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The zoo's biogas plant will produce 500 kilowatts of power, enough to service 750 homes. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
The zoo's biogas plant will produce 500 kilowatts of power, enough to service 750 homes. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Small Business

Powering homes with poo from the zoo Add to ...

Zoo poo is back. The home-made fertilizer once sold by the Toronto Zoo but discontinued in the 70s might be returning to your local grocery store. Now ZooShare, a biogas co-op, plans to build a biogas plant that will turn animal waste into methane gas which can be used to produce power.

The idea is simple: Use the manure from zebras, rhinos, elephants and giraffes to generate biogas. If all goes to plan, the plant will benerate 500 kilowatts of power, enough to service 750 homes, and will make $50,000 in annual revenue for the zoo once it is up and running next fall.

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The poo will be complemented by waste from neighbouring farms and major retailers. The plant will also produce compost and farm fertilizers, and the cop-op plans to build a greenhouse to use up the nominal amount of heat that will be produced.

“It’s a real triumph of a public-private partnership,” says Daniel Bida, executive director of ZooShare.

The plan won unanimous approval from the zoo’s board of directors in June, but the idea was born eight years ago as the organization sought to strengthen its education and conservation mandate, says John Tracogna, chief operating officer of the zoo.

“We want to be a leader in environmental practices. Solar, thermal and geothermal energy is already used on zoo premises,” Mr. Tracogna says.

At the time, the biogas industry was just emerging and the “risk from raising capital to build an untested infrastructure” deterred the zoo from going ahead. When they put out a public request for proposal, ZooShare came up with a business model that featured co-op members picking up the bill. They will also sell bonds to the public to help offset the cost of the $5.6-million plant.

The zoo’s current practice is to dump 3,000 tonnes of animal waste every year into an open-air compost pit. Some of it is used to fertilize garden beds.

“People say composting is so great, but let’s face it: the CO2 methane is going straight up in the air. It’s bad for the environment,” says William Rapley, the zoo’s executive director for conservation, education and wildlife.

The only setback has been Ontario’s feed-in tariff program for renewable energy, says Clare Riepma, chief engineer for the biogas plant. ZooShare is waiting for the contract from the Ontario Power Authority to come through “any minute now.”

Mr. Riepma is one of many in Ontario who will be watching the October provincial election carefully. Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has pledged to scrap the FIT program should he be elected, and with $2-million in potential revenue hanging in the balance, Mr. Riepma and ZooShare are hoping that OPA would pick up the pace a little.

“We’re in the lineup. It will happen when it happens,” he says.

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