The development of the products that make up the Groasis Ecological Water Saving Technology

20191015 Groasis Timeline vertical

A successful product is not created overnight. It has taken years of testing and re-designing of our disruptive, innovate products to ensure that mankind can now plant trees in combination with shrubs, flowers, and vegetables, in dry and eroded areas. All in a simple and environmentally friendly way – which is saving water and hugely efficient.

The start of a water saving technology 

The left-hand side of this page shows, in chronological order, the development of Groasis’ products. The original ‘seed’ for the idea to create the Groasis Ecological Water Saving Technology was sown in 2003. In 2004 we started testing the very first Waterboxx® plant cocoon. This model was made of iron, and had a diameter of one meter!

In 2005 we developed the second model of the Waterboxx® plant cocoon. This second version, a white square box, was made from polypropylene sheets that were heated and then molded over a wooden mold. We produced 50 of these boxes and tested them for three years in the Sahara desert, near Oujda, Morocco. From an early stage Groasis involved independent third parties to validate our technology – in this case we worked with the University of Oujda in Morocco.

In 2006 we applied for our first patent – to protect the intellectual property (IP) of the Waterboxx® plant cocoon. At the time we referred to the Waterboxx® plant cocoon as the ‘Powertree®’, a brand name that has since been replaced. We changed the design from a square model to a rectangular model, but when planting in hot environments discovered that the long sides of the box were too weak. To strengthen the box we made the walls thicker, which resulted in using more raw materials – thus inflating the cost price. This caused us to go back to the drawing board.

After experiencing the hard work of digging planting holes by hand in the heat, and seeing how these planting holes often disrupted the natural water flow through the soil, it was clear that Groasis needed to develop a solution. 2007 was the year that we introduced various models of our capillary drills. The capillary drill allows you to make up to 6,000 planting holes per hour without breaking the fragile capillary system in the soil. Watch this video to learn why the capillary system in the soil is important for planting trees.

In 2008 we introduced a round version of the Waterboxx®. By doing so, we reduced the amount of raw materials required by 50%! The center of the box had a round opening with enough space to plant one tree – the new design resembled a donut. We 3D printed a couple of prototypes and then produced a small batch to plant trees in a dozen countries.

In 2009 it became apparent that the new designed worked very well. After years of testing, in 19 countries, we started producing our current model of the Waterboxx® plant cocoon. We decided to make a double opening in the center of the box, which allowed the user to plant two trees at the same time. This was to ensure that the planter would always have at least one tree that would survive, and the incremental cost of planting the second tree was marginal. Later we learned that planting 2 trees was not necessary, because of the incredible survival rates that were reported from around the globe – between 90% and 100%, so most users stopped planting two trees. However, we kept the double opening since it makes it easier to remove the Waterboxx® after one year. The box can be reused for 10 years with one or two trees planted every year. That year we tested 30,000 units in 19 countries, and the results were fantastic. Whether used for eco-system restoration or for agroforestry – users reported significant water savings and wonderful survival rates.

Our first test with biodegradable raw materials

In the second half of 2009 after a long development process, we finally carried out numerous tests with Waterboxx® plant cocoons made from PLA, which is a biodegradable biopolymer. The goal was to develop the first biodegradable intelligent bucket, a plant cocoon that would not have to be removed, and which would decompose biologically over time and release valuable nutrients. We incurred a lot of cost, for instance we had to make new molds since biopolymer is formed in the mold in a different way to polypropylene. A polymer is moulded by making it liquid, a biopolymer is moulded through pressure. The initial tests with our Waterboxx® from PLA failed, because the biopolymer Waterboxx® plant cocoon collapsed in the desert – like a plum pudding. In spite of trying different designs and materials, we had to stop the project. We lost 3 years of labor and development costs.

In 2010 we continued with renewed energy and new ideas for our 'Bioboxx®', the product you know today under the name of 'Growboxx® plant cocoon'. Rather than using biopolymers, we shifted our attention to using recycled paper pulp – and a production process that is comparable to how egg boxes are made. The benefits seemed obvious: the product was biodegradable so it wouldn’t have to be removed, we could blend nutrients into the raw materials so the tree would receive a little boost, and in theory we should be able to produce a plant cocoon that was much cheaper than the Waterboxx® - making it more affordable to restore degraded land for governments, corporates and the millions of poor smallholder farmers.

In 2011 we started testing the Bioboxx® in laboratories. We also started protecting the IP that we had developed through patents - as we discovered and developed some exciting new things.

In the second part of 2011, we found a new way to make polypropylene degradable. Whilst adding cost to the Waterboxx®, it also provided a solution to the bio-degradability. We made the new, biodegradable, Waterboxx® plant cocoon sand-colored because it would not be removed from the tree.  We executed very successful trials in Spain, over a 5 year period with our 'Life + The Green Deserts' projects. In 2018, we received a 'Best LIFE Climate Action-project Award' from the European Union for this incredibly beautiful project that was planted in 5 very challenging places in Spain. After 5 years, the Waterboxxes® were already partly broken down by micro-organisms, proving that our theory worked.

In 2012, after 2 years of hard work on making our paper pulp (recycled paper) biodegradable box watertight and affordable, we finally started production. We made nearly 9,000 pieces and launched it under the name ‘Greenboxx®’, and sent them to 16 countries for testing. These tests with the predecessor of our current Growboxx® taught us a lot.

In 2013 we finally launched the name Growboxx®, replacing the Greenboxx®. We looked at different manufacturing processes – to facilitate our vision of local production. 3D printing looked like a promising way forward, but we concluded that the model should be improved upon. We also did our first tests with mycorrhizae (fungi). Mycorrhizae can replace the use of fertilizers in dry soils, preventing the soil from getting salty - ensuring that the tree enjoys faster and better growth.

In 2014 development of the Growboxx® continued. We designed a square version with a double opening, just like in the Waterboxx®. The production costs were too high for this model, but there were some big benefits over the original round model. We continued developing the 2014 design. In addition, we introduced the Growsafe Telescoprotexx (a plant protector). The Growsafe is a green sheet made of polypropylene which can be formed into a tube. It can be extended in length and width in order to adjust to the size of the growing tree. Due to its shape, transport costs are reduced. The Growsafe protects the small trees perfectly against grazing animals, sand storms, frost, wind and also offers protection against the sun.

In 2015 we optimized the model of the square Growboxx® plant cocoon. We noticed that we could produce this model from paper pulp and that it would be possible to produce it even cheaper than imagined. We sent Growboxxes® to 32 countries, where they were used by more than 50 participants to plant trees and shrubs. The first tests were very successful, and we knew that we were moving in the right direction!

In 2016, after lots of discussions with governments, NGOs and smallholder farmers, we concluded that farmers in rural areas could not financially bridge the period between planting and harvesting their productive trees. Trees take 5-7 years before they start being productive (e.g. generate fruits, nuts, timber). We set to work with the belief that there had to be a way in which they could also generate income in the short term. We then started to develop a Growboxx® that was able to plant trees in combination with 4 plants (such as bedding plants, native plants, shrubs or vegetables). Vegetables start bearing fruit within a few months from planting. In this way, the planter can generate both cash and food, without having to wait 5 or more years. In 2016 we also introduced the biodegradable BioGrowsafe plant protector. The biodegradable BioGrowsafe has the same functionalities as the polypropylene Growsafe, but is made of paper and is an ideal complement to the biodegradable Growboxx®.

We have always looked at the planting process in a holistic way, and one of the key ingredients to success was to ensure that the limited amount of rainwater that falls enters the soil. In 2017 we introduced the Terracedixx, which makes it possible to make up to 15,000 meters of mini-terraces per hour. The water infiltration of rainwater that seeps into the soil is thus increased significantly. As a result, less scarce fresh water is lost. Before the Terracedixx treatment, water didn’t enter the eroded hard surface but flowed to rivers and then out to the sea. After the treatment we’re able to plant trees and vegetables and make the soil productive.

In 2018 we introduced the current version of the Growboxx® plant cocoon. We developed a revolutionary refill opening in the lid of the box, which could be closed to prevent evaporation – whilst still allowing rainwater to enter the box. We also mix food safe repellents through the paper pulp that animals find uncomfortable, so that the Growboxx® and the tree are better protected from rodents, goats or hogs. We once again carried out tests in 32 countries, and the results were once again very successful as can be seen in our photo albums. 

In autumn of 2019 our next major breakthrough was announced: The biodegradable paper lid cup, named 'Rafiki' to end plastic litter of take-away coffee cups!

Sign up for our monthly newsletter to be kept informed of our work!

Do you want to join our Green Revolution? Become a Friend of Groasis!