Water Treatment System
Inventor: Michael Ogden
Day job: President, Natural Systems, Inc.
His all-time favorite invention: The Archimedes Principle. Science textbook The Basics of Physics describes the principle thusly: “When an object, such as a rock, is dropped in a container of water, the water level increases…” (Recall the story of Archimedes running through the streets of Syracuse, shouting, “Eureka!”?)
“It was such an elegant thing that it works on any planet,” Ogden says.
How his invention could affect our lives: It could eliminate the need for septic tanks.
What the actual patent says: “Waste treatment systems and methods of using them to treat septage, domestic sludge or both are enclosed.”
Meet the inventor: “You know what septage is?” Michael Ogden asks.
“Not quite the same,” he replies, leaning over his desk. “It’s been digested by microorganisms. It actually looks like peat if you dry it, and there’s a lot of it…So what do you do with this stuff? It’s stinky and smelly. Another way to look at it is as a resource. It’s got water, nitrogen, phosphorous, carbon—what it takes to grow plants.”
Ogden’s company, Natural Systems, Inc., specializes in earth-friendly approaches to treating wastewater and storm water. In 1990, Ogden devised a natural wastewater treatment system that holds the nasty stuff in retention ponds and eventually cycles it through reed beds, hyacinth ponds, wetlands and a meadow. In each step, the septage is broken down and eventually becomes more palatable to the ecosystem.
He came up with the idea while working on a wastewater project with his mentor, fellow natural resources planner John Todd. “I recognized John’s approach was too labor intensive,” Ogden says.
Ogden, a 64-year-old architect born in New York City, says he is currently working with local governments in Louisiana to install his patented natural wastewater treatment plants.
He sees his invention as a common-sense alternative to conventional wastewater plants, which are machinery-heavy and expensive to maintain.
“They’re like Ferraris,” Ogden says. “They’re good for eight miles to the gallon and it takes guys with master’s degrees to make them run. So there’s a consequence for that.”
By contrast, Ogden says, “I got plastic liners, a concrete slab and pumps that have 20-year life cycles on them. That’s all.”