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Published on April 29th, 2009 | by Levi Novey


Peru Uses New “Super Tree” Technology to Fight Air Pollution

A device invented by Peruvians known as the “Super Tree” has recently made its debut in Lima, a city plagued with extreme air pollution. The Super Tree acts like 1200 real trees, purifying the air for approximately 20,000 people a day, at the cost of only about $6.

The super tree (super arbol) air purifier

[social_buttons]The company Tierra Nuestra (Our Earth) is behind the Super Tree, and hopes to begin exporting the technology. The company’s goal is to promote conservation through the development of new technologies and renewable energy.

One of the Super Tree’s developers, Jorge Gutierrez, noted in an interview that “the idea is to take them to most of the countries that have this problem and to be able to work on a world scale to improve people’s health.” The cost of a Super Tree is currently around $100,000 dollars, or about $5 per person’s daily need of clean air.

So how does it work? The Super Tree basically sucks in outside air, then under thermodynamic pressure combines the toxic elements in the air with water, and then pumps out clean air. Byproducts of the process include some mud and non-potable water that can be easily pumped into sewer systems. The Super Tree (“super arbol” in spanish) cleans about 200,000 cubic meters of air per day, eliminating polluting gases like carbon dioxide, as well as germs and bacteria.

The Super Tree is a terrific application of an appropriate technology, as the World Health Organization claims that Lima has an average level of air pollution 9 times higher than what is considered to be acceptable for healthy living. Lima has even recently required traffic officers to wear gas masks. Used cars are thought to be responsible for 86% of the air pollution in Lima and the average car is about 18 years old.

Visiting the Super Tree

The Super Tree can be found at the intersection of Aviacion Avenue and Primavera Avenue, where the districts of Surquillo, San Borja, and Surco meet. I first noticed the Super Tree when driving by last week because it located near to where I live, and I realized that it was a new structure.

If you take a look at the photograph I took above, you will see that the Super Tree comes complete with an educational booth. I stepped into the booth to see if the air seemed cleaner, and to me it did (but don’t expect to be amazed). The information available in the booth is very basic, and could be improved. Tierra Nuestra’s website has much more detailed information for the curious.

The mayor of Surquillo has pledged to install at least 20 Super Trees, and Tierra Nuestra hopes to install 400 trees throughout Lima in the next four years– so there will be an opportunity to improve the educational and promotional efforts at the trees themselves. That said, the Super Tree is a fantastic innovation that will undoubtedly improve quality of life for the citizens of Lima and other cities plagued by air pollution.

Photo Credit: © Levi T. NoveyKeep up to date with all the hottest urban planning news by subscribing to our (free) newsletter.

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About the Author

Levi Novey is a conservation professional who has received a bachelor's degree in History from Tufts University and a master's degree in Conservation Social Sciences from the University of Idaho. He worked for the U.S. National Park Service for 10 years, as a park ranger in 6 national parks, as a social science researcher in 5 parks, and as the science communicator for a Natural Resource Inventory and Monitoring Network that serves 9 parks. He has authored several scholarly papers as well as several guidebooks to U.S. national parks. Levi also has taught an undergraduate Environmental Communication Skills course at the University of Idaho, won several photography contests, and regularly enjoys visits to parks, protected areas, historical sites, museums-- and just about anywhere where he can learn something new about the world. He currently lives in Peru, with his wife Alicia, and their daughter Coral.

  • Unclw B

    Super-Trees won’t be needed when they convert to electric cars, charging stations will be! The era of cheap oil is over! Get ready for the electric car, put up solar p[ower installations and charge it!

  • Realist

    Sounds like a great idea, until our water is totally contaminated and the toxins that come of the air are put into our soil and water. Then we’ll need a “Super-Seaweed” or something to clean the water.

    When will people realize that, as great as this kind of technology is, all it does is displace the problem? Poison is poison, not matter if it is in the air or in the water. (For more information, see what happens to e.g., the oceans when CO2 levels there get high. It isn’t much better than having the CO2 in the air–especially with how much we rely on the oceans for food. cf. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/10/carbon-emissions-oceans-copenhagen)

  • mps

    i wonder how the super tree is powered? how much electricity is uses, what it is made of, how much water it uses – and what the total environmental impact/pollution is and then how does it compare to the ‘clean’ air the tree produces?

  • Levi Novey

    Dear Realist, I agree with you in principle. But we have to do what we can to use technology and change our behavior to limit pollution.

    MPS, the tree is powered with electricity and uses water. According to Jorge Guitterez (one of the inventors): “The machines developed in Mexico or Chile … (consume) between 48 and 68 kilowatts per hour and need continuous maintenance, while we only use 2.5 kilowatts and about 60 liters of water every five hours (for the Super Tree). See noticias.notiemail.com/noticia.asp?nt=11956842&cty=200

  • Mark

    Great stuff here. It’s so important we do something to turn our environment around.
    I saw some pretty good videos at Tomorrows World:


    These students wanted to stir some awareness on climate change and water efficiency. Lets help their voices be heard! Pass the videos along to a friend!

  • reivan

    CO2 isn’t a pollutant. Who ever heard of a tree dying or a person getting lung cancer from too much CO2 exposure?
    I also doubt eliminating bacteria from the air does that much. You’re more likely to get sick from sticking dirty fingers in your mouth than from breathing. Even if it miraculously did work, you would get a population with a weak immune system that catches a cold, and dies from it, when ever they leave the vicinity of the super tree.

  • Bobby

    Why not just plant 1200 trees?

  • ^

    I agree

  • maude’syraunt

    why not plant even a FEW real trees around the super trees? sheesh.

  • Alicia

    Thanks for the post Levi!

    I live in Lima, I like the supertree idea, and I want to clarify some of the questions here:

    Bobby, definitely you do not have any idea about the city of Lima. You cannot plant 1,200 trees, because there is not space and because the districts will not have the funds to maintain them in the future.

    Mr Maude, your idea to plant trees around is a good one. However, this supertree is on the line of the future electric train.

    I think, this is a good solution for a polluted city like Lima.

    Keep us informed Levi! Thanks.

    Where did you say you live?

  • Jack

    you always hear about these cool new ideas which might save the world but they haven’t had much of an impact. maybe they’re not as great as everyone says they are.

  • slushe

    i really doubt this actually works, probably just something the government setup to get the environment votes down there. I mean come on…that is ridiculous.

  • Eco is the most important body of the world.
    Within echo and trees ,we can’t live.

  • most of you people are the reason nature sorts itself out the way it does… Idiots.

  • JRH

    I could hire 5 people, plant 1200 trees for $83.00 each, and in 15 years cut them down and pay for a super tree.

  • Frank

    I see two real problems
    1) you get poluted water that has to be cleaned
    2) carbon dioxide is not converted to a carbon complex and oxygen (as in plants), thus it is no real alternative for a tree, at least not on large scale.

  • Wow this is great! The high cost is a bit prohibitive though. I wonder if the mainstream US and EU economies would consider embracing this on a large scale? I wish they will!

  • atomed

    it’s amazing how we can criticize even these kind of awesome inventions…ok, we need to stop our behavior, in the meantime let’s kill all the people of the big cities with pollution…it consumes electricity, let’s not use it to clean the air we breathe…we can easily be part of the problem just not using properly the energy because we just can afford it and because it’s easy, but when someone puts effort, money and talent in these kind of advances, hey, we are the most ecologist guys on earth…
    The next time you walk into a city full of smoke, remember the supertree consumes a lot of energy, walk the other side the machine is planted explain this to your lungs, and be happy.

    P.D. great post Levi

  • nate

    Realist. your comment about how this will polute the water even more. That is incorrect this is where smog curently goes as it is absorbed by the moisture in the air from water evaporation and then falls as rain. The diference here is that instead of being spread out over thousands of miles it is isolated to the water table of the area allready causing polution.

    So though this is a great step to go green it has allready become outdated. A similar chemical process was just developed in japan. that then turns the waste chemicals in to a stable clean burning fuel.

  • sm hudson

    I have looked at the company’s site and, although there is a reference to water treatment, there was not a way to access how that is being addressed. Perhaps you can find some answers on this point for a future posting.

  • Joao

    “Supertree” is a very badly chosen name. Do I sniff marketing here?

    Because, … trees work for free, and in addition to filtering the air, they produce oxygen. In surplus, they deliver wood, and create a nice environment to work and live in.

    The so called “supertree” needs electricity as input (continuously!), and gives poluted water as output. Hereby it does not even reach the level of filtration reaches by trees! And… it does this at a very high cost! (although the cost mentioned in this article is very incomplete) Who pays? The people with cars, or ‘the community’?

    Pfft, I hope this idea is only VERY temporary, giving the people more time to work out real solutions.

    This is not Eco. This is just cleaning up mess.

  • Brian Jackson

    Its a concept, I don’t think it’s even viable. Their basis for ‘scrubbing’ the air are probably marketing biased details too. 1200 trees? What does that mean in the grand scale of things? …Not much. Trees (even 1200) have a large surface area, so the flow basis of that thing is questionable as well.

  • just patching up the problems, rather than tackling the causes…
    and if the supertree does its job properly people will even forget that there was a pollution problem, and will create more pollution, needing more super-trees to clean the air, allowing us to drive more cars and produce more pollution…. and so on…

    without ever looking at the causes of the problems and changing the way we live so we dont need energy guzzling and water poisoning super-trees.

    we need to stop polluting, not a system to clean pollution, so we can pollute more.
    we need a post carbon, post industrial, sustainable and local economy/society
    we need to live surrounded by real trees, not ugly machines.

  • nikki

    maude’syraunt: you can see a tree in the top right corner of the picture

  • Fen

    Yeah this is a pretty cool idea, but the waste enters the sewers, into the water supply, so they’re decreasing air pollution , and increasing water pollution. this hardly seems like a good idea to me, as water is just as important as air.

  • Mike

    $100,000 for a giant bong? You’re kidding, right?
    Plant more trees and quit driving so much. (Easier said than done, I know.)

  • marc

    At first glance I was overwhelmed and thought what a great idea that is. And then I realized it would be way better to avoid pollution in the first place.

  • Great idea. These “trees” should grow in 1 month. They have no roots to cause problems for buildings and roads. Maybe design can be improved. Cleaner air immediately. Better health, less work-days lost to casual sickness. Improve moods and thinking of people.

  • calico

    Let’s go to a poor country, where people barely have schools or hospitals — and spend $100,000 on a “tree” after we’ve bulldozed their natural trees to make way for exportable cheap agricultural crops?! Good plan.

    Funny how the article also doesn’t mention most 3rd world nations don’t bother with emissions controls on cars. Do we need a $100,000 “tree” on every corner, or would it be so hard to put little things like catalytic converters on their cars?

    Oh, and I love the idea of taking extremely toxic compounds and pumping them into the (3rd world not-so-advanced) sewer system. Without a removal mechanism in place at sewage treatment plants, these compounds will leave with the treated sewage, to taint water supplies and make fish toxic to eat.

    Sorry, but this is the worst eco idea I’ve heard of.

  • me

    I agree with everyone else. This super tree does not solve all the problems, so we shouldn’t bother with it at all.

  • kunny

    The developing nations,where the pollution problem is critical may find it difficult to design,implement & maintain this machine owing to its cost..

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  • Sres. Eco Localizer

    Buenas tardes, soy Luis Camacho, documentalista grafico de ediciones SM, empresa peruana dedicada a la edicion de textos escolares, les escribo para solicitarles su autorizacion para publicar la imagen de “Super Tree”, que aparece en su pagina web: http://ecolocalizer.com/2009/04/29/peru-uses-new-super-tree-technology-to-fight-air-pollution/
    Con el nombre: the-super-tree-super-arbol-air-purifier
    De acceder a nuestra solicitud la imagen saldria publicada en nuestro libro de Ciencia, Ambiente y Tecnologia 1.


    Luis Camacho Arana
    Documentalista Gráfico
    Ediciones SM – Perú
    Micaela Bastidas 125 – San Isidro
    Telf. 614 8900
    Fax 614 8914
    Cel. 988918281
    RPM: #158026

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  • luis

    Everything man makes has pros and cons, i think planting more trees would have a better solution. Try to copy natures way.

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