These Boston Treepods are urban air scrubbers

Carbon scrubbing tech is a bit of touchy subject among greenies. 

After all, Nature already has the market cornered on these amazing solar-powered carbon scrubbers called trees, and producing them doesn’t require a lot in the way of greenhouse gases, either. 

Why spend the time, money and resources necessary to create high-tech devices, the thinking goes, when you can just stick a seed in the ground and grow one of these amazing carbon scrubbers on the cheap?

It’s not as if the point is without merit. And yet, we routinely dedicate space in our cities to such devices as streetlights, park shelters and art. What if those elements of our urban infrastructure helped to clean the air we breathe? This was the question that SHIFTboston seemed to be asking with its 2011 Boston Treepods project (which comes to us via Architizer).

Conceived of as an “urban intervention,” these structures employ the principle of biomimicry to create a CO²-scrubbing, integrated urban device. Constructed of recycled and recyclable  PET (the material commonly used for drink bottles), the Treepod performs a number of functions for the city in which it resides: it creates a shaded, welcoming area to stop and rest on hot, sunny days, via its canopy; it harvests solar power, via a solar-tracking photovoltaic system mounted atop that canopy; it scrubs the air, using solar power; and it lights up at at night, performing the function of a streetlight.

Sure, trees are cool. But they don’t help to light up your local park, do they?

Interestingly, the Treepod’s branching canopy structure was chosen to mimic not just the shape of trees, but the shape of lungs — which seems appropriate, considering.  The canopy’s branching structure ends with a myriad of bulbs, multiplying the contact points between air and the CO², serving as a filter.  

Working like as alveoli in a human lung, these bulbs facilitate a gaseous exchange: an alkaline and environmentally friendly resin reacts with air holding CO². When the CO²-saturated resin reacts with water, it release CO² for storage, where it can then be used again in the same process.

But wait, there’s more. Designers Mario Caceres and Christian Canonico of Influx_Studio from Paris — who were contacted to develop the Treepod concept by ShiftBoston, based on the strengths of the designs they’d submitted to a number of the organization’s design contests — realized that more power than that afforded by the structure’s solar power would be required to keep those scrubbers working at full capacity. So they decided to make use of kinetic energy derived from human interaction to serve as an ancillary power source.

Toward that end, The Boston Treepods Initiative also proposed for these trees to be placed in groups or pod to increase their effectiveness.  Joined together by see-saws and hammocks, the idea was that this grouping of artificial trees would instantly create a small but inviting urban park.  These hammocks and see-saws would then be used by visitors, creating  kinetic energy that would help to power the CO2 extracting pumps.

Susan DeFreitas, EarthTechling