Conceptual artist Matthew Mazzotta is using dog feces to power lampposts in a park in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Mazzotta’s Project Park Spark, which was funded through MIT and created in partnership with the City of Cambridge, comprises a special “methane digester” that converts freshly scooped poop into methane.
Dog owners collect their dog waste in a special biodegradable bag and throw it into the digester –- an air-tight cylindrical container, where the dog feces are broken down by anaerobic bacteria. A byproduct from that process is methane, which can then be released through a valve and burnt as fuel. In this case it is being used to power an old-fashioned gas-burning lamppost in a park.
The artist is keen to make sure that the energy is used as the community wishes, and so in the next couple of weeks the Park Spark project will be a holding a number of design meetings to gather ideas from the community for how to best use the flame. Suggestions already include a shadow-projection box, a popcorn stand and a teahouse.
Currently when organic material (including dog waste, food and plant matter) goes into landfill, it releases methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is approximately 23 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.
When it’s burned in the presence of oxygen, it separates into carbon dioxide and water vapor, so businesses can actually earn carbon credits from burning off excess methane. As a result, the digesters are a good way to collect and use the volatile gas as a fuel.
In the future Mazzotta hopes to install permanent underground digesters in parks throughout the United States.