In 2014, Australian Podplants founder Chris Wilkins won the Australian Innovation Challenge for his fresh take on vertical gardens for indoor spaces. The award came with $10,000 in prize money and recognition for the unique technology that he has developed in conjunction with Sydney University, over the last eight.
Motivated by the grim reality of issues such as agricultural vulnerabilities to climate change and the growing recognition of the health and productivity benefits of plants in the workplace, Wilkins began exploring current horticultural technologies.
"We realized that hydroponics in general were really only something which expert horticulturalists could use effectively as they can be very complicated," Wilkins tells Gizmag. "We also found that there is a large problem with bacterial infection in the root zone of the plants."
Highlighting the need to eliminate this issue and simplify the process, Wilkins began investigating the air in the root zone and developing a new technology to make the plants grow more healthily.
And so, PodPlants was born. PodPlants are a portable, lightweight, modular vertical garden with a unique design and watering system.
The outer shell is made from recycled ABS plastic which is high impact resistant and very thin, making it easy to transport. Each 2.4 m (7.9 ft) tall module weighs 20 kg (44 lb).
The plants are watered through the PodPlants hyper aeroponics system.
The bare roots of the plants hang inside the unit, while tiny droplets of water are circulated through the air and into the root zone. This has proven to eliminate the bacterial infection common in existing greenwall plants. Because the water is only moved into the air, it also means that very little electricity is needed to run the system.
"Our system moves less than a liter of water per hour, whereas a conventional system will move liters per minute," explains Wilkins. "We’re also not using pumps, filters or nozzles which have created difficulties for other systems."
The vertical garden is stabilized by a reservoir of water in the bottom of each unit and because it is freestanding, it can be placed in front of an existing wall. The only requirement is access to a powerpoint to run the electricity. No pipes, drainage or wall fasteners necessary.
The angle of development was not just to address the bacterial infection common in vertical gardens, but also to respond to the research around the psychological impact of plants in the workplace.
The research also showed that this concept is becoming more mainstream. The notion of including a natural element into the workplace was an interesting proposition for Wilkins.
"We learned a lot about the space around interior design and what they call biophilic design. It was incredibly interesting to see how innovative companies were using plants to affect the psychology of the people in the workplace. Not only are the plants cleaning the air and making people happier, but this forward thinking can change a business’ corporate identity and culture to one that fits the sustainability agenda."
With sustainability in mind, PodPlants use a combination of rainforest varieties, such as philodendrons, which are low lying colorant plants that grow well indoors and do not need supplemental lighting.
The team at PodPlants maintain the plants themselves, continuing the relationship with their clients and refreshing the water supply monthly.
The design is fully customizable and can be produced in any size or shape.
"The technology inside is standard, so we’re able to meet the clients’ needs in terms of design," says Wilkins. "There are 10 different shapes and sizes to start with but we can do anything. For example, we have one client who has asked us to design a wall to wrap around the cylindrical columns inside the work space."
With revenue doubling every month, business is on the rise for Wilkins and the team at Pod Plants. So what’s next for the young innovator?
"We are getting more and more involved in research and development and plan to open up more product ranges from things like edible plants, outdoor walls and a product that clips onto the face of any building."
PodPlants installations are quoted individually – more information is available via the link below.