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This Startup's Modified Trees Grow Faster, Store More Carbon

Living Carbon believes its trees could offset close to 2% of global emissions.

It doesn't take a scientist to understand why trees are so crucial in the fight to curb climate change. They can absorb and store carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas. But a Bay Area startup thinks trees can do better.

Living Carbon has developed a technique to genetically modify trees that can grow faster, and store more carbon. According to a white paper published in February, its modified poplar trees stored up to 53% more carbon than control trees. There are more than 600 Living Carbon trees currently planted in Oregon, and more projects developing on abandoned land mines in parts of Appalachia.

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An early-stage genetically-modified tree at Living Carbon headquarters.

Living Carbon

"If we were to double the acreage that we have today up until 2030, we would be able to actually plant enough trees to remove 1.66% of global emissions in 2021." CEO Maddie Hall told CNET. "That is very significant. That's the emissions of millions of people."

Living Carbon's process involves improving the efficiency of photosynthesis, giving trees more energy to grow. To learn more about how the process works, watch the above video.

The company plans to give the trees away to land owners either for free or at cost. It hopes to generate revenue by capitalizing on carbon credits earned from its trees, and offers landowners a share of that revenue. "We'll cover the site prep costs, we will help restore this land that you otherwise might not have had economic incentive to want to restore." says Hall.

Living Carbon is working on other genetic modifications that could help its trees store carbon even longer. One way involves modifying the wood so it's less susceptible to fungus decay.