A couple years ago, artist Matthew Mazzotta's idea of turning dog waste (methane gas) into renewable energy caught the world's attention with the ignition of a continuous flame at Park Spark in Cambridge, MA. Since then, his splendid public awareness campaign of turning dog poo into biogas has inspired other students and entrepreneurs across America, Australia and the UK to take waste and turn it into lucrative energy.
The dog-park biogas process is relatively simple: Pet owners stoop and scoop using a biodegradable bag, and toss bags into a methane digester on one of the two air-tight 500-gallon steel tanks. Microbes and water in the septic tanks work in an oxygen-free zone breaking down the dog poo; methane gas is released, rises and is ready to be used as energy. At Park Spark, it is piped directly into an old-fashioned gas-burning lamppost.
The concept is straightforward and, more importantly, needed to address rising atmospheric methane globally. Over a two-decade period, methane is 72 times stronger at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
Traditionally, rice paddies, cattle and peat bogs were the main source of methane. Today, landfills, cattle, hog and chicken manures are also large methane contributors, as well recently as mega amounts from thawing sub-Arctic soils and bubbling from deep-sea Arctic methane deposits.
Across America there are over 78 million dogs. In the UK there are about 10.5 million dogs. Canada has approximately 3.5 million whilst Australia has a little less at 3.4 million dogs. That's a lot of dog poo -- in Australia alone it's at least a half a million metric tons a year.
Pet waste removal is a big business. American, English, Australian, Canadian and companies elsewhere around the globe provide a necessary and burgeoning service for dog daycares, veterinarians, municipalities and homeowners.
Park Spark inspired Cosmo Dog Park, Gilbert, AZ to enlist the ingenuity of students from Arizona State University, College of Technology & Innovations iProjects. The city of Gilbert raised $25,000 and civil engineering and alternative energy students collaborated to build the methane digester to feed a gas-burning lantern at the park.
This innovative and hands-on student project will help save the City of Gilbert money by eliminating the cost of collecting and transporting dog waste to the local landfill -- and reduce the city's carbon footprint by lowering greenhouse gas emissions (from transportation and landfill decomposition). Incidentally, Cosmo Dog Park boasts over 600,000 visitations a year.
In Melbourne's North Fitzroy Edinburgh Gardens, Duncan Chew recently received a $45,000 federal government grant to generate renewable biogas energy from dog poo. That methane digester will also help Yarra Council's Waste Management reduce its disposal costs and lighten its carbon footprint because Australia now taxes carbon.
The boldest entrepreneurial venture goes to Gary Downie in the UK. The former Welsh banker and a partner started Streetkleen BIO Project; they constructed a dog waste-to-biogas conversion station in the county of Flintshire and are planning to expand into a network across the UK.
Animal poo converted into biogas is helping power the Munich Zoo. Carrying poo power one step further, in Bristol, UK -- Volkswagen recently debuted a prototype called Bio-Bug -- a VW Beetle that efficiently runs on processed sewage. Seventy households' worth of human waste will power the odorless Bio-Bug for a year or 10,000 miles.
Biogas is a big industry across America, the U.S. EPA's Agstar Program promotes recovery of methane at daary farms and all livestock operations.
Google has partnered with Duke University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in developing a hog waste biogas recovery plant. And Apple has recently filed an application to build a 5MW biogas plant in Maiden, North Carolina -- the largest so far anywhere in the nation.
We have firmly entered the Age of Energy Transformation: Entrepreneurs and corporations are now turning waste into green energy and creating jobs.
Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning science communicator, distinguished conservation biologist and author of The Incomparable Honeybee and The Insatiable Bark Beetle.