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The drone that can plant millions of trees

The drone that can plant millions of trees

03-01-2019 | Stunning statistics
A drone that can carpet bomb 100,000 tree seeds a day may solve the issue of deforestation in remote areas.
  • Henk Grootveld
    Henk
    Grootveld
    Head of the Trends Investing Equity team and Portfolio Manager

Speed read

  • Drones tested in remote parts of Myanmar, Australia and UK
  • Reforestation can help remedy six billion trees lost each year
  • Agriculture technology an increasing investment opportunity

What has happened?

Developed by a former NASA engineer, it works with a sister drone to reforest areas that are difficult to reach. The first drone scans the landscape to make a 3D map and identify areas for planting, while the second follows this cartography and fires seeds into the soil at the rate of one per second.

The company behind the idea is BioCarbon Engineering, founded by scientist-turned-environmentalist Lauren Fletcher, who holds a PhD in physics and has worked on the International Space Station and Mars programs. He has ambitions to use the drones to plant up to one billion trees a year.

So far, the company has planted 38 tree species across Myanmar, Australia and the UK in temperate, tropical and sub-tropical environments. One of its uses is in mining restoration – replanting trees where massive quarries have finished extracting minerals and the environment can be rehabilitated with forests.1

Why is it important?

About six billion trees are lost every year, mostly due to the imbalance between those cut down for commercial forestry and land clearance, and those replanted, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).2

More than 150 acres of forestry or woodland are lost every minute, or more than 300,000 square kilometers a year – an area the size of Germany. More than one-fifth of the Amazon rainforest has already been destroyed.3

Trees are important for absorbing CO2 in the atmosphere, and replacing it with oxygen, thereby acting as the Earth’s lungs. More than 20% of the world’s oxygen is generated in Amazonia alone. The loss of so many trees each year accounts for 17% of global warming, the WEF estimates.

What does this mean for investors?

“Half of all fighter pilots that are hired today in the US Air Force never sit in the cockpit, but become drone pilots, watching and bombing large parts of Afghanistan somewhere from a bunker in the Arizona desert,” says Henk Grootveld, portfolio manager in the Robeco trends investing team.

“More and more drones are now being used in agriculture, inspecting the crops, spotting problems and bugs and even spraying pesticide or herbicide on each plant. So, using them to drop some seeds would indeed make sense, even for the areas where people can easily go, as drones are far cheaper than any other way of transporting lightweight stuff.”

“We do not invest in drones at the moment, but we do invest in the future of agriculture, particularly where it is fully automated. It’s a great trend for the future.”

1https://www.biocarbonengineering.com/faq
2https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/drones-plant-100000-trees-a-day/
3http://www.rain-tree.com/facts.htm#.W_VkLUqnEaY

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