Every year 26 billion trees are cut down, roughly representing the area of England. At the same time, the combined efforts of governments, companies, and numerous NGOs to replant trees result in 15 billion new trees a year. The net loss of 11 billion trees reflects the fact that while deforestation is a mechanized, rapid, and highly efficient process, reforestation, mostly done by hand, is a tiresome, laborious, and highly inefficient one.

An interdisciplinary team from University of Oxford and Singularity University, has come together to create a new way to replant trees that can match the rates of industrial-scale deforestation. Their company, BioCarbon Engineering, intends to plant 1 billion trees a year globally.

"We believe that industrial-scale deforestation can only be countered with industrial scale reforestation. Therefore, we are using exponential technology to solve one of the world’s greatest challenges," says Susan Graham, engineer and Singularity University GIC Winner

The startup has developed a two-phase process utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In the first phase, mapping drones are used to gather detailed terrain data and generate high-quality 3D maps. The information is used to assess forest ecosystems in preparation for the reforestation activities and to chart a reforestation path. In the second phase, the drones follow the pre-determined path and, through an automated system involving a small, pressurized-air canister and seedpods, they plant seeds. The seedpods break open upon impact, allowing the germinated seed within to grow. The pods are filled with nutrient-rich gel that reduces impact forces and ensures the seed’s health and growth.

The team believes that their solution will significantly increase planting rates and drive down the cost. Two operators are expected to employ multiple UAVs, which can shoot the seeds at a rate of 10 pellets per minute, totaling 36,000 trees in a day. In addition, the drones allow access to challenging terrains without risking human health. The process will be much faster and cheaper than hand-planting, while the precision planting and mapping will increase the uptake rates, which are currently low when delivering dry seeds by air.

Learn more about the project from the video below.

You can also support the team by voting for them to get to the semifinals of the Pitch to Rich Virgin Competition

Photos: Wikipedia and BioCarbon Engineering