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Groasis Waterboxx lets trees grow up in unfriendly places

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November 18, 2010

The Groasis Waterboxx is a low-tech device that helps saplings grow into trees in inhospit...

The Groasis Waterboxx is a low-tech device that helps saplings grow into trees in inhospitable environments

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It’s not often that you hear about an invention that was modeled after bird poop, but there’s a first time for everything. In fact, this fecally-inspired device could ultimately be responsible for reforesting billion of acres of parched land, and it just won Popular Science’s Best Invention 2010 award. It’s called the Groasis Waterboxx, and it’s a low-tech product that helps seeds or saplings grow into strong trees in eroded, arid and rocky environments.

When a bird poops out a seed, the accompanying excrement forms a cap over the seed, which prevents water in the soil from evaporating. That, essentially, is how the Waterboxx works. The device has a tubular opening in the middle, through which one or two saplings or seeds can be planted or sown directly into the soil. Users then add 15 liters (4 gallons) of water to the box’s internal reservoir, as well as three liters (one gallon) down the tube.

The Groasis Waterboxx is a low-tech device that helps saplings grow into trees in inhospit...

The outside top surface of the box is designed to collect rainwater and deliver it to the reservoir, while the inside is designed to collect condensation from the air at night. The box itself shields the ground from the evaporative effects of the sun and wind, protects the sapling from wildlife, and maintains a fairly even soil temperature. A small wick in its underside releases about 50ml of water from the reservoir into the soil every day. At night, the water-filled reservoir helps to insulate the seed/sapling, while it also helps to cool it during the day.

The water that the box disperses seeps down into the soil, creating a capillary water column that the sapling’s roots will follow as it grows. Once the roots reach the natural water table, the sapling will experience a growth spurt, which is an indication that the box can be removed.

The Groasis Waterboxx is a low-tech device that helps saplings grow into trees in inhospit...

All of this sounds good in theory, but does it actually work? Well, the Waterboxx was tested for a period of three years in the Sahara Desert, by the Mohammed I University of Oujda in Morocco. During that time, some trees were grown with the box, while some were grown without, but still watered regularly. In the end, 88 percent of the boxed trees grew up to be strong, while 11 percent were considered weak. With the unboxed trees, however, only 10.5 percent turned out strong, while 89.5 percent died.

The Waterboxx is the creation of Pieter Hoff, a Dutch inventor who believes that planting trees can undo mankind’s damage to the planet. “The Treesolution is simple,” he said. “If we unbind more CO2 atoms from the air with trees than we put in the air through fossil fuels, then the climate problem is solved. Mankind produces annually 8,4 billion tons of CO2 through using fossil fuels. One acre of trees unbinds an average two tons of CO2 molecules in harmless C and O atoms. The C atoms are fixed in wood and the O atoms are put in the air. So if we plant 5 billion extra acres of trees producing food, then these trees unbind 10 billion extra tons of CO2. That's more than we pollute.”

Prices for the Groasis Waterboxx start at 199.99 euro (US$272), for the minimum order of ten units. Delivery is expected to begin in January.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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29 Comments

This is a really great idea - Well Done to Pieter Hoff, the inventor!

I hope he sells lots of them and that as a result, many, many trees are grown in places where they can stabilise the ground and help prevent soil erosion.

It will take many years before mankind can begin to undo the damage caused by cutting down so many of the world's trees but this approach could be a step in the right direction.

Alien
19th November, 2010 @ 04:27 am PST

excellent

Zain Hoosen
19th November, 2010 @ 05:13 am PST

Lets get behind this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thomas Meagher
19th November, 2010 @ 05:33 am PST

If this is made out of plastic then it will mean millions of them out in the wild and seas.

It has to be bio degradable or it'll be a nightmare.

[Ed note: Apparently there is also a biodegradable model]

Stephane Eybert
19th November, 2010 @ 06:06 am PST

Very clever idea with an extremely important objective, but it's WAY too expensive. This idea will flop as long as they try to get an "innovative premium" price for it. Something like $10 would probably provide a reasonable rate of return for their investment and manufacturing costs.

biscuitcutter
19th November, 2010 @ 07:29 am PST

What a great invention! CLose to revolutionary, I'd say.

Although, the 6th paragraph should read like this:

"The Waterboxx is the creation of Pieter Hoff, a Dutch inventor who doesn't understand the carbon cycle."

Blixdevil
19th November, 2010 @ 08:48 am PST

The study results are promising. However, 20 euro ($27) per box seems high, probably 10x the cost of the seedling. It is not obvious how long each should remain around the tree and if they can be reused.

J Hayes
19th November, 2010 @ 08:57 am PST

This invention can really change lives on arid land. I am thinking specifically of the Dine's reservation where our US soldiers destroyed orchards and Native American culture for generations. The BIA needs to take hold of this and run with it!!!

Facebook User
19th November, 2010 @ 09:06 am PST

Great idea, but the price really needs to come down for this to take off, especially since a lot of deserts may be located in poorer parts of the world. I also agree that there should be a cheap, biodegradable version available. The cheapest you can purchase the Groasis Waterboxx for right now is $14 per box (USD) if you purchase 7200 units for $100,728 (http://shop.groasis.com/). If they can't produce them cheaply, then they should have the manufacturing done overseas, such as in China, and they could probably hit a more affordable price point of $1/each. I hope they are doing this for a good cause and not just to turn a large profit.

robertswww
19th November, 2010 @ 11:07 am PST

The price is unrealistic and way beyond what something like this would cost to produce profitably. Save the world, don't try to rip it off.

$1.00 each in quantity would be profitable

syakoban
19th November, 2010 @ 11:27 am PST

I have to agree with most of the comments on this in that $300 for this thing is *WAY* too expensive!

Ed
19th November, 2010 @ 01:34 pm PST

I don't think the price is bad, maybe my only concern is the waste. I can think of a number or ways to improve the device. Conceivably they could make it a crescent shape with tree greatly off center towards the open end. Then you could stack them in a line. and reuse the devices and then transplant some of the trees when they need more room to grow..

To be fair I am very impressed with the device as is, and even though ti doesn't appear to be reusable it is still great.

ED..... I was confused when I read it at first. Its 270 for 10, which isn't cheap but reasonable considering the multiple parts. In large quanity they want $14 dollars.

Michael Mantion
19th November, 2010 @ 05:04 pm PST

this is a good idea but the cost is way too high to be successful, government agencies should take this on and absorb the inventors cut

robinyatesuk2003
19th November, 2010 @ 05:24 pm PST

I saw once that a biodegradable plastic was made with corn. If the waterboxes are bio degradeable maybe the manufacturer could infuse the boxes with plant food to boost the plants growth and the farmer can just move on and forget the boxes!

Gargamoth
19th November, 2010 @ 07:19 pm PST

Blixdevil,

Perhaps you can educate all of us then?

Realtrucker56
19th November, 2010 @ 07:24 pm PST

Seems like development/tooling costs have to be covered first, then the price would come down. Most people have no idea what steel dies cost to manufacture a product. It's prohibitive, and if it wasn't, you'd see a lot more worthless crap in the marketplace. This

seems like a great product, but it would take the greedy monarchs of the Middle East to

spring for this. They would most likely be suspicious of any kind of change, especially when their impoverished subjects would be able to eat fresh fruit, and become more curious about Western democracy. The obstacles for getting this off the ground are complex as well as initially expensive.

mattlass
19th November, 2010 @ 07:48 pm PST

There's no danger of these things clogging the environment - biodegradable or not. They are simple too expensive for the Third World situations where they are needed. The guy who reduces their cost by a factor of 10 will make them actually accessible. Until then, they are ingenious curiosities that will be deployed, if at all, only in wealthier areas.

piolenc
19th November, 2010 @ 08:11 pm PST

Syakoban / Ed.

Prices START at 199.99 euro (US$272), for the MINIMUM order of ten units.

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH 10 UNITS?

If you are going to use this concept effectively you must be talking in the 1000's

See what price you will get if you ask for 250,000 units then tell everyone how expensive it is.

Realtrucker56
19th November, 2010 @ 09:56 pm PST

I've forwarded this to my The American Chestnut Foundation Growers group and think the device might be effective against critters too!

But expensive, survivalists use similar principles to capture water and indoor gardners wicks to prevent over and underwatering. So where is the original (patentable) idea?

A nice device, the single holed model soon to be available at a retail store near you!?

Welsarth
20th November, 2010 @ 02:17 am PST

Pro: Great idea.

Con: Ridiculous price. It's just a molded plastic box. The materials cost about US$2.00, so it should sell for US$10.00 and the inventor will still make a bundle. Who will pay US$272? No one with any economic sense, so that leaves only the U.S. government.

666gm666
20th November, 2010 @ 05:47 pm PST

FOLKS!!! (some of you) The $270 price is for is for TEN units, NOT a single one. That means it comes out to $27 each, but I do agree that $27 is still too high, but like all new things the price will go down otherwise he won't sell as many as he wants.

fofu
21st November, 2010 @ 10:29 am PST

*Only* 5 billion acres per year? That's about the area of the US Canada! In 7.5 years we'll have covered the Earth!

Looks like CO2 emissions reduction is necessary anyway...

rattus
21st November, 2010 @ 11:35 am PST

Some good ideas but far to complicated and time consuming to assemble and plant and despite what the article says the plant is not protected from wildlife at all!

Perhaps a similar design in one piece (simplicity/speed trade off over packing density) in something like milk carton material designed to last for a year and then biodegrade and at the same diameter as plastic tube tree guards with mounting holes for the stakes built in (which would double as "wind guards").

Reason
21st November, 2010 @ 04:37 pm PST

Yeah - like J Hayes / Ed / robinyatesuk2003 / rattus / etc all said - this little plastic box is going to destroy the planet from it's own non-biodegradable existence.

We should never use these things at all - we don't need those trees - the "cost" to our planet of all those bits of plastic is absolutely unbearable.

christopher
21st November, 2010 @ 06:20 pm PST

Perhaps people don't have much idea of how much it normally costs to plan a tree, but if you could produce trees in the US with 6 hours less labor then $30 would be a worthwhile investment. $200 seems a bit high, but if I lived somewhere where trees needed a bit of help, I would easily spring for $50 to make sure the tree grows well.

Charles Bosse
21st November, 2010 @ 09:17 pm PST

I saw a much simples device for reforestation that was developed by I think a Belgian biologists. It was basically a funnel out of pet bottles around the tree sapling to keep water in. You do not need a custom product if you are poor. You use plastic waste that is already well provided even in the poorest regions (plastic bags, pet bottles, all sorts of tubs) and engineer a tree planting/supporting system out of it. With time as a resource you can customize your creation. Water box is a nice inspiration/illustration of design principles to follow.

nehopsa
23rd November, 2010 @ 07:32 pm PST

Here is a link for the web of the "Belgian biologist" who experiments with bottle reforestation

http://desertification.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/bottle-reforestation-to-combat-desertification-a-significant-success-willem-van-cotthem/.

It is simple. Just in case you do not have $27 a piece for Waterboxx.

nehopsa
24th November, 2010 @ 08:18 am PST

The unit is reusable. Still, it is a little expensive but that should change with competition. You must remember this is a prototype. It will be improved upon. I sent them a suggestion for improvement and got no reply. My idea would increase growth by 2 or 3 times. I had a friend who sold units for many years which did the same thing as this but for 95% less.

voluntaryist
24th November, 2010 @ 01:03 pm PST

Survival of plants in harsh areas could be done more efficiently and economically if, after planting the seedlings, rocks are placed upon the soil immediately surrounding the seedling. The rocks serve to cover the soil and prevent evaporation of water.

Adrian Akau
25th November, 2010 @ 08:39 am PST
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