Wastewater treatment…evolved

Living Machines –

The idea of using wetland ecologies to clean polluted water was first conceived by Dr. Käthe Seidel, a biologist at the Max Plank Institute, in the early 1950s. Though she was often opposed by colleagues (who sometimes disparaged her as “Bulrush Kate”), Dr. Seidel conducted experiments throughout the 1950s and 60s which showed that plants and microorganisms could clean water much more effectively than had previously been thought.

The idea was taken up by many ecological designers in the 1970s and 80s. One of these was Dr. John Todd, who designed what he called living machines which sought to marry technology with natural processes to create an environmentally responsible way to treat wastewater on site.

Early model Living Machine®, Findhorn Foundation, Moray, UK

The vegetation in Todd’s systems required greenhouses, and were planted on top of “activated sludge” containers. To produce usable water, they required a settling tank called a Secondary Clarifier, which separates a large amount of messy, smelly sludge from the water. The sludge produced by these systems must be disposed of frequently.

Todd’s versions of the Living Machine® were an innovative effort, but they didn’t get consistent treatment, and could not be made to be simple and cost effective. In 1999, Tom Worrell, an investor and partner of Dr. Todd’s, acquired the Living Machine concept, the company, and all of its intellectual property from Dr. Todd. He then put his engineers to work making the technology practical, reliable, and cost efficient.

One of Worrell’s first ground rules was “No Clarifiers.” He wanted a system that would not depend on activated sludge to do the core of the work. The result was the first Living Machines® that used a wetlands model to treat the water without generating troublesome biowaste that needs disposal.

Wetlands Living Machine® at El Monte Sagrado Resort, Taos, NM

The Next Generation Living Machines® developed by Worrell Water Technologies use beneficial microorganisms (incorporated via engineered biofilms), wetlands plantings, and sophisticated control systems to reliably and efficiently produce water treated to the highest standards. They are stable, healthy, living ecosystems which require less energy to operate, and less work to maintain, than competing treatment systems. They also have a much smaller footprint, and operate in a way that produces no excess waste to be carried away.

Next Generation Living Machines® can be designed for indoor or outdoor applications across a wide variety of climates. For a description of how they work, see our How it Works page.

To read about The Living Machine® in action, go to our Portfolio page.

For more technical information, see our Resources page.

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