Artificial tree puts down roots on FHSU campus

The air is a little cleaner on the Fort Hays State University campus since Tyler Clark, St. Johns, completed a working prototype of his carbon sequestering artificial tree last month and has since won him recognition and awards.

"Since this is my first year, I wasn't expecting to do quite so well," he said. "But I'm glad this project is getting out there."

Clark is a Kansas high school junior in the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science. The academy is hosted by FHSU.

The device, which was designed by Clark throughout the 2009-2010 academic year, uses a hydroxide solution combined with a fan and filter to glean carbon dioxide from the air, turning it into normal household baking soda.

Clark recently returned from the Kansas State Science and Engineering fair where his experiment took second place overall. Since he gained such a high rank at the state level, Clark has the opportunity to attend Intel's International Science and Engineering fair in San Jose, Calif.

"What I hope to do in San Jose is find some students who are interested in collaborating and testing this device in their areas," he said. "One of the things I'm looking at is testing other climactic regions to look into the practical application of this technology."

"Peer collaboration is going to be essential," he said. "I'm looking forward to seeing what other environmental management projects are going on and if anyone is looking at sequestration in another form."

From idea to prototype to the designs for a full-scale model, the basics of Clark's device have not changed much in concept

"The essentials of any air-capture carbon sequestration device are some kind of reservoir and filter for the solid to collect in and a system to keep the filter saturated," he said.

The same overall concept may have stayed the same, but the specific design has not.

"I had a minor incident where I had a small amount of sodium hydroxide in what I thought was a stainless steel container," he said. "It turns out the container was just stainless steel-plated aluminum, which sodium hydroxide reacts very violently to."

Although many refer to devices similar to this by the moniker "artificial tree," the device itself will not look anything like its namesake.

For starters, there is only one "leaf" on Clark's scale model -- it runs on a solar panel and battery. This makes the device much more practical in a real-world environment.

"The solar panel/battery combination is what makes it feasible," he said. "This way we aren't using any coal to get the electricity needed."

Moving from the scale model to a full-size deployment, Clark has been busy here too.

"The Port-A-Cool and PolarCool companies were both gracious enough to donate cooling units for a full-size model," he said. "They even engineered a special filter that will stand up to the hydroxide."

The units are usually used for various water-cooling applications such as job sites, barns, event halls and other non air-conditioned buildings.  The full-size units will operate in the same manner as the scale model, but with bigger parts, thus sequestering more carbon.

Clark is working on getting a prototype full-scale model put together as soon as he can.

"There seems to be a lot of interest in projects like this," he said. "It's a great method of improving our atmosphere."

The Kansas Legislature established the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science in 2006. The academy is a residential high school program for select science and math juniors and seniors from Kansas. FHSU applied for and has granted the priviledge to host the academy.

For more information about Clark and his experiment, visit KAMS at

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