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Coming to a park near you: dog poo-powered lamps

Question: what could be worse than walking across a park in the dark? Answer: walking across a park in the dark and stepping on dog poop. This is probably is what public artist Matthew Mazzotta had in mind when he created the Park Spark project, a public methane digester that turns dog waste into energy. Read more...

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Question: what could be worse than walking across a park in the dark? Answer: walking across a park in the dark and stepping on dog poo. This is probably what artist Matthew Mazzotta had in mind when he created the Park Spark Project, a public methane digester that turns dog waste into energy.

The first Park Spark prototype was installed this yeaer at Pacific Street Park in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by a team of students of the Massachusetts institute of Technology (MIT). The idea? Dog owners pick up their pet's waste and wrap it in a biodegradable bag. They then feed it into the digester, which extracts the methane particles contained in the waste and creates a steady stream of burnable gas that powers an old fashioned gas-burning lamppost in the park. One of the most positive impacts of the project is that it avoids the methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, from being emitted directly into the atmosphere - thus reducing the ‘carbon pawprint' of our furry friends.

The Park Spark project in Pacific Street Park, Cambrige, Massachusetts. 

Photos of methane digesters around the world that inspired the Spark Park project

This unusual New Mexico house, dubbed the 'Solar ark', is powered by a methane digester that uses chicken poo. Photo posted on the Park Spark website

 

The solar ark's methane digester, surrounded by free-range chickens.

 

 

Mathew Mazzotta travelled to northern India to see how locals use methane digesters. Here, a man is stirring the content of an underground digester in his backyard...

...that is connected to a small indoor stove...

... on which this woman boils water for chai (tea). All photos posted on the Park Spark website.

"Methane digesters have been around forever, I just tried to think of new ways of using them"

Matthew Mazzotta is an art graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He created the Park Spark project.

Today, dog waste in parks is simply thrown away with other trash into open-air land fills, where it rots and emits methane, a green house gas that is 23 times more toxic than CO2. Methane digesters have been around forever, mostly in farms and rural settings.  I just tried to think of new ways of using them that could apply to animals in cities.

The digester is made up of two containers: the first one is hermetically sealed, providing an oxygen-free atmosphere. The waste is dropped in it then stirred thanks to a crank on the outside of the tank, so that the methane gas particles rise to the top. The second container is an overflow tank, for residue waste [see diagram below]. The digester is a low-pressure system, so it doesn't need a heavy-duty system to connect to an appliance: a simple gas pipe or tube works. The digester in the Park Spark Project is connected to a lamppost, but this kind of energy source can power all sorts of small appliances [an extra step is necessary to convert it into electricity].

For now, the project is still at a prototype level, and some concrete obstacles need to be overcome. For example, 100 percent biodegradable bags are still rather expensive and hard to come across, although I believe they should become a mandatory replacement for all plastic bags.

The response to the project has been overwhelmingly positive. My goal is to develop a sort of kit or blueprint to distribute to local or state governments, showing them how to build methane digesters and tailor them to their needs. I find it interesting to see what communities will come up with when offered the possibility to turn a harmful pollutant into an energy source."

Photos and diagrams sent by Matthew Mazzotta.