We Already Have the World’s Most Efficient Carbon Capture Technology


The wide growth rings of an empress tree stump at maturity. An empress can grow 10 to 20 feet tall in its first year, which helps it store carbon more efficiently than other tree species.
Photographer: Chuck Hemard for Bloomberg Businessweek

Empress trees mature several times faster than your average oak or pine and absorb about 103 tons of carbon a year per acre.

To help battle global warming, companies around the world are expected to spend billions of dollars over the next decade building devices aimed at sucking carbon from the atmosphere. The thing is, Mother Nature already made one. 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. “The tree has a very Jack and the Beanstalk energy to it,” says Wendy Burton, whose 17-year-old Mesa, Ariz.-based timber company, World Tree, has planted more than 1,000 acres of empress.

Farmers are using non-invasive varieties of the tree, which is otherwise known as a pest in some parts of the world. Once the trees reach maturity, farmers harvest their wood for use in houses or musical instruments. World Tree investors share in the profits. The trees can regrow easily from the stumps after they’ve been harvested. Says Cathy Key, the company’s chief operating officer: “It’s a tree that grows like grass.”

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