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Wetland in a Box™ – The Next Level of Water Treatment

Innovation at Work!

Introducing the innovative, proudly South African, scalable, hybrid constructed wetland (CW) – The Wetland in a Box™ (trademarked and patented) – A holistic solution to the current challenges associated with access to water (quality and quantity) in developing countries and beyond. CWs are engineered systems comprising of controllable functional (e.g. plant and microbial species/communities) and operational (hydrogeochemical) parameters that occur in natural wetland systems. The Wetland in a Box™ can be used to treat contaminants and pathogens from agricultural-, domestic-, municipal-, industrial-, and acid mine drainage waste systems.

The design of the Wetland in a Box™ overcomes numerous challenges associated with traditional treatment methods; enabling a sustainable approach no matter how small (60kL/day) or large (+60ML/day) your application. The Wetland in a Box™ promotes sustainable development through the treatment of wastewater for re-use (i.e. beneficial irrigation) and harvesting of biomass for multi-purpose value-added products (e.g. biomass for fuel, fertilizer, food and energy).

The need for Sustainable Development within the Wastewater Treatment Sector

The Wetland in a Box™ promotes sustainable development (SD) relative to the three pillars of SD, namely;

  • Environment: Remediation of wastewater reduces the release of ecotoxicologically important contaminants into the environment, which negatively impacts the health and survival of fauna and flora. Treatment Wetlands enable the selection of plant and microbial species that can tolerate and remediate various types of wastewater and environmental conditions, amid global climate change. This highlights the ability to use the Wetland in a Box™ in various applications.  For example, halophytes (salinity-tolerant plants) can be utilized to remove salts from saline wastewater – a major challenge impacting the treatment of metallurgical and agricultural wastewater which may contain elevated salt load (Mader et al., 2022). The Wetland in a Box™ also creates a habitat for fauna thereby promoting biodiversity.
  • Society: The Wetland in a Box™ promotes access to water through the treatment of wastewater which can be used for beneficial irrigation of cash crops. Biomass produced by the Wetland in a Box™ can also be used for multi-purpose value-added products, promoting socio-economic development, especially in developing countries.
  • Economics: Compared with traditional wastewater treatment works (WWTWs), CWs are at least 50% less expensive to construct and come in under 25% the maintenance and support costs of WWTWs. This directly reduces capital cost, making it ideal to be leveraged in disadvantaged communities.

The Wetland in a Box™ overcomes the various challenges associated with traditional CWs and wastewater treatment technologies (e.g. WWTWs) whereby the performance of the system is standardized, predictable, repeatable, and scalable.

Wetland in a Box™ Design Parameters

The Wetland in a Box™ Bioreactor is a vertical up flow modular, hybrid CW (South Africa Patent No: 2017/03538), that has been developed to solve the primary challenges associated with the flow of wastewater around the plant’s root system. The bioreactor comprises 61 cells (48 in the pilot system) that occupy approximately 1m2 and is capable of treating 1,250 liters of wastewater per hour (2,500 based on preliminary data during the Pilot), subject to the concentration and composition of contaminants. The Wetland in a Box™ Bioreactor incorporates a laminar flow concept whereby fluid flow properties remain constant within each cell, enhancing the rhizofiltration potential of the selected plant species.

Wetland in a Box™ Fundamentals

This video demonstrates the fundamental characteristics of a single cell of the Wetland in a Box™ Bioreactor. The white container (on top) represents the influent source (i.e. wastewater) and the bucket (underneath) represents the treated wastewater.

Although this video was recorded in the initial stages of the Revision 2 (R2) design process, this model still highlights the features of the system.


Scaling for Commercialization

But how do we scale the technology to meet any volumetric demand? Simple – Strings and Clusters!

String Theory – The Dual String

Although dissimilar to the theoretical framework of string theory, our ‘string theory’ is based on determining the number of bioreactors that are strung in series depending on the application.

As a general rule, ten (10) bioreactors are interconnected in series whereby the first bioreactor receives the wastewater from the influent source and the last bioreactor delivers treated water to the output destination.

Each string comprises two rows of bioreactors connected in series – the Dual String – to optimize configuration and scaling considerations. This configuration constitutes the smallest cluster for industrial applications.


The next step in the sizing algorithm is to group Dual Strings into Clusters, with each Cluster consisting of a maximum of 5 Dual Strings (10 x 10 = 100 Bioreactors).

Smaller Clusters with less Bioreactors in series may be specified.

Clusters are the building blocks for scaling to massive scale applications, with multiple Clusters grouped in Camps.

Wetland in a Box™ Performance

Our environmental scientist, Dr Anthony Mader, conducted a pilot study in 2020/1, on a wine estate in Western Cape, South Africa. Three (3) bioreactors were connected in series, adjacent to a traditional TW (Reedbed). NOTE: The Bioreactor design has subsequently been upgraded to Revision 2 (R2), comprising a circular vessel.

Plant species were sourced from the Reedbed to reduce potential epigenetic variation that may have occurred if plants were sourced from a different location. Morphological growth parameters (including root system architecture) were recorded over the experimental period.

A comprehensive manuscript detailing the Pilot is in third draft and will be published in due course. Copy of the draft can be made available on request –  Contact Us.

Based on the pilot results, plants growing in the Wetland in a Box™ exhibited much larger root growth patterns compared with the Reedbed. This may be attributed to TW design parameters whereby

  1. competition between plants growing in close proximity limited concentration of nutrients available to plants, and
  2. concrete Reedbed floor, which physically restricted Reedbed plant root growth. Moreover, the build-up of sludge – leading to short circuiting and clogging – reduces root-contaminant contact time thereby limiting the remediation potential of plants in the Reedbed.

The design of the Wetland in a Box™ optimizes root growth and development (i.e. lateral rooting), increasing root surface area for contaminant contact and remediation (i.e. rhizofiltration).

Promoting Biodiversity in Anthropogenic Environments

Various invertebrates and vertebrates were observed in the Wetland in a Box™ Bioreactor during the pilot study. Invertebrates included Daphnia spp, Pararaneus spp (spikey field spider), and Solpugema spp (Solifuge). Vertebrates included different lifecycle stages (tadpole, froglet, and frog) of Strongylopus grayii (clicking stream frog).

The presence of fauna within the Wetland in a Box™ Bioreactors indicates that the Wetland in a Box™ creates an artificial habitat capable of supporting and promoting biodiversity. Various species can be used as bioindicators of water quality whereby amphibians, such as S. grayii, are good bioindicators due to their

  1. dependence on water,
  2. stages of lifecycle (e.g. different dietary requirements at each stage of the species’ lifecycle), and
  3. physiological sensitivity to environmental conditions (due to permeable skin). This enables amphibians to be used as effective bio-ecotoxicological indicators.


There are many Options that can be included when configuring the ideal Wetland in a Box™ solution for your needs. These include (but not limited to; we are constantly exploring methods to improve processes):

  1. AQUA Center – This is for applications that will require an administrative, maintenance and security facility that will take responsibility for looking after the Farm (including the Wetland in a Box™ technology, all options as well as the parkland immediately surrounding the operation). This is pretty much a standard option with applications from 6Ml/d and higher, and by leveraging our BOOT/Franchise business model, this could be a perfect socio-economic enabler for your community.
  2. Greenhouse Tunnels – Depending on your location, this option will ensure optimal macrophyte performance all-year round.
  3. Security Fencing – This is pretty much a standard option to be included in any application, which can be augmented by security personnel (including K9 units) from the AQUA Center.
  4. Telemetry – Specialized instrumentation that measures volumetric (quantitative) and qualitative properties are available, ranging form small, mobile options (manual data collection and capture) right through to high-end, online, near real-time data collection options that can provide local and remote data dashboards, et al. The choice is yours.
  5. Polishing Ponds – These ponds form the first output destination for water that has been treated by the Wetland in a Box™ Camp that will eliminate any remaining pathogens that may have escaped the Bioreactor treatment process (unlikely, but possible) and are stocked with indigenous aquatic fauna and flora, including fish. They are built to resemble natural occurring ponds that can be applied for community beneficiation purposes (under controlled conditions) that can generate additional revenue to your operation.
  6. Emergency Containment Dam – From a disaster recovery perspective, your disaster recovery plan (DRP) must include a method to temporarily divert Influent from source that has been contaminated with deadly pathogens, which will serve to collect such contaminated water for any configurable period (normally 48 to 72 hours) to enable you to locate the source of the contamination. If your planning and preventative maintenance processes are solid, you may never (or very rarely) need to mobilize the diversion strategy, so, in the meantime, why not build this facility in such a way that it can serve as a community beneficiation facility, for example, a roller-skating-, skate-boarding- or  BMX track (or all 3), that can generate additional revenue to your operation.
  7. RO (Reverse Osmosis) Filters – For an Output Effluent Objective (OEO) of Potable (Drinking) water. Reverse Osmosis (RO) Systems produce freshwater needed for many industrial water treatment applications such as power and energy plants, refineries, boiler feed treatment, abattoirs, etc. Industrial RO systems are vital for consistent productivity in these industries due to the corrosive-related issues occurring within the facilities, specifically equipment and machinery.
  8. And more… You call it, we’ll research it.

Wetland-in-a-Box™ Scientific Manuscript

A comprehensive Scientific Manuscript of the Wetland-in-a-Box™ Pilot that was run in the Western Cape, by Dr Anthony Mader, our Environmental Scientist: Wetland-in-a-Box™ Manuscript_Case Study

Call to Action

Get in touch with us for a free telephone or virtual consultation and project estimation.

You may also join us on one of our recurring UMPC Dare to Dream Campaigns, a very informative an ‘must-know’ event that will be an eye-opener in terms of what you can expect in South Africa in the foreseeable future. It also includes more detailed information on the Wetland in a Box™ technology as well as a live demonstration.

Be sure to book your virtual seat here for next Tuesday’s event: https://gt421.cip21.online/events

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