Fri, Sep 24, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Dog poop has bright side for US park


It stinks and it’s a hazard to walkers everywhere, but it turns out dog poop has a bright side.

Dog poop is lighting a lantern at a Cambridge dog park as part of a project that its creator, Matthew Mazzotta, hopes will get people thinking about not wasting waste.

The “Park Spark” poop converter is actually two steel, 1,900-liter oil tanks painted a golden yellow, connected by diagonal black piping and attached to an old gaslight-style street lantern at the Pacific Street Park.

After the dogs do their business, signs on the tanks instruct owners to use biodegradable bags supplied on site to pick up the poop and deposit it into the left tank. People then turn a wheel to stir its insides, which contain waste and water. Microbes in the waste give off methane, an odorless gas that is fed through the tanks to the lamp and burned off. The park is small but has proven busy enough to ensure a steady supply of fuel.

The project was funded by a US$4,000 grant from Council of the Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Mazzotta earned a master’s degree in visual studies last year.

Mazzotta got the idea after he visited the park with a friend last year. Mazzotta had recently traveled to India and saw people there using poop in so-called “methane digesters” to cook food. As he watched the park’s trash can fill with bags of poop, he remarked to his friend, “In other countries, they use that.”

Dog owner Louisa Solano, 68, said she loves Park Spark, though she thought it was “just a wonderful piece of sculpture, you know, modern art” when she first saw it.

The dog-poop converter’s colors, symmetry and clean lines are intentional, but Mazzotta said his greater artistic purpose is to get people thinking differently about what’s around them, including seeing waste as a resource.

The practical benefits of the exhibit aren’t lost on Mazzotta.

Burning the methane, which is 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, helps the environment, he said.

And with dogs dropping tonnes of poop in cities everywhere, he thinks the idea of using its untapped power has broad appeal.

Biogas from waste is a potentially major and accessible energy source, and a novel project like Mazzotta’s can highlight that.

Mazzotta said right now he’s not planning to start a dog poop energy business but is instead focusing on the ideas behind Park Spark, which will be dismantled at month’s end. To him, the dog poop device helps fill a need for clean energy and better waste disposal, and all people need to do to fuel it is look around.

And be careful where they step.

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