Artificial trees to fight air pollution better

Puebla (Mexico: Trees are one of the best things we have to clean the Earth’s air, but they have certain drawbacks: they need time and space to grow.

Enter the BioUrban, an artificial tree that sucks up as much air pollution as 368 real trees.

Designed by a Mexican start-up, the towering metal structure uses microalgae to clean carbon dioxide and other contaminants from the air, returning pure oxygen to the environment.

Measuring 4.2 meters (nearly 14 feet tall and nearly three meters wide, the device looks something like a cross between a tree and a post-modernist high-rise, with a steel trunk that radiates rising bands of concentric metal.

“What this system does, through technology, is inhale air pollution and use biology to carry out the natural process (of photosynthesis, just like a tree,” says Jaime Ferrer, a founding partner in BiomiTech, the company behind the invention.

Mexicans know a thing or two about air pollution.

Mexico City, a sprawling urban area of more than 20 million people, regularly grinds to a halt under air pollution alerts, triggered by emissions from the capital’s more than five million cars, its polluting industries and even the nearby Popocatepetl volcano.

Ferrer says the company’s goal is to help such cities achieve cleaner air in targeted areas — those used by pedestrians, cyclists or the elderly, for example — when planting large numbers of trees is not an oon.

An estimated seven million people die from exposure to air pollution each year, according to the World Health Organization.

“We decided our job was to not just stand by and let people keep dying,” says Ferrer.

Launched in 2016, BiomiTech has so far “planted” three trees: one in the city of Puebla, in central Mexico, where it is headquartered; one in Colombia; and one in Panama.

It has a contract for two more in Turkey, and projects in the works to install them in Mexico City and Monterrey, in northern Mexico.

A BioUrban typically costs about $50,000, though the final price varies depending on the site.