Water Batteries for Trees!

According to the World Health Organization, 1.2 billion people – or almost 1 out of 5 people in the world – are without access to safe drinking water.  And even in areas with access, 70 percent of water withdrawn from fresh groundwater sources is used for agriculture.   But using groundwater to grow crops and trees doesn’t make sense to Pieter Hoff, a Dutch inventor. Not only are traditional irrigation techniques inefficient because most of the water is lost to evaporation, Mr. Hoff says, but water can be easily captured from the atmosphere to grow just about anything.

water batteries for trees

To prove his point, Mr. Hoff retired from the lily and tulip export business in 2003, established his company, AquaPro, and devoted himself to the development of the Groasis Waterboxx, which he says will grow food crops and trees even in the driest places on earth.

The Waterboxx is a round device made from polypropylene and about the size of car tire — 20 inches in diameter and 10 inches high. An opening at the center of the box provides a space for a plant or tree to germinate and grow.

The box is designed to capture both rainwater and condensation, which collects in the chamber underneath the cover, and prevents the water from evaporating. Mr. Hoff describes it as a “water battery.”

A wick inside taps into the ground beneath the box and drips a small amount of water to the plant’s root system each day. Once the plant or tree has taken root on its own, reaching a water source sometimes several meters below, the box can be removed and used again to start another plant or tree.

Mr. Hoff has recently concluded a three-year test of the Groasis Waterboxx in the Sahara desert in Morocco, an area that gets only a few inches of rainfall each year. Almost 90 percent of the trees planted using the Groasis Waterboxx survived after it was removed.

A test group of trees planted without the box, but watered once a week, produced the opposite result: only 10 percent survived.

This year, Mr. Hoff said he will be conducting more trials across eight countries and some 25 sites, including California wine country and Joshua Tree National Park.

Using a grant from the Dutch government, he has also developed a biopolymer version of the box that will decompose over time, releasing nutrients into the soil as it biodegrades. His long-term business model is to provide a nonexclusive, free license to anyone who wants to manufacture and distribute the Groasis Waterbox, while he plans to ask only for a small royalty per box.

A Dutch company has already signed on.

“My ideal is that the device is available to everybody, everywhere,” said Mr. Hoff, “and my focus is to create a business model that enables the world’s poor to buy the box.”

He is talking to a Dutch bank about setting up a micro-finance scheme to enable farmers in developing countries to buy the Waterboxx.

But beyond helping to solve the water crisis, Mr. Hoff said he believed his invention could promote reforestation on a large scale to address other global problems like hunger, erosion and climate change caused by global warming.

“If we were able to plant two billion hectares with trees we could solve many of the world’s problems,” he said. “We have cut down about two billion hectares of trees in the last 2000 years. So if it’s small enough to cut it, it’s small enough to replant it again if we want.”

Source: The New York Times

The Groasis waterboxx can be used for:

  • Seed
  • Young vegetables or flowering plants
  • Young trees

In nature a seed first develops its roots before the plant starts to grow. The logic of this concept is that the plant first provides itself with water before the water begins to evaporate.

This means that when we use the Groasis waterboxx, we must try to follow the same principles and so we have to plant our trees as small as possible.

Choose plants that are in balance with the environment

If we want to reforest the world or plant a tree in our garden, we have to consider which trees, shrubs or plants can survive after their roots have reached the capillary water. Some species can be used all over the world and other species only in specific regions. In the dry savannas of Mongolia different trees are growing from those in the savannah of Mali or in a garden in California due to the differences in temperature. To make the right choice we only have to take a look around us whether we see old specimens of certain varieties of plants, then we know they will survive if we remove the Groasis waterboxx after 1 or 2 years (after the tree roots have reached the capillary).

When we have made this choice, we can start planting. This is simple: we do NOT make a deep planting hole, but just a small hole of 10 cm deep at the most, only to break the hard surface layer, put the tree in the hole together with the pot soil, put some of the soil back and put the Groasis waterboxx on top of it. In case we are planting on rocks and it is not possible to dig a hole, we have to look for a crevice, put the pot soil of the tree on the crevice and put the Groasis waterboxx over the tree. The roots will automatically enter the crevices and start looking for water.

After a year or so we check how deep the roots are. If they are deep enough, we simply lift the Groasis waterboxx and put it elsewhere. We once again plant a tree in its centre and repeat the process. In this way one Groasis waterboxx can be reused at least 10 times. That too is sustainability.

Source: Groasis

The concept is simple yet brilliant.  The product seems to have been successful during trials in many countries.  Whether it is affordable to poverty-stricken people is another matter.  Any device that can alleviate the symptoms of drought or low rainfall is welcome.  Water scarcity is a growing problem worldwide and any precious water extracted from underground aquifers should be used wisely and sparingly.  If this product is successful, it will free-up water for human consumption.  In water scarce regions, a multi-faceted approach should be taken- water conservation should comprise of rainwater harvesting, gray water reuse, appropriate water saving systems, water storage and water conservation education.  The Groasis Waterboxx would complement any water conservation programme- let’s hope it can become available to even the poorest of the poor.

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