Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Join host Paul Shapiro as he talks with some of the leading start-up entrepreneurs and titans of industry alike using their businesses to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Oct 1, 2022

What’s the most old-school way to capture carbon from the atmosphere? Trees! But is there a new school way to help trees stand up to the task of quickly removing the carbon humanity’s been spewing into the atmosphere in recent centuries? 

Living Carbon is pioneering an exciting new field in which it’s enhancing trees’ natural ability to photosynthesize, causing them to grow dramatically faster and therefore capture carbon more quickly.

You see, trees are essentially just big columns of carbon, and when we cut them down—something humans seem to like to do quite a lot—all of that carbon in the trees, and much of what was stored in the soil underneath those trees, gets released back into the atmosphere, heating up the planet. One problem with relying on tree-planting to recapture that carbon is just that trees take such a long time to grow, and we just don’t have the luxury of time as the climate heats up. So Living Carbon is bioengineering trees that just grow a lot more efficiently at the beginning of their lives, and in turn making money in part from the carbon credits they can generate.

Now, there are other benefits of trees aside from carbon capture, including that they provide critical wildlife habitat, shade, and more, and it’d be better if we had millions more large trees without having to wait a large number of years. That’s where Living Carbon comes in. This three-year-old startup has raised $15 million and has successfully engineered two species of trees to grow so quickly that they have up to 53 percent more biomass than comparably aged trees of their species. 

They’ve already done trial plantings and their CEO, Maddie Hall, says in this interview that they intend to plant 4-5 million of their enhanced trees before the end of 2023. Not too shabby, and that’s just the start. They’re also working on drought-resistant trees so we can still have forests in places that climate change is drying out.

In this interview, we talk about what Living Carbon is doing and why, we discuss the controversy over whether anything “natural” is better than “human-made,” and of course, why it’s a good idea to genetically engineer trees that will help fight climate change, something that as you can imagine, elicits a number of differing views. 

Discussed in this episode