NuLeaf Tech has made clean water its mission by building compact wastewater treatment systems and small-scale aquaponic systems. Both ecosystems harness wetland biology to treat complex waste, render nutrients available to plants, and filter water. Both systems are designed with circularity in mind, particularly focusing on the water-energy nexus.
“I think that the water-energy nexus is a good place to start. We need a lot of water to grow food so having a system that is resource-smart can really accelerate the way that we think about the nexus. NuTree systems are very interconnected and interdisciplinary,” says Rachel Major, CEO and co-founder of Nuleaf Tech.
The company’s off-grid wastewater systems, built to provide personalized wastewater treatment in places with tricky septic tanks or small businesses with specialized wastewater needs, are being prepared for certification but their aquaponic units are available now.
Rachel Major (Photo credits: YouTube: VERGE Accelerate)
According to Rachel, introducing new ideas can be difficult in any setting but is especially so in the United States when the idea relates to sustainability, as there are varying opinions about the subject and climate change overall. With both its wastewater treatment systems and NuTree Bonsai, the company is addressing sustainability challenges through resource efficiency, as people are typically more open to saving themselves time, money and resources. Focusing on resource efficiency allows NuLeaf Tech to bridge the gaps between people while also promoting sustainability.
NuLeaf Tech promotes sustainability by basing its systems in biomimicry, meaning that products are bioinspired. While taking inspiration indirectly from nature has been around for a long time, purposeful biomimicry is somewhat new in a world where technological advancements often work in opposition to natural processes instead of being inspired by them.
When the science behind NuLeaf was starting to be developed in 2014, for example, the bio-inspired design was very much an up-and-coming field that few sustainable professionals had heard of. However, the term is gaining steam in everything from material science to agriculture, especially in conjunction with the circular economy as nature is truly a no-waste system.
“In Silicon Valley, there was always this feeling that nature and technology can’t co-exist, but we are trying to challenge this with our systems,” says Rachel.
How the NuTree Bonsai works
The company’s aquaponic system is called the NuTree Bonsai and is a water-smart feature for residential and office settings alike. The NuTree Bonsai operates on three main principles: aquaculture, recirculation and healthy greens. Beginning in the aquaponic pond, the basin contains fish that consume pond plants and excrete waste. The newly fertilized water is then pumped to the top of the system, where it then follows the spiral shape by gravity to circulate the nutrient-rich water throughout the system. The greens are planted along the spiral and absorb nutrients from the water, both feeding the plants and filtering the water before it is returned to the aquaponic basin at the NuTree Bonsai’s base.
The Nutree Bonsai is 2’6” tall and has a 20-gallon basin which can be filled with a variety of fish and pond plant species. The Bonsai fits up to ten plants in the vertical farming terrace and is well suited to herbs, leafy greens, and flowers, according to the company website. While this size is great for schools or home gardens, larger aquaponic NuTrees that can grow between 20 and 30 plants are also available for office lobbies or shared outdoor spaces.
Benefits of the NuTree Bonsai
Rachel explains that the NuTree Bonsai presents many benefits to the home grower, including the low irrigation and fertilization requirement since the nutrient-rich water is constantly recirculated. As a result, the Bonsai is reportedly low maintenance and water-smart, making it simple for growers of varying experience levels to use. In addition, the system comes in an IKEA-like package with a handy online construction and user manual to make the system set up - from construction to picking the right fish and plants - seamless. The NuTree Bonsai also presents a different aesthetic than other aquaponic systems as the structure is mostly made of hand-stained hardwood and custom art is available.
“The NuTree Bonsai looks nice. DIY aquaponics is often not visually appealing; while the greenery is nice, the PVC typically used negatively impacts the aesthetic. With sustainable wood and added customizable nature art for the PVC terrace, we’re trying to change that. Growing food isn’t always pretty but when you have a system that makes people pause, it can help warm people up to new ideas” explains Rachel.