Teens' artificial trees absorb harmful gases

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -– When is a tree that acts like a tree not a tree at all?

When it’s a metal tower that absorbs, transforms, and stores carbon dioxide, and is made by two teenage math and science whizzes as a research project on climate change.

Tyler Clark, 17, of St. John, Kan., and Ben Davis, 16, of Wichita, Kan., both high school juniors attending the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science at Fort Hays State University, expect to build what are being called “artificial tree towers.” The towers will absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and could play a role in slowing global warming.

The young scientists envision a day when carbon-converting artificial trees stand in backyards across the country, next to air-conditioning and heating units.

“We hope to have a prototype by December and a full-scale model by the end of summer,” Clark said. “But it won’t look like a tree. More like a big, tall column or rectangular pyramid.”

These carbon-dioxide-munching contraptions won’t save money but just maybe the planet by absorbing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide threatening Earth.

Extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is not an original idea. It’s been around for years.

David Keith, a professor at the University of Calgary in Alberta, developed carbon-dioxide-catching towers years ago. Keith’s concept uses resin to capture carbon dioxide as bicarbonates in a dry form. When flushed with water, the carbon dioxide is dumped.

But the youths at FHSU want to make the science small and affordable for the average consumer.

Chuck Rice, a soil scientist doing research on climate change at Kansas State University, said that while the premise was good, the next question was “how to dispose of the CO-2 once it’s collected.”

Clark and Davis have ideas about disposal, but they said they were still researching.

They are also trying to figure out how much their artificial trees will cost to build.

“I guess it would be a little more than pocket change,” Clark said.

Paul Adams, who teaches global climate change at FHSU, will help them write grants to fund their project.
But for starters, materials will come from the FHSU department of technology studies, where some students have volunteered to help build the first model. Clark estimates it will be about 6-7 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide.

“We’d like to put the towers on college campuses around the state,” Davis said.

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