A group of researchers at Japan’s largest car manufacturer are concentrating on designer trees rather than fuel efficiency. This odd turn for Toyota is an effort to develop a new tree with a ravenous appetite for the noxious gases produced by gasoline-powered automobile engines.
Since 1991, the company has been working on biology- based methods of cleaning up the environment. As part of that effort it launched the Forest of Toyota project which not only plants trees, but seeks to develop smog-eating plants.
Toyota researchers estimate that it takes 20 "regular" trees to absorb the gases produced by just one car during a year. So far, they have improved that performance by 30 percent. Scientists discovered that doubling the number of chromosomes in experimental trees resulted in wider air inlets on the leaves and stems, thus allowing them to absorb more nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide. Altered eucalyptus and London plane trees have performed well under laboratory conditions.
The company has also planted an $800,000 model forest and equipped it with $80,000 worth of emissions measuring devices. Toyota plans to study how various forestry techniques reduce carbon monoxide levels.