Living Machines

“Living Machine” located at Findhorn Ecovillage, Scotland – L. Schnadt Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Käthe Seidel first explored the use of swamps, marshes and other wetlands to filter and purify wastewater in the early 1950s. In the 1970s, Dr. John Todd and his collaborators at the New Alchemy Institute, applyed these concepts in the self-sustaining bioshelters they called Arks (One of their first clients was the Government of Canada, which contracted the PEI Ark in 1976). The lessons learned from these ambitious designs later served as the basis for a sewage treatment system that combined technology and biology to mimic natural mechanisms – Todd’s famous “Living Machine”.

In essence, living machines are a series of tanks, each containing different organic filters, bacteria, algae, micro-organisms, plants, trees, snails, and even fish, housed inside a green house to support the plant life. As wastewater passes through the micro-ecosystem of each tank, different organisms feed on the contaminants, cleaning the water without the chemicals, massive energy consumption and toxic sludge, associated with traditional sewage treatment.

One of the strengths of the living machine concept is flexibility; components may be added or removed to accommodate different forms of waste and other unique requirements. Today, Lining Machine Inc. (which Todd sold in 1999) produces “Next Generation Living Machines”, which utilize a more naturalized wetland system, generally eliminating the need for greenhouses and greatly reducing maintenance. Other variations of Todd’s design (under various names) have been employed at various scales, all over the world.

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