniques).

Looking at the cost and power needs of hefty technologies like this, Lackner compares the mechanical trees: “We use almost no energy… we need no ventilators, no propellers. Because we need only water, we are ten times cheaper than comparable techniques.” And that can make all the difference in how fast something catches on.

It is worth noting that fossil fuel companies often use the promise of carbon capture to continue the polluting habits and processes they rely on for business as usual. A vital piece of the climate puzzle is holding corporations and governments responsible for their own greenhouse gas emissions. And that’s something the everyday person can contribute to by contacting their representatives, lodging official complaints with problematic companies, or volunteering with a climate change campaign.

Carbon Collect and Arizona State University plan to construct a forest in the desert, 1,200 mechanical trees that can remove CO2 emissions equivalent to about 8,000 cars every day.

Sources: Reasons to be Cheerful

In 2009, Martine Postma of the Netherlands organized the world’s first Repair Café, a free community space for people to access the tools and expertise they need to mend their possessions instead of throwing them away.

Striving to inspire sustainable living at the local level, Postma began the Repair Café movement in Amsterdam, Netherlands, to help foster repair skills and lower wasteful consumerist tendencies in people of all ages. Repair Cafés connect volunteer repair experts and people with damaged household items like clothes, furniture, electronics, appliances, bicycles, toys… almost anything. Visitors can bring their busted belongings into the café and learn from volunteers how to fix them. Some people just come to enjoy coffee or tea, read repair manuals, and make friends. The culture is one of appreciation for people with repair skills, ongoing personal education, and community building.

Part of the Repair Café mission includes reshaping the way people see their possessions. The aim to instill a deeper sense of value in our things and hold off sending stuff to the landfill, in turn kindling enthusiasm for an environmentally sustainable society. Cafés are conscientious about promoting and supporting local professional repair shops. Many volunteers visit schools to give repair lessons to children and share skills and principles with the younger generation. “But most of all, the Repair Café just wants to show how much fun repairing things can be.”

Postma launched the nonprofit Repair Café Foundation in 2011, and there are now over 1,500 Repair Cafés worldwide. Visit for more info and to find a location near you and your loved ones.

Sources:, Beautiful Solutions