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Earth Technology

Toyota Develops New Flower Species To Reduce Pollution 211

Posted by timothy
from the better-than-to-cause-it dept.
teko_teko writes "Toyota has created two flower species that absorb nitrogen oxides and take heat out of the atmosphere. The flowers, derivatives of the cherry sage plant and the gardenia, were specially developed for the grounds of Toyota's Prius plant in Toyota City, Japan. The sage derivative's leaves have unique characteristics that absorb harmful gases, while the gardenia's leaves create water vapour in the air, reducing the surface temperature of the factory surrounds and, therefore, reducing the energy needed for cooling, in turn producing less carbon dioxide."
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Toyota Develops New Flower Species To Reduce Pollution

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 02, 2009 @03:15AM (#29948094)

    That's great but it may be a surprise to some people to learn that cherry sages do eventually die, and decompose and thus re-release that which they have absorbed.

    Carbon offset, one of the greatest scams in history. Pay us to plant some trees, which we can later cut down and sell.

    • by AniVisual (1373773) on Monday November 02, 2009 @03:32AM (#29948156)

      Not really. That's where coal came from. Plants inhale the carbon dioxide in the air, make 'em carbom, die, decompose, get buried in the ground, and 100,000,000 years later become coal and oil.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 02, 2009 @04:20AM (#29948320)
        Oh yeah? Have you SEEN plants turn into coal? I bet not! God put the coal there to test your faith!!!
        • by noundi (1044080) on Monday November 02, 2009 @05:32AM (#29948552)

          Obligatory Bill Hicks quote:

          I think God put you here to test my faith dude.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 02, 2009 @07:15AM (#29948864)

        Only in places experiencing significant subsidence (think of the Mississippi delta), where plant materials at the surface will eventually be deeply buried. The fraction of plant material that does ultimately get buried for the long term is minuscule compared to the amount that gets promptly recycled by decay processes, right back into the atmosphere. The chances the scenario you describe is happening at the site of a Toyota plant are small indeed unless it is built on a subsiding swamp.

        The part I don't get is "while the gardenia's leaves create water vapour in the air" What? Don't ALL plants produce water vapour in the air?

        Planting *any* plant would have the rather minor effects they describe. Getting rid of a lawn and allowing a genuine forest to grow might have a net positive effect, but only to a limited degree (as it grows). It's a fluff piece. The only thing innovative here is their public relations department.

        • by afidel (530433) on Monday November 02, 2009 @11:20AM (#29950436)
          Actually the buildup of soil is in direct contradiction with your assertion that the majority of the carbon is re-released into the atmosphere. A good example of this process in action is right here where I live along the Great Lakes, the last glacial period ended only 12,000 years ago and as the glaciers retreated they completely scoured the bedrock yet today there are feet and feet of soil built up.
      • by wasmoke (1055116) on Monday November 02, 2009 @07:15AM (#29948866)
        Close. Most coal came from the Carboniferous period where there was an explosion of plants, many of them in boggy areas. When plants die in bogs they fall in the water and bacteria can NOT decompose them. This is why the carbon was sequestered and turned into coal.
        Today, there is very little chance of this happening, especially at a plant in Japan. In all likelihood these flowers will decompose when they die and release all their nitrogen oxides back to the environment.
        • by Ginger Unicorn (952287) on Monday November 02, 2009 @09:39AM (#29949506)
          Wouldn't the nitrates in the soil act as a fertilizer for plants, as opposed to leaving it floating in the air for humans to breathe in?
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by RivenAleem (1590553)
            We have this field down by my folks place in the country that is mostly left fallow (used for light sheep grazing) but it fluctuates repeatedly between grass and clover depending on the amount of nitrates in the soil. When the nitrates are low the clover wins out growing up strong, taking nitrogen out of the air and putting it in the soil, but then the grass comes back and chokes the clover until the nitrates are used up.
          • by Quothz (683368) on Monday November 02, 2009 @10:36AM (#29950004) Journal

            Wouldn't the nitrates in the soil act as a fertilizer for plants, as opposed to leaving it floating in the air for humans to breathe in?

            Both. Some bacteria make ammonium from nitrogen, which keeps it in the soil. Others dump it in the air as N(2) and N(2)O. Local conditions limit how much gets mineralized into ammonium naturally. If there's enough oxygen around, other bacteria make it into nitrates, which then feed more plants. I reckon if they're planted sparsely, removed regularly (and composted properly), or rotated with nitrate-hungry plants, quite a lot would stay in the dirt. So, yeah, fertilizer and stuff, although some nitrogen is gonna float away no matter what.

        • by jackspenn (682188)
          What can't Toyota periodically replace sections where the plants are? $Counter = 0; 1). Cut down section of plants 2). Bury plants to trap chemicals just like a bog would 3). plant new plants in cleared section 4). $Counter++ 5). If $Counter >= 10,000 then recover coal/oil, $counter = 0 6). Goto line 1
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 02, 2009 @08:56AM (#29949266)
        Plants may produce coal, but I have it on good authority that oil comes from dinosaurs:

        First the Earth cooled...and then the dinosaurs came...but they got too big and fat...so they all died and they turned into oil...and then the Arabs came...and they bought Mercedes Benz's...and Prince Charles started wearing all of Lady Di's clothes...I couldn't believe it...he took her best summer dress out of the closet and put it on and went to town....
      • by MobyDisk (75490)

        Yes, but that is not what is happening here. From "Coal" on Wikipedia:

        Coal starts as layer upon layer of annual plant remains accumulating slowly that were protected from biodegradation by usually acidic covering waters that gave a natural antiseptic effect combating microorganisms and then later mud deposits protecting against oxidization in the widespread shallow seas

        Unless Toyota intends to bury the plants every year then they are not doing anything to help sequester carbon.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Quothz (683368)

          Unless Toyota intends to bury the plants every year then they are not doing anything to help sequester carbon.

          Nor are they trying to. So that works out pretty well.

          (The plan is to reduce carbon emissions by keeping the area near the plant nice and cool.)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Truekaiser (724672)

        incorrect. coal did not come from year to year decomposition of plants in temperate climates. Coal was formed mostly during the Carboniferous era in earth's past. at this time allot of the dry land was peat bog's and everglade's like swamps. year after year of leaf litter pressed down on the previous year's leaf litter preventing decomposition of the plants, add in a few million years of heat and pressure and the organic matter is carbonized thus forming coal.

        give the current leaf litter in these area's tod

    • If by re-released you mean the process of photosynthesis (C02 + H2O = Carbohydrate + O2) produces food for animals and the animals then exhale CO2, then yes, most of the CO2 is re-released into the atmosphere.

  • What? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by abigsmurf (919188) on Monday November 02, 2009 @03:18AM (#29948104)
    "while the gardenia's leaves create water vapour in the air, reducing the surface temperature of the factory surrounds and, therefore, reducing the energy needed for cooling"

    Doesn't pretty much every plant with leaves do that? Hence the need for watering...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Yo_mama (72429)

      And if they release MORE water, does that mean they increase the dependency on reservoirs and the environmental impacts of dams and water shortages?

    • Good point. Their heating costs go down bu the amount of water they're using probably goes up. Is it worth sacrificing water conservation for power conservation?

      • Re:What? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday November 02, 2009 @08:04AM (#29949048) Journal
        Note that plant water doesn't need to be particularly clean, just desalinated. You can water plants with drain water in a lot of situations. Japan isn't a desert, the only water shortages that they are likely to have will come from overloaded processing and treatment plants, not from supply of rain.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Zerth (26112)

      Seeing as water vapor is the largest greenhouse gas(by volume, mass, and % of warming caused), could one say that this is like opening the fridge to cool the kitchen?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by palegray.net (1195047)
        No. You're only telling part of the story; here's an excerpt from the easily digested Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] dealing with the topic:

        "Because water vapor is a greenhouse gas and because warm air can hold more water vapor than cooler air, the primary positive feedback involves water vapor. This positive feedback does not result in runaway global warming because it is offset by other processes that induce negative feedbacks, which stabilizes average global temperatures. The primary negative feedback is the effec
    • They should patent the evaporation of water. And patent photosynthesis too, for good measure. they obviously made a great invention.

      p.s. Don't tell them that they found nothing new. This is just like a biologist finding out that cars exist (carrus automaticus gasolinus). Quite exciting really, and certainly worth a publication or two. :)

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Well, I am a bit confused. Plants do perspire and release water vapour but they also usually release heat (they have a metabolism and show on infrared). I think that once agains one has to dismiss the sensationalist journalism and get at the real science. My suspicion is that the only new thing here is the absorption nitrogen oxide and that Toyota also reminded the journalist the other advantages a plant offers in a workplace.
      • First of all, what do you think releases more heat through its metabolism. A meadow or an automobile factory?

        As for the effect these bio-engineered flowers have...
        Think sprinklers. That require no power source but the water they are fed and ground they are planted into. Plus, they look like pretty flowers.

        Did that help?

      • Re:What? (Score:4, Informative)

        by jc42 (318812) on Monday November 02, 2009 @12:02PM (#29951010) Homepage Journal

        Well, I am a bit confused. Plants do perspire and release water vapour but they also usually release heat (they have a metabolism and show on infrared).

        It is a bit complicated. ;-)

        It's true that plants give off IR radiation. But they also release water vapor, and the evaporation process is endothermic. This cools the plant tissues slightly, and conductance cools the air at the leaf surfaces. There's a lot of energy conversion and transfer going on around a functioning leaf. The "bottom line" of it all is that the air among masses of plant life is usually a few degrees cooler than the outside air, unless the air is cold, when the plants may somewhat warm the air. You can feel this when you walk into a clump of trees, even if you're still in the sunlight. Much of this effect is due to inefficiencies in the plants' techniques for controlling their own internal temperature.

        It is interesting that plants can be giving off IR while being cooler than their surroundings. Part of the explanation is that the photosynthetic process involves a lot of frequency shifting. Photons are absorbed at one frequency, electrons bounce the absorbed energy around a bit, and another photon is radiated at a lower energy level. Most of this is significant to the plant's metabolism, but there are inefficiences. Thus, chlorophyll absorbs best in the green/blue part of the spectrum; a quick google found a graph at http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Chlorophyll [statemaster.com]. Note the complexity of the graph, with a lower peak in the red. To increase its absorbency, chloroplasts surround the chlorophyll with frequency-shifting molecules that absorb photons at other frequencies and reradiate the energy as photons that the chlorophyll prefers. But chlorophyll molecules don't intercept all these green/blue(/red) photons, explaining why leaves are greener than the incoming light. The whole process is impressively complex, and we're not very close to fully understanding it all. But much of the accidental reradiation is at low-energy frequencies, in the IR part of the spectrum.

        Some interesting research reports a few years ago involved some tiny temperature sensors that could measure the temperature inside leaves. They reported that a wide variety of plants tested, over a wide range of atmospheric conditions, the internal leaf temperatures were close to 21 Celsius. This is somewhat cooler than our body temperature, and generally different from the air. The "higher" plants seem to have evolved some impressive temperature regulation methods, presumably because chemistry is simpler and cheaper if you can control the temperature. So at cooler temperatures, leaves tend to absorb lots of photons that they don't need for photosynthesis, but which function solely to warm the leaf to its operating temperature. The leakage from this process mostly loses low-energy photons, i.e., infrared. At higher temperatures, leaves can both radiate more energetic photons, and also release water vapor, which cools the tissues rapidly. In this case, most of the inefficiency is in heat absorbed from the surrounding warmer air, which is the main reason that clumps of plants are cool. But it's not really that the water was vaporized to cool the air. It was vaporized to cool the internal leaf tissues, and the air cooling is due to poor insulation at the leaf surface. The plants are trying to keep themselves at operating temperature, and cooling of surrounding warmer air is an inefficiency in this process.

        Anyway, it's complex. And it's impressive how much control can be done by critters that have no muscles or nervous system and are stuck spending their whole life in one spot. It's almost entirely complex chemistry, including some very sophisticated control of photons and passing energy via electrons along chains of carbon atoms. Understanding what's known of it takes years of study. But you can find a lot of summaries by googling for someth

  • thereby reducing the surrounding temperature, don't they? Gardenias do smell nice though.
  • Bad reporting (Score:5, Informative)

    by AxeTheMax (1163705) on Monday November 02, 2009 @03:29AM (#29948142)
    Lots of bad science reporting there, just what you would expect from a motor journalist talking about botany. New species??? All plants absorb gases, including any nitrogen compounds in the air. Any nitrous oxides would be absorbed within the leaf, since they are nutrients and plants have an ability to absorb nutrients through the leaves (foliar feeding). All plants give off water vapour. I suspect most trees would be better at cooling the factory surrounds than gardenia plants, since by their size and nature they are faster growers and thus can transpire more water, and (for most species) they have more leaf area per unit of ground area.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by CrashNBrn (1143981)
      Apparently, they've done the tree planting thing too.

      Even the grass has been specially developed to grow more slowly than conventional lawn. As a result, it only requires mowing once a year, compared with three times for the grass it replaced. In 2008, Toyota planted 50,000 trees to offset the factory’s CO2 emissions.

    • Re:Bad reporting (Score:5, Informative)

      by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday November 02, 2009 @03:52AM (#29948212) Journal

      October 6, 2005
      Toyota Develops Shrub that Greatly Improves Air Quality
      --New Cherry Sage Better Cleanses Air, Reduces "Urban Heat Island Effect"--
      http://www2.toyota.co.jp/en/news/05/1006.html [toyota.co.jp]
      "TMC started selling its Gardenia plant, known as the "Wald", which has a very high atmospheric-cleansing ability, in October 2003."

      The grass mentioned in TFA linked by /. is a breed of "zoysia grass" known as "TM9"
      I read about it on page 40 of Toyota's 2009 sustainability report [toyota.co.jp] (8MB PDF) and it has been on sale since 2006.

      Nothing in this story is new except for the positive PR that Toyota is getting.

      • by rvw (755107)

        Nothing in this story is new except for the positive PR that Toyota is getting.

        And even that is not new.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by hallucinogen (1263152)
      Actually there are no plants at all that can fix nitrogen by themselves. If the summary was even half right this would be THE biggest news of the year.
  • by assemblerex (1275164) on Monday November 02, 2009 @03:32AM (#29948158)
    Let's cross breed with kudzu! We can always just pull it up. I mean, Kudzu is so easy to get rid of, right?
  • by thatseattleguy (897282) on Monday November 02, 2009 @04:04AM (#29948254) Homepage
    whatcouldpossiblygrowwrong
  • Availability (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sarten-X (1102295) on Monday November 02, 2009 @04:23AM (#29948338) Homepage

    Ignoring naysayers for now, and assuming this plant is the benefit the article claims: What about me?
    Does Toyota plan to release these plants for sale at my local garden store?
    Can I get a nice slow-growing lawn that I don't have to mow?
    Can I get some extra-cold flower gardens?

    • by Gerafix (1028986)
      I wish our society would just get over the green grass lawn. It's absurdly wasteful, especially in dryer climates.
      • Live in areas with a metre of rainfall per year, like to have somewhere to go outside in summer, have children and grandchildren, and are aware of the problems of runoff from concrete surfaces, decks and so on. Our lawn requires no fertilizer, no watering, and by next year the robot mower will be recharged from a solar panel. And it provides foot access to the vegetable garden and the fruit trees.

        You insensitive clod!

        Having said which, you are totally right. Lawns belong in places where the climate is suita

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      You can already get excellent air cleaners at the local nursery. Buy a Ficus.

    • Re:Availability (Score:5, Informative)

      by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday November 02, 2009 @07:09AM (#29948838) Journal

      Ignoring naysayers for now, and assuming this plant is the benefit the article claims: What about me?
      Does Toyota plan to release these plants for sale at my local garden store?

      Not at your local garden store, but they are for sale through "Toyota Roof Garden Corporation".
      AFAICT their sales are entirely out of Japan, so good luck with ordering.
      http://www.toyota-roofgarden.co.jp/ [toyota-roofgarden.co.jp]

  • Umbrella Corporation (from the Resident Evil series) cultivated some funky flowers in Africa which led to their biological weapon development... zombies, Majini, etc. were the result.

    Whatcouldpossiblygowrong?

    • by canajin56 (660655)
      This isn't genetic engineering as in gene splicing, it's genetic engineering as in selective breeding. Fucking fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Just like those cows bred to produce less methane. whatcouldpossiblygowrong. Well, the same things that could always possibly go wrong, I guess? A random mutation between one generation and the next turns their meat into poison? Which would happen with or without selective breeding. When that article got posted about women getting shorter and heavier due to natural
  • by primesuspect (1661853) on Monday November 02, 2009 @04:39AM (#29948394) Homepage
    Feed me, Seymour... :-/
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by srussia (884021)

      Feed me, Seymour... :-/

      Actually, if the plant eats pets, it'll save the environment!

  • by RudeIota (1131331)
    This is all obviously for attention and is merely a token to the public of Toyota's commitment for being 'green'. The actual 'good' done by planting even an infinite number of flowers around their manufacturer facility is infinitely negligible even on a regional scale.
  • by adamchou (993073) on Monday November 02, 2009 @05:04AM (#29948462)
    I'm finalizing work on a new species of cow that eats unnecessary grass that has been dried. It then produces plenty of methane and CO2 to feed these plants.
  • What are the long term plans for the foliage disposal?
    Once those leaves will be stuffed with the bad gases, they will die. And then?
    Back to the soil and the athmosphere?
    Nice solution then!
    • by Arlet (29997)

      Only the oxides are harmful. When nitrogen is bound in other compounds, it works as a fertilizer. Plants need nitrogen, but they generally can't get it from the air, but they will readily absorb it from the soil.

  • Water vapor is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Talk about feel good marketing ploys!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Arlet (29997)

      The amount of water vapor is also more or less constant. If you try to put more vapor in the atmosphere, it will just rain out somewhere else.

    • by canajin56 (660655)
      Actually, it's less potent by 5x. It has a bigger effect on the atmosphere because there is 40 times as much of it in the air...also as the other poster pointed out, it falls out of the air all of the time. You may be familiar with the effect, even if you live in a desert. And the article is about NOx. That's 1500 as strong a greenhouse gas as water vapor. Still so absolutely positive that gardens are the true and only cause of the greenhouse effect? Your argument makes sense, right? Who uses greenho
  • That's what happens when you are too stressed at work to properly read. You develop faux dyslexia. So that headline read:

    Toyota Develops New Flower Species To Reduce Pollination

    And then I run around claiming that everything I know I've learnt from /. headlines.... Scary.

    (* = National Dyslexia Association, for those who've never heard the old joke.)

  • You don't necessarily want to be making more of it in large quantities, although presumably as 7/10ths of the planet is covered by water, the amount generated by some flowers won't be terribly significant.

    On the other hand, the forthcoming fuel cell cars should really include condensers so the water coming out the tailpipe is liquid rather than gaseous. One downside: the roads will ALWAYS be wet. We can presumably expect a certain increase in accident deaths from that cause, although it will be offset by th

  • This is as bogus as the whole "clean" concept of the Toyota Pious. These cars are dirty as hell to make, dirty as hell to recycle, and only provide real benefit for city driving. VW and Audi have done much more important work with their "clean diesel" engines that get mileage similar to that of the hybrids without massive dirty batteries, and those cars get high mileage on long haul trips and long country roads like we have here in the US.

  • Shameless drivel (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jandersen (462034) on Monday November 02, 2009 @08:08AM (#29949070)

    It is a load of shameless and deceptive nonsense; and does make it better that it is wrapped up in florid language, if you will excuse the pun, hur, hur. "Create a new species"? Even highly educated plant breeders haven't been able to do that, but a car manufacturer manages to do it with a gesture and a lorry-load of hype?

    For a plant species to work well as carbon-capturer, it ought to grow fast (thus producing large quantities of biomass) and it should break down slowly, so the CO2 isn't released quickly again. Gardenias and sages don't really fit the bill - grasses might, some trees might and green algae, perhaps. But I understand, of course - surrounding the offices with a few hectares of slimy ponds isn't as pretty.

    The real mystery is - how on Earth did this make it as far as being mentioned here?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by xelah (176252)

      It is a load of shameless and deceptive nonsense; and does make it better that it is wrapped up in florid language, if you will excuse the pun, hur, hur. "Create a new species"? Even highly educated plant breeders haven't been able to do that, but a car manufacturer manages to do it with a gesture and a lorry-load of hype?

      I'm not so sure that 'species' is so well defined a concept when it comes to plants and hybrids that everyone agrees on what is and isn't a new species. However, I distinctly suspect that 'hybrid' got turned in to 'species' somewhere between the grower's mouth and journalist's article. Science journalists in particular seem to love writing complete bollocks that sometimes even flatly contradicts their only source.

      For a plant species to work well as carbon-capturer,

      No-one has said anything about them capturing carbon. They were chosen to capture and degrad

  • ...with virtually no impact on environment!* * except for huge fields of Toyota Gardenia (TM), and who doesn't like gardenias?
  • Mutated plants with wheels ... [wikipedia.org] I swear I've seen this somewhere before, but I thought it came out of France.
  • by clickety6 (141178) on Monday November 02, 2009 @09:37AM (#29949490)

    ...and they eat people, thus reducing pollution.

    It's a rather radical solution.

  • Toyota Eco Claims (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by Sponge Bath (413667)

    Toyota is clearly making an effort to appear eco-friendly, but examine their claims closely. I heard squirrels are unharmed when run over by a Prius. As a Prius owner, I tell you that is not true. They pop like furry little grapes.

  • In the U.S. ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rnturn (11092) on Monday November 02, 2009 @12:26PM (#29951324)

    Some company like Monsanto will come up with plants like these (available only from them, of course) and patent the whole idea just so they can make a buck off of saving the planet.

  • "How do you like GMO's now?"

  • by fugue (4373) on Monday November 02, 2009 @02:14PM (#29952658) Homepage
    So they can claim to be "green" while still producing 4Runners and worse. Assholes.

No amount of careful planning will ever replace dumb luck.

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