Toronto Zoo wants to turn feces into energy

The Toronto Zoo has hatched a plan to turn animal feces into fuel.

The Toronto Zoo has hatched a plan to turn animal feces into fuel.

With more than 5,000 animals that call the zoo home, workers there say there is no shortage of raw material for making energy. It is proposing to build a plant that would convert animal and food waste into biogas using bacteria.

"These bacteria are going to have a feast on this stuff, this feces that would have gone to waste and put the methane straight up into the air, and they're going to produce more methane quickly that we can use to shove through a generator and produce electricity," said zoo curator David Ireland.

"This stuff is gold."

The zoo believes it could produce enough fuel to cover its own needs, as well as those of a few thousand homes. While the facility would cost $13 million to build, the zoo estimated it could make that money back in five years by selling the electricity.

"It's clean, green energy, pollution-free energy, and we hope we might actually be able to make a little bit of money out of it as well," said city councillor Glenn de Baeremaeker, who is also on the zoo's board of management.

He suggests the City of Toronto could put up the cash to build the facility, but officials at City Hall said there is no money for such a project in their budget.

"For the city to take part in this project, at this point in time, we're talking about pure debt and we don't have money to hand over to them now," said Shelley Carroll, the city's budget chief.

Reluctant to let its precious resource go to waste any longer, the zoo is also exploring bringing in a private-sector partner to finance the project, which it hopes to get off the ground next year.

Similar projects are already underway in other parts of Canada and the world.

Energy produced from cow manure at an Ottawa Valley dairy farm won a $50,000 innovation award from the Ontario government last year.

That technology used bacteria to generate a biogas mixture containing methane or natural gas, and then collecting and burning the gas to power a generator connected to the provincial power grid.

"The overall concept is a fairly viable scheme and the technology is pretty mature and has been used in many different locations, particularly in Europe," said University of Toronto professor Reza Iravani.