Liquid Trees Could Solve The Urban Air Pollution Crisis

Urban air pollution affects the lives of more than 2.5 billion people worldwide and increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory conditions.

But “liquid trees” are set out to change all of this, offering a possible solution to the air quality crisis. 

A New Paradigm in Botanical Science

Trees are nature’s lungs. They turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, cleansing the air. But with deforestation and forest fires hitting all-time highs, humans have thrown our planet’s carbon cycle off track. And with most cities having limited space for greenery, urbanites have it much worse. 

Fortunately, a group of forward-thinking Serbian scientists has found a way to alleviate toxic greenhouse gas emissions.

With Belgrade being the fourth most polluted city in Serbia, a team of researchers from the University of Belgrade has developed large tanks of green, goopy algae to combat urban air pollution.  Dubbed “liquid trees,” the solar-powered device is the country’s first urban photo-bioreactor and contains 158 gallons (600 liters) of microalgae and water that captures carbon dioxide to create pure oxygen and biomass via photosynthesis. According to the scientists, just one LIQUID3 bioreactor can replace a 10-year-old tree or 2,152 square feet of lawn.

Built-in lighting enables the algae to photosynthesize all year, even during the shorter winter days. A pump within the tank pushes bubbles of polluted air into the water, feeding the microalgae. The device also has benches and mobile phone chargers if you want to hang out by green goop while waiting for the bus. The algae is more effective at removing carbon dioxide from the air than trees and can do so up to 50 times faster while taking up far less space.

While liquid trees are hardly a site for sore eyes, they could ramp up our fight against air pollution. However, not everyone is thrilled about the idea. 

Could Liquid Trees Replace Real Trees? 

Serbia’s liquid trees caused an uproar on Twitter, with the Atlanta Community Press Collective tweeting, “Before Atlanta gets any ideas, liquid trees don’t reduce erosion, enrich soil, prevent flooding, and improve the quality of groundwater.”

However, LIQUID3 devices were never meant to replace real trees but to fill in the gaps in areas where planting trees isn’t an option.

“Our goal is not to replace forests but to use this system to fill those urban pockets where there is no space for planting trees,” Dr. Ivan Spasojevic, one of the project’s authors, explained.

With the United Nations Development Programme, in partnership with the Ministry of Environmental Protection, hailing liquid trees as one of the 11 best climate-smart solutions, it doesn’t look like the tanks will be going away anytime soon.

The only question we have now is if people will be tempted to drink the gooey scientific substance.

By Steph Weaver, contributor for


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