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Wetland in a Box™

The Next Level of Water Treatment

Innovation at Work!

Wetland in a Box™ Core – The Bioreactor

Introducing the innovative, proudly South African, disruptive, scalable, modular 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-, municipal-, industrial-, and mining 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 your application (e.g. 60kL/day) or large (e.g. +60ML/day). 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 fodder, fertilizer, biofuel, etc.).

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. Constructed Wetlands (CWs), 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 this Wetland in a Box™ can also be used for multi-purpose value-added products (e.g. fodder, fertilizer, biofuel, etc.), 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 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 Fundamentals

The Wetland in a Box™ Bioreactor is a vertical up flow modular CW (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 104 cells that is capable of treating a maximum of 1,200 liters of wastewater per hour, 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™ – The ‘Lego Blocks’

The videos in this section demonstrates the fundamental characteristics of the Wetland in a Box™ technology. This experimental project was implemented in just over 3 months during 2023. This installation was done in an area called Klipheuwel, Western Cape, South Africa.

NOTE: The technology portrayed in the videos are based on Revision 3 (R3) of the Bioreactor design (a circular vessel), but the much-improved R4 mold has already been manufactured, a custom designed vessel with a greatly improved Cell density of 104 (from 83 in R3).

The WiaB Bioreactor R4

Awards & Recognition

2023 Eco-Logic Awards

Wetland-in-a-Box™ Silver Award Winner

The Eco-Logic Awards is hosted by Enviropeadea, with one of the main sponsors being the NPCP.

2023/2024 NSTF-South32 Awards – Finalist

The ‘Science Oscars of South Africa’

Nomination/s for Environmental Engineering Programme (Pty) Ltd were received for consideration for the NSTF-South32 Awards.

Statement by Professor Anthony Turton

“My patented invention carrying the registered trademark of Wetland-in-a-Box™ (WiaB) is being recognised for its innovation.

This technology is for the treatment of sewage and other complex effluent by engineering solutions in partnership with nature. Wetlands do for free, what complex engineered systems do at great cost.

This innovation builds on the proven technology of Constructed Wetlands (CW), by solving the one fundamental problem inherent to all wetlands – preferential flow pathway or hydraulic short-circuiting caused by the deposition of sludge or sediment. By solving this core problem, an isotropic flow pathway is created in a series of cells. Each cell optimises the vertical laminar flow of the fluid being treated in a way that optimises the processing power of a functional wetland in the smallest possible footprint.

This creates a Lego block building unit that enables complex fluid dynamics and biological processes to be created as required. This makes the system infinitely scalable and suitable for a range of applications from mining through industrial to architectural applications. The core of the system is a WiaB bioreactor that is ergonomically designed to contain over 100 cells that can be individually serviced by an average size human operator.

The bioreactor also becomes a platform for a real time digital uplink capable of supporting sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) and machine leaning (ML) platforms operating in the cloud. This has applications for the regulator enforcing compliance.

WiaB technology is thus a true hybrid between a Nature-Based-Solution (NBS) and the Internet of Things (IoT). A core element of the technology is the laboratory culture of specific microbiota capable of metabolising complex waste streams.

The true commercial value is thus derived from the ultimate evolution of two specific outcomes.

The first is the isolation and culture of unique assemblages of microbiota, capable of metabolising complex toxins.

The second is the linkage with blockchain technology that is capable of generating a fungible asset that can be traded as a water credit, and used by the regulator to ensure compliance with environmental discharge standards. This creates an incentive to the improvement of waste before discharge into rivers or the ocean, but it also creates a second revenue stream capable of financing the transition from a linear to a circular economy wherever wastewater is a problem.

I will be devoting the next phase of my professional career to develop this technology with technical partners in Australia, Singapore, London, the UAE and the USA.

This is a Proudly South African innovation being made available to a global market.”

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, five (5) bioreactors are interconnected in series whereby the Inflow Header receives the wastewater from the influent source and the Outflow Header delivers treated water to the output destination.


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

Clusters are the building blocks for massive scaling to cover large scale applications (i.e. municipal, industrial, agricultural, etc.).

Wetland in a Box™ Performance

Our environmental scientist, Dr Anthony Mader, conducted a pilot study in 2020/1, on a wine estate in the Western Cape, South Africa. Three (3) bioreactors were connected in series, adjacent to a traditional Constructed Wetland (Reedbed). NOTE: The Bioreactor design has subsequently been upgraded to R4, a square custom designed 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 scientific manuscript detailing the Pilot can be made available on request –  Contact Us.

Based on the preliminary results, plants growing in the Wetland in a Box™ exhibited significantly larger root growth patterns compared with the Reedbed. This may be attributed to design parameters whereby competition between plants growing in close proximity limited concentration of nutrients available to plants. 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 it 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.

Healthy Vibrant Ecosystems


Multiple Options Depending on Size and Preference

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 boost 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 add it.

Call to Action

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