Not only will atomic power be released, but someday we will harness the rise and fall of the tides and imprison the rays of the sun. Thomas A. Edison

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dog Poop Lights Up City Park

Biomass digesters have been around for a very long time. I guess this is a case of what is old is new again. While this article from AOL news takes a whimsical view of using pet excrement as a source of renewable energy, we continue to use landfills to store bio-waste in plastic bags. Comparatively, this is a small problem.

A much larger problem is the amount of animal waste that finds its way into the Chesapeake Bay and polluting a major source of sea food for the U.S. Finding a valuable use for waste can be a great thing. How much energy could we create with what has been dumped into our rivers and streams?

-- Environmentalists are going gaga for a street lamp in Cambridge, Mass., that is powered by dog poop.The lamp, a shining example of how humans can make use of an underutilized and perpetually renewable energy source -- feces -- is the brainchild of Matthew Mazzotta, a conceptual artist who studied at the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who wanted to give back to the community.

The lamp is located at a dog park and uses a device known as a methane digester. Folks whose dogs do their business there simply collect the poop in a plastic bag and put it in the device and turn a crank to help the methane in the tank rise up to the top so it can be piped to the gas-burning lamppost that is attached.

Mazzotta says the Fido-powered flames are "eternal" and will "burn until someone or a group of people propose an idea to use the heat and light of the constantly burning flame and make a public project."Methane digesters are nothing new. Mazzotta says they are common in China, India and South America where they are used mostly with cow manure, not dog poop."No one is taking account of all the methane produced by animals that live in cities," Mazzotta told AOL News. "Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases -- even more than carbon dioxide -- but when it burns [it] separates into water and carbon dioxide."

Mazzotta was inspired to create what is now called the "Park Spark Project" after a trip to India, where he first saw the devices. "When I came back, I saw whole bags of dog poop collected in bags and dumped in landfills," he said. "I thought we should burn it, reduce it and make free energy."So he proposed the idea to Cambridge officials and after six months of discussion, got the OK. After that, he got a $4,000 grant from his alma mater.Since it seems to take a village to clean up all the dog poop, part of Mazzotta's project is to have the community decide how to use the excrement energy.For instance, in the next few weeks, Mazzotta will be gathering ideas on how to best use the flame. According to, some of the suggestion already include a shadow-projection box, a popcorn stand and a tea house.

But what is happening in a dog park in Cambridge could become known as the "sh-t heard around the world."

"Every dog park around the world should take their poop and do something with it."

It looks like that may happen. Ever since word got out about the poop-powered lamp, Mazzotta has been talking with people from all over the world who want the straight poop about his concept, including an official from a town near Paris, France.

Even better, he says, is how the lamp is affecting the locals in the dog park.

"When people throw their poop in the digester, they now know their actions have implications," Mazzotta said.

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