Living Machines

Living Machines is a company that is dedicated to the cleaning and reuse of human wastewater. This may not sound very different from the thousands of wastewater treatment facilities around the country, but what differentiates them from a normal wastewater treatment facility is that they use bacteria and plants to clean their water.[1] Living machines has based their purification off of wetland ecology and because of this technology they pride themselves in being the most energy efficient way to purify wastewater.[2]

Living Machines have taken a variety of ecosystems and used them in conjunction with one another to clean wastewater. During the purification process, water will be pumped through at least three different ecosystems in order to be ready for reuse. It is important to note that while this water is purified and is extremely clean once it has gone through this process, it is not potable water and is not intended to be drunk. [3] The water that is cleaned can be used for tasks such as watering gardens or irrigating fields.

Sustainability in Living Machines

Sustainability is best defined as "Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of
the future generations to meet their needs."[4] This is encompassed in three categories; Ecologically,
A Living Machine Located at the Port of Portland
A Living Machine Located at the Port of Portland
Economically, and Socially. Simply put, Living Machines fulfills the three basic requirements of sustainability quite well. Ecologically, they are using the environment and the ecosystems in order to do the task that would normally require chemicals and a manmade facility. While these ecosystems are placed there by humans, and are made by humans to purify the water, it is still the ecosystems that are doing the work. Economically, Living Machines have a very low capital cost and they have an even lower maintenance and upkeep cost associated with them.[5] And socially, they are very aesthetically pleasing, as shown in the picture to the right,and are not an eyesore to the general public. In addition to the systems being very appealing to the eye, there is also no odor associated with them, though one would think there would be when dealing with wastewater.[6]

Company History

Living machines has Tom Worrell to thank for the breakthroughs and developments that have been made throughout the years. This man decided to make his entire life about "Water for all living beings."[7] In 1999, Worrell started some intense R & D in water research, specifically in water reuse, sustainability and purification. The company has come a long way since those days and have established systems set up around the country.

Variations of Living Machines

There are two broad categories of living machine systems; those based on Tidal Flow Wetland processes and Hydroponic systems. The Tidal Flow Wetland systems are essentially small ecosystems systems set up one after the other to purify water naturally, but at an accelerated pace. Hydroponic systems are similar, but are based out of tanks and the use of aquatic vegetation.

Tidal Flow Wetland Systems

The Tidal Flow Wetland Living Machine is the most current version of Living Machines. The small ecosystems that were mentioned earlier are referred to as cells. While waste water is being processed, it is pumped through each of these cells by filling and then draining each of the cells.What this does is mimic flood cycles in nature, but it does it at a much quicker pace. This means that water cannot only be cleaned quicker, but will also be cleaner.[8] After the water is cleaned, it is 'polished' (or disinfected) and is removed of any impurities so that thewater is clean and reusable for the user. The neat thing about the Tidal Flow Wetland system is that all of the cleaning, polishing and disinfection occurs underground. While the cells are being filled and drained over and over on a daily basis, it is all happening underground. This means that the public, or those who see the 'system' will not see anything but beautiful and flourishing plants. It is aesthetically pleasing and a very sustainable product all at the same time. Featured, is a video of the Tidal Flow Wetland process and how it works.

Hydroponic Systems

Hydroponic Living Machine systems are best described as plants being grown without the soil. These systems usually have an entire building (like a greenhouse) dedicated to them so that they are able to perform to the best of their ability. The water comes into the system and is the water that the plants grow in. The plant roots are able to get rid of a lot of the microbes and bacteria that are in the water because they use it to feed the plant. This concept, used in conjunction with fine bubble diffusers and specialized aggregate, is how the Hydroponic systems work.[9]

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This is a basic diagram of what a Hydroponic System

Application in the Construction Field

These systems provide a sustainable alternative in many different situations. Living Machines come in a variety of sizes; from smaller ones that have been used in rest areas, to larger ones that service entire communities.[10] These systems can be applied in the field just like any other thing that would want to be installed on a project. Whoever is installing this system needs to understand what they are installing and what it is going to be used for. Having this understanding would impact the design of the project and it is important that the designer understand this. For example, when designing a community college, if it was made clear that the owner wanted to use a Living Machine as the main source of wastewater treatment, the designer would take this into account. Instead of having the wastewater tie into the county's or town's wastewater grid, they would be completely dependent from it and purify all wastewater on site. This water would then be able to be used in irrigating the sports fields located on campus, or even used for flushing toilets.

In addition to not hooking your project up to the community's wastewater grid, you would want to make sure that the ecosystems involved in the Living Machines purification process were placed in places that were aesthetically pleasing to visitors and students. A possible solution for this would be to put them near the entrance of the campus where you would be able to see lush, green plants growing upon arrival to the school. You may also be able to incorporate some of the plants into a greenhouse that was used on campus. The possibilities are endless, but the main point is that when using Living Machines in the construction field; understanding and placement of the system is key.

Examples of Living Machines

El Monte Sagrado Resort

The El Monte Sagrado Resort, located in Taos , New Mexico. This resort has integrated many aspects of the living machine throughout the entire facility. One of the best characteristics of this resort is that these systems have not detracted at all from the enjoyment that the residents have. There are natural ponds to swim in, beautifully architectured landscaping including wetlands and hydroponic plants. This is accomplished by capturing rainwater, reusing waste water and producing food onsite among other strategies.[11]

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One of the natural ponds featured at the El Monte Sagrado Resort

Las Vegas Regional Animal Campus

Located in Las Vegas, New Mexico, this animal campus (animal shelter) employs the use of a Tidal Wetland system throughout their facility. The system treats up to 25,000 gallons of wastewater a day which is equivalent to about 70% of their daily water usage.[12] When this system was installed in 2005, it allowed the facility to cut back and save on the potable water that they had and also cut down on operational costs. As seen in the picture below, the system is visible to those who are there and is aesthetically pleasing to those who are using the facility.
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Part of the Tidal Wetland System being used by the Las Vegas Regional Animal Campus

Recent Research Done

There is continual research being done in the field of hydroponics and how it can effectively treat wastewater. A great example of this is the work that is being done overseas in Palestine. The link to the following article details the exploration and development of hydroponics to battle the huge issue of wastewater in rural areas.[13]
  1. ^ "Living Machine® Technology." //Ecological Wastewater Treatment by Living Machine®.//. Living Machines, n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2013. <>.
  2. ^ "Living Machine® Technology." //Ecological Wastewater Treatment by Living Machine®.//. Living Machines, n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2013. <>.
  3. ^ "Reuse Explained." //Ecological Wastewater Treatment by Living Machine®.//. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <>.
  4. ^ Dr. D's definition from class.
  5. ^ "Living Machines Brochure." //Reinventing Water//. Living Machines, n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2012. <>.
  6. ^ "Hydroponic Living Machine System."//Ecological Wastewater Treatment by Living Machine®.//. Living Machines, n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <>.
  7. ^

    "Owner & Founder." //Living Machine Systems, a proven ecological company//. Living Machines, n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <>.
  8. ^

    "Tidal Flow Wetland Living Machine System." //Ecological Wastewater Treatment by Living Machine®.//. Living Machines, n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <>.
  9. ^

    "Hydroponic Living Machine System."//Ecological Wastewater Treatment by Living Machine®.//. Living Machines, n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <>.
  10. ^

    "Julian Woods Community :: Communities Directory." //Intentional Communities Website//. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <
  11. ^

    "El Monte Sagrado Resort, Taos, NM." //- Living Machine//. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <,-Taos,-NM.aspx>.
  12. ^

    "Las Vegas Regional Animal Campus, Las Vegas, NV." //- Living Machine//. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <,-Las-Vegas,-NV.aspx>.
  13. ^ Haddad, Marwan, Numan Mizyed, and Majd Masoud. "Evaluation Of Gradual Hydroponic System For Decentralized Wastewater Treatment And Reuse In Rural Areas Of Palestine." International Journal Of Agricultural & Biological Engineering 5.4 (2012): 47-53. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Dec. 2013.