Wildfires erupted in Sardinia Island, Italy, during the summer of 2021. They destroyed 28,000 hectares (699,000 acres) of land, displacing thousands of people.
Nearly half of the land was destroyed in the single, catastrophic fire that struck Montiferru near the island’s west coast. Montiferru, which is now one of twelve forest areas around the globe, is currently testing a new “ultra-early” warning system to warn against wildfires. It was developed by Dryad, a German startup — named after the Nymphs of Greek mythology who live in the symbiosis between trees and forests.
Even a small amount of wildfires could be prevented. This would bring about huge benefits. The intensity of wildfires is increasing due to climate change. By 2030, the number of extreme wildfires is expected to rise by 14%.
They cause billions of dollars in damage, and the chemicals and particles they produce are powerful pollutants. In 2021 wildfires produced a record 1.76 Billion metric tons of carbon in our atmosphere, which is equivalent to twice the annual CO2 emissions of Germany.
Early warning systems exist that detect smoke using satellite imaging, ground cameras, or human observers. Dryad CEO and co-founder Carsten Brinkschulte say that these systems are too slow.
“To generate smoke that rises above trees and can be seen from distances of 10 to 20 miles, the fire must be substantial in size — it might be half a football field on fire below. It may be too large to extinguish if firefighters take longer to arrive on the scene.
An electronic nose
Dryad has raised EUR13.9million (roughly $12.2 million) to help reduce the detection of wildfires. It aims at catching them in the smoldering stage — when there is no open flame — usually within the first 60 minutes.
The company designed a solar-powered sensor that can detect gas and has attached a gas detector. Brinkschulte says that the sensor can detect hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds. It can also smell fire. It can be compared to an electronic nose you attach to a tree.
The sensor detects fire and sends out a signal via a wireless network with an antenna built in. The signal is relayed to other devices and sent to the internet via satellite and 4G. The information is then sent to forest managers.
“We can also send out an alarm and interface directly with the IT systems of the local fire brigade.” “What you get is an alert with GPS coordinates that pinpoint the sensor that picked the fire,” Brinkschulte says.
Baptism of Fire
Each sensor costs EUR48 (49). Dryad has about 30 employees and sells hardware. It also offers an annual subscription model at 15% of the total hardware cost which includes maintenance and support. Its primary clients include municipalities, private forests, and electricity companies, whose equipment is frequently the cause of fires.
The startup has already installed 300 sensors in a dozen test deployments in Germany and the United States. Brinkschulte claims that the sensors are not required for these trials because the fires were intentionally started to demonstrate how the system works to forest managers.
Philipp Nahrstedt manages a forest covering 62,000 hectares in central-eastern Germany’s Saxony-Anhalt.
“We lit a forest fire, and the sensors detected it within 14 minutes. He says that this detection time was amazing and shows how much potential Dryad has.”
Dryad plans to increase production, with 10,000 units expected in the next months and 230,000 next.
Brinkschulte says that “we’ll reach the millions over time.” Dryad has a goal to deploy 120 million by 2030. He estimates that this would allow for the preservation of 3.9 million hectares of forest, which is approximately 40% of the global wildfires. It also prevents 1.7 billion tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.