The Power of Poo; Not A Shit Idea

6 10 2010

Whilst not becoming a tree-hugger or an eco-warri0r, I have become more concerned with sustainability and the innovations/effort that will be required to ensure that we continue to encourage “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (source: Brundtland Commission of the United Nations, March 1987). The following was published on Clean Journey, in a blog called “Some Maintenance Required”. Clean Tech is not just Wind Farms, Solar Power and Electric Vehicles.

Cute, Playful and Sustainable

Picture the scene.

An inner city park in the early evening. The gentle sound of birds twittering in the trees, small children playing sport using jumpers for goalposts, young couples walking silently hand in hand, joggers running with the steely determination of people who would rather be on the couch eating pizza. On a bench dedicated to an upstanding member of society, a tramp continues to debate the nature of existence with his shopping cart full of tins.

As the dusk begins to fall, a dog barks. And then does what dogs always do in parks, it relieves itself.

The owner, being a conscientious individual, bends down and picks up the excrement. Scooping into a bag thoughtfully provided by the Parks Department, he heads towards one of the many lights that ensure that the park is safe to traverse after daylight. Dropping the bag into a receptacle, he cranks a lever and the light flickers into life, bathing the dog and his owner in a soft glow.

The dog pays no attention to what has just happened. Squirrel!

Getting power from dog waste is not as insane as it seems. When it comes to innovation in renewable energy and sustainability, it certainly helps to think not just outside the box but also as far away from the box as possible.

The Park Spark Project is the brainchild of conceptual artist Matthew Mattozza and is currently being trialed in Cambridge, Mass. Using a device called a Methane Digester; the aim is to create power by using anaerobic digestion (without oxygen), is a series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen.

Or in other words, using the power of poo.

Not so much an Inconvenient Truth as combining excess waste with clean energy. And by clearing the poo away from source, the park is a more pleasant place to stroll in the evening without the fear of stepping in something warm and difficult to remove from your shoe.

Sometimes the ideas that scientists come up with to try to reduce the carbon emissions, provide sustainable options and, most importantly, ensure that the commitment to renewable energy is a key element of slowing down Climate Change are as simple as Park Spark.

Take for example the use of spray-on energy cells. We may be more familiar with the spray-on being used as a device to ensure that we maintain a nice, orange color in the winter months but there has been huge amounts of research done into turning windows into generators of solar energy.

New Energies Technologies Inc.have unveiled the SolarWindow, which “aims to provide solar energy to building facades by spraying an electricity-generating coating on to glass”. Still very much in the early stages of development but the possibilities are intriguing. Researchers at New Energies believe that “on a 40-storey building, the technology could make cost-savings of $40,000-$70,000 a year, in contrast to the $20,000 saved by solar roof panels.”

This may seem like a small figure, but as more companies look to sustainability as a means to save money (rather than waste it), inventions like SolarWindow are a sign that not everything in Clean Tech has to be about electric cars and Wind Farms.

But still we struggle to comprehend the facilities at our disposal. And some of them just to be so far left of field, that we actually find them to be humorous as opposed to revolutionary.

When we think of ice, the images of the rapidly diminishing arctic landscape come to mind (or a nice cool gin and tonic on an unusually hot October evening) but in Colorado, there is a company that sees ice as another resource to be used in the fight to reduce energy consumption.

According to the beautifully designed and informative website, Ice Energy delivers smart grid-ready advanced energy storage solutions for transforming energy system efficiency and improving grid reliability.” Known as the Ice Bear System, they allow an air-conditioning unit to be powered by a separate ice-powered generator which looks like a huge freezer full of ice and “is designed to absorb off-peak load and dispatch it on-peak, while consuming an equal or lesser amount of energy on each building, creating the industry’s first effectively lossless storage solution.”

But these innovations are not limited to those of a serious disposition.

Those who like to dance can also do their bit to save the planet. Club4Climate, has a nightclub in London – Surya on the Pentonville Road –  that utilizes the energy produced by constant rhythmic movement to provide 60% of the energy requirement for the building. Imagine if this technology was transplanted to the real world, if just by stamping feet you could produce power then the possibilities are endless. Children could have as many tantrums as they like, commuters waiting for buses in the cold could take their mind off the glowering youth on the bench beside them and elected representatives could provide a positive reaction to energetic debate.

Dog excrement, aerosols, icemakers and dancing.

Seemingly disparate and unconnected solutions to the problems of the world today, but ideas that may not be as off-the-wall as they seem at first glance. The joy of innovation means that ideas for change have to come from somewhere. The man who invented the internal combustion engine was fighting against centuries of devotion to real horse power, the first typewriter was dismissed as being less efficient than using an ink pen, computers were never going to be able to do what human beings could and why would anyone need a device that could store 10,000 songs or more?

Whilst the ideas detailed above are novel, they represent serious thinking. We need to use the resources that are available to us whilst continuing to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with the technology that has already been developed. Solar, wind and wave power are not new concepts. Farmers have been using the power of wind to drive machinery for decades, hydro electric power helped to ensure that the Locust Generation was able to watch as much TV as possible in the comfort of their air-conditioned houses and the desire to gain energy from the sun was thought of by Thomas Edison!

But for those who think beyond the norm, the future is only limited by imagination. Human beings have the capacity to innovate; solutions to the problems that have been created should not be delayed by procrastination and indecision.

After all, we are always going to need somewhere to walk the dog.

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