Inventor of the Aqua BiofilterTM, Tom Duncan, started an aquaponics social enterprise in 2000 to help community gardens optimise small urban spaces for food growing. Tom’s background in permaculture design and environmental science had him teaching Permaculture Design Courses from 2002 onwards with the co-founder of Permaculture David Holmgren and other well known designers, specialists in Regenerative Agriculture (Regrarian) Darren Doherty, Permaculture Designer and Teacher John Champagne, whilst keeping in close contact with his teacher Geoff Lawton founder of the Permaculture Research Institute.
Since 2000 Tom has been building aquaponics systems in largescale and small scale aquaculture systems across Australia and China. His projects include the largest aquaponics systems in the world, covering in some cases, hectares of aquaculture pond and lake with edible plants including rice and flower products including canna lily.
Tom’s creativity in deveoping large scale aquaponics system upcycling nutrients for ecological, social and economic benefits, led him to further refine his aquaponics home systems that incorporated all the accumulated knowledge and design smarts, into small scale aquaponics home systems that utilise fish waste and produce food at a home micro-scale. Tom believes growing food at home is one of the most important things people can do for the planet and their own health,by reconnecting to locally grown healthy food and community.
The new Aqua BiofilterTM is an aquaponics home system that grows herbs, greens and vegetables year round in small urban spaces where an outdoor garden or community garden is not available, turning your Aquaponics benchtop, balcony or bench into an urban micro farm, reconnecting to your food.
Design Portfolio + Services
Tom has delivered Ecologically Sustainable Design services to a variety of clients including Local Governments, Water Authorities, Catchment Management Authorities, Private Land and House Developers. Below are some designs Tom has been involved with over the last decade.
Project: Local Government Urban Regeneration Project
Role: Strategic Sustainability Engineer & Planner
Budget: AUD $40 million
5 Star Green Star Building Mc2 (MC Squared), civic urban regeneration developing a new town square for Doncaster Hill, home to 10,000 residents and 1,000,000 unique visitors annually.
Tom worked as Chairman of the Green Building Council of Australia, Public Building Rating Tool for 2 years, developing the new Green Building Rating tool for this Public Building to be able to be built as a Green Star building, because the Public Building Rating Tool did not exist yet! So Tom went to a range of other Government Agencies to raise funds to developing the Green Building Council of Australia – Public Building Rating Tool. Agencies from all states except Northern Territory became supporters for the development of the Green start Public Building Rating Tool. This included developing ESD (Ecologically Sustainable Design) criteria such as Energy Use, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Water Use, Stormwater Pollution, Biodiversity, Embodied Energy, Precinct Energy Systems, Indoor Air Quality, Public Realm and Amenity. The design incorporated precinct Tri-generation which included gas turbine to provide heating, power and cooling to 2 buildings with a total of 12,000m2 floor space dedicated to Local Government offices and chambers, and the MC2 new Regional Library, Community Maternal and Mental Health Centre, Cultural Centre for Chinese & Greek Communities, Art Exhibition Space, Pottery Kiln, Youth Drama and Music Rehearsal and Performance Space, Kindergarten and Pre-School, Multimedia Hub, and satellite campus for Box Hill Tafe, Bachelor Degree of Applied Science (Sustainable Built Environment) to utilise the real time energy, emissions and water monitors to learn Building Information Management technologies and the fundamentals of ecologically sustainable design for built and natural environment.
Stormwater management design went through an Integrated Water Cycle Management process, with Tom gaining support from the RMIT Centre for Design – Design Practitioner Engagement Program securing $15,000 to engage consultants to assist in developing the drawings for the Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) Masterplan. Tom provided design targets, design methods and water quality models for input into (MUSIC – Model for Urban Stormwater Improvement Conceptualisation software) the WSUD Masterplan over a period of 2 years in his role, and developed the collaborative WSUD Masterplan with stakeholders. The WSUD and Tri-generation Masterplan below, includes an urban food forest to uptake onsite rainwater harvesting, grey water sub-surface irrigation zone, solar panels, solar thermal hot water, tri-generation gas turbine which was proposed to run on biogas. The use of permaculture design principles guided Tom in his approach to the overall Masterplan, which included building capacity of Council engineers, planners, landscape architects and sustainability officers whom were involved in the project. It also involved Tom managing a range of engineering consultants including green architects, environmental and ESD engineers, landscape architects, civil engineers and fire and water services engineers. A wind monitor mast was installed by Tom and wind experts to monitor the annual wind resources on top of the existing Council building, to better understand the feasibility of an urban wind turbine and achieve the overall goal of the Doncaster Smart Energy Zone and Green Civic Precinct sustainability objectives. The wind monitoring revealed sub-optimal wind resources with an average speed of 3.5 km/second on average. At least 5 or 6 km/sec on average is required usually for a standard wind turbine to pay itself off over 25 years.
Tom developed a business case to guide Council in regards to an investment of approximately $4.5 million dollars into sustainability infrastructure and materials. The return on investment would be realised within 7 years due to the energy savings from energy efficiency, materials selection, design initiatives and the tri-generation of power, heating and cooling onsite. Tom commissioned a biodigester feasibility study to develop an understanding of whether Council could utilise local organic waste streams to generate biogas in a biodigester to power the gas turbine. The feasibility study demonstrated the financial and technical viability of the biodigester trip-generation approach, however gas prices moved to such low prices that the investment would not make fiscal sense to Council until later past 2012.
Bega Eco Neighbourhood Development
Role: Permaculture Designer, Design Team Member, Water Design Consultant (Stormwater, Natural Pool, Waste Water)
Budget: AUD $3 million
The project was a ground up community project that involved the creation of a non-profit incorporate community association to purchase a 32 acre block of land on the outskirts of Bega township on the South Coast of New South Wales, Australia. The objective was to create 23 lot subdivision for a dynamic, thriving and diverse community to emerge, that lived in ecologically sustainable housing, two thirds owner builders and one third community eco-co-housing developed in partnership with a Co-Housing Coop from Melbourne that purchased 7 blocks, and built 14 duplex sustainable townhouses. The stormwater is treated completely on-site in bio-infiltration swales and temporary stormwater holding ponds planted out with Aqua Biofilter floating wetlands species of wetland grassed.
All waste water treated on site for re-use in the agricultural zone, whilst solar energy provides the majority of power needs for the eco-neighbourhood. A Neighbourhood Management Statement provides ecologically sustainable design criteria for houses, land use, encouraging permaculture designed gardens and agricultural production of food for the community and supply the local organic whole foods store.
A community building was the first building completed to provide a cohesive community development space where future land owners and co-housing residents would be able to mingle, cook lunches and dinners together to get to meet and know each other prior to building their own homes and the co-housing duplexes. This resulted in many of the eco-neighbourhood residents getting to know each other, and provide in kind support to each other’s home building efforts, which built a well formed and friendly neighbourhood which ultimately validates the eco-neighbourhood concept.