Wednesday, September 22, 2010 (AP)
Dog poop has bright side: Powering Mass. park lamp
By JAY LINDSAY, Associated Press Writer
(09-22) 02:43 PDT Cambridge, Mass. (AP) --
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 months long project that its creator, artist
Matthew Mazzotta, hopes will get people thinking about not
The "Park Spark" poop converter is actually two steel,
500-gallon 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.
Dog owner Lindsey Leason, a 29-year-old Harvard student,
said she was all for seeing poop in a new light as she watched
her two dogs play at the park.
"Since I have to pick up dog poop a lot, I think I'd rather have it be
useful," Leason said.
The project was funded by a $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.
The 33-year-old Mazzotta, who is not a dog owner, got the
idea after he visited the park with a friend in 2009. 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."
A similar idea to use dog poop for power was floated in
San Francisco about four years ago. But that idea fizzled
in the city's bureaucracy and over concerns about safety,
said environmental scientist Will Brinton, who worked with
Mazzotta on Park Spark and was consulted in the San Francisco
Cambridge Fire Chief Gerry Reardon had his own questions
about "Park Spark," including whether vandalism or poor design
could cause the tank's insides to spill out and how the methane
would be safely contained and vented. But Park Spark's sturdy
build and safety features persuaded the fire department to give
its approval, he said. "We try to stay progressive here," Reardon
Mazzotta's project brings welcome visual distraction to the park,
which is bordered by a rutted street, a weed-filled lot and the
beaten-down backsides of a couple of buildings. 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 and how to best use the
free power it produces.
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 tons of poop in cities everywhere,
he thinks the idea of using its untapped power has broad appeal.
Brinton, president of Woods End Laboratories in Maine, which
specializes in biogas energy development, said 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.