ZooShare: Turning Poo into Power

By: Craig Stephens (York Sustainable Enterprise Consultants)

The Toronto Zoo is a wonderful place where numerous GTA residents, students, and tourists find themselves every year enjoying some of worlds most exotic and beautiful creatures our Earth has to offer.

But have you ever wondered to yourself … where does all the animal poo go?

Me neither.

But Daniel Bida, the executive director and founder of ZooShare – A Co-operative working to eliminate organic waste through processing the material, did, and he found a way to benefit the community, the Toronto Zoo, and tackle climate change using… you guessed it, animal poop.

Billed as North America’s first zoo-based biogas plant, ZooShare has collaborated with the Toronto Zoo, as well as local grocery stores to turn their organic waste into electricity and fertilizer. The bio-digester processes the material and traps the methane that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere through decomposition, and instead use it for electricity generation.

“It’s basically a big concrete stomach,” says Bida. “It’s kept at the same temperature as our bodies or a cow’s stomach and the whole thing is really meant to mimic the digestion process of a living being. And so there’s bacteria and its mixed around on a constant basis and these microbes eat the waste and convert it into biogas and fertilizer.”

With more than 5,000 animals on-site, and at least 300 to 400 large mammals, it is estimated that 3,300 tonnes of usable manure and 15,400 tonnes of inedible food waste will be collected every year and converted into renewable power for the power grid. The Toronto Zoo’s famous giant pandas alone poop upwards of a dozen times a day thanks to their inefficient digestive systems.

The biogas from the digester will fuel a 500-kilowatt generator that will feed electricity into Ontario’s grid through a 20-year Feed-in Tariff (FIT) contract with the Independent Electricity Systems Operator IESO.

This project will create enough power for over 250 homes each year, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of removing 2,100 cars from the road. Additionally, the process will also produce valuable nutrient-rich fertilizer that will be used to return the nutrients to the soil.

The former Ontario Minister of Energy, Bob Chiarelli, is a large supporter of the project: “ZooShare is a fine example of community power in action – raising local dollars to make a local impact through the development of a renewable energy project. I congratulate them on their success”.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 11.38.13 PMA large portion of the project has been funded through nearly 300 local investors, who purchased community bonds at a minimum of $500 investment. The bonds sold out quickly, hitting over $3 million, and have allowed for construction and development to begin on the bio-digester, which will be located across the street from the Toronto Zoo. ZooShare held their groundbreaking ceremony in April 2016 and will be starting construction in the near future.

Bida says, “Being at such a high-profile location where over a million people a year visit, including many school groups, gives us a great opportunity to use this project as an educational showpiece. What we are planning, and what we are already doing, is to provide educational opportunities. The first of those is an in-class program, which is already operating, where Grade 7 students can learn about what biogas is, how digestion works, how gas production works, and how electricity generation from gas works, as well as the value of fertilizer. Once we’re up and running we will regularly host kids of all ages, as the expression goes, at the facility so that people can get this up close and personal look at really how valuable organic waste is and that it’s actually a resource that we need to carefully manage as oppose to flippantly throwing organic waste into the trash. If you put these things into the right bin we can make use of them and not lose the nutrients forever.”

When asked about the future of ZooShare and how it might influence others he responds. “Our project proves that, given the opportunity, people will choose to invest for impact: our financial returns are good, but our environmental returns are better – and our investors wanted their portfolios to reflect that.”

ZooShare is only one of the numerous Co-operatives that have popped up in recent years. The investment opportunity provides fair and guaranteed returns to local investors while knowing your money is going towards benefiting the world. The unique funding model is one of the first and will be sure to change the way renewable energy projects are funded in the future.

Come out and learn more about ZooShare & zoo poo at this year’s Green Energy Doors Open Saturday September 10, at The Stop’s Farmer’s Market at Wychwood Barns. Their representatives will be available to provide more information about their work and about composting.

ysec-logo  combines the skills of current and former students in York University’s MBA and MES programs to provide research and advisory services in the area of sustainable business. The group’s collective experience spans environmental consulting, strategic planning, finance, planning, waste management, sustainable/renewable energy, project management, and industrial design. Spanning these diverse professional backgrounds, YSEC’s consultants share a common aim: to advance social, environmental and economic sustainability by promoting responsible business strategies and practices. Follow them @YSEC_CA