Putting Methane to Use in the Fuel Supply Chain

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Methane burnoff

Times change, thankfully. Instead of thinking first about how to get rid of waste, more people are now asking how they might put parts of the waste stream to better uses. Especially true with methane.

Some landfills now capture methane to power massive generators that feed electricity to the grid; a California company makes biodegradable plastic from organic waste without using petroleum. The list of companies and people involved in promising and innovative work continues to grow.

Dog poop is now on the list of viable materials that can be harvested and used from the waste stream. Last year in Cambridge, MA, conceptual artist Matthew Mazzotta launched the Park Spark Project, using dog feces to power lampposts in a park.

Mazzotta’s Park Spark Project was funded through MIT and created in partnership with the City of Cambridge. Methane, a common greenhouse gas, is created in a methane digester that converts freshly scooped poop into burnable fuel.

The website offers these welcome words:

“Anywhere people are walking dogs can be a source of heat and light by introducing a Methane Digester into the equation. As long as people are walking dogs and throwing away dog poo, a flame can burn.

“The Park Spark project is the transformation of dog waste into energy (methane) through a publicly fed methane digester as an interactive urban intervention that questions our current waste system, and at the same time creates an opportunity for others to participate in the (re)imaging of the byproduct energy (methane).

“The methane captured by the Park Spark is piped to gas burning lamppost like an ‘eternal flame’. “

The follow-up to Mazzotta’s effort shows a Facebook page that remains active.  Mazzotta told the press he hopes to install permanent underground digesters in parks throughout the country.

Unfortunately, most digester systems are costly propositions, provided by large companies like Eisenmann and Siemens, not the kind of low-cost system that fits into a park or neighborhood.

On the plus side, companies like E2Conserve now manufacture and sell small digesters at affordable prices ($420), opening the doors for experimentation and community involvement similar to the Park Spark Project. Access to biotech tools like this is positive news for schools, garden clubs and small farms – even neighborhoods wishing to participate in problem-solving projects. Other organic materials can be fed to this type of digester, including other animal waste, plus food and plant matter.

The company lists these benefits:

  1. For farm and plant wastes up to 66 lb/day and kitchen wastes up to 17 lb/day
  2. Methane/biogas (can be used for cooking/heating) – 35ft3 (1 m3)
  3. Electricity – up to 5 Kwh equivalent/day (requires additional generator)
  4. Organic fertilizer/manure – up to 6.61 lb/day
  5. A very neat and cheap way to solve your waste management problem
  6. Free methane gas for cooking and heating
  7. The digested slurry from the Mini Biogas digester is an excellent organic fertilizer and soil conditioner
  8. An activity to reduce greenhouse gas generation.

With the world economy still reeling from an abundance of gloomy economic news, the digester business could be a sweet place for community entrepreneurs and activists, for many good reasons.

Photo: Citrus Times Online

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Glenn Meyers

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

Glenn Meyers has 449 posts and counting. See all posts by Glenn Meyers