Renewable energy from dog poop

Living on Earth

This story was originally covered by PRI’s Living on Earth. For more, listen to the audio above.

In a dog park in Cambridge, Massachusetts, dog owners are putting their pets’ waste to good use. After their pets do their business, owners use biodegradable bags to deposit the waste into a work of art called the Park Spark Project. The project then turns the poo into energy used to power a street lamp.

“It’s form and function. I think it’s fun,” says local dog owner Jay Santos. “We put our dog poop into it everyday, and it powers the light. What’s better than that?”

The Park Spark Project is the work of conceptual artist Matt Mazzotta, who is using art to send an environmental message. Mazzotta told Living on Earth that he was inspired in part by a trip to India, where he saw methane digesters at work on farms. After he got home, he looked at the trash can in a local dog park that was full nearly all the time. “I thought to myself,” he explained, “we should be using that.”

The project functions as a passive digester of the waste, so there’s no electricity involved. It’s an oxygen deprived environment where microbes can convert the waste into methane, which is then used for energy.

“That’s why I think it’s so magical. I think that’s why I was interested in it,” Mazzotta told Living on Earth. “It’s a passive system and it just uses one technology- just close off the oxygen. So you’re using dog waste and water, and nothing else. “

So far, Mazzotta has been running the street lamp all night off the process. He believes that if he scaled up the project, he could run lights for 24 hours each day.

There are “three layers of awesomeness with this project,” Mazzotta says. It prevents methane — which a potent greenhouse gas — from being released into the atmosphere from the dog park. It’s a free energy source. And, Mazzotta believes it can be used for a variety of new projects. “I’m trying to collect ideas,” he says, “so we can either turn it into a popcorn machine, or, something the community actually would want, and participate in.”

The project may seem more like science than art, but Mazzotta believes it’s fitting that an artist would think of the new creative uses for the science. “I think the artist’s role is to bring it to this new context to make this social role, or something more environmental,” he says. “I think that’s the role of an artist that I’m in.”

Hosted by Steve Curwood, “Living on Earth” is an award-winning environmental news program that delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit. More “Living on Earth.”

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