The idea of converting dog waste to renewable biogas started off as a modest art project in Cambridge, Massachusetts, two years ago, and it has struck a spark across the pond. A new company in Wales called Streetkleen has constructed a dog waste-to-biogas conversion station in the county of Flintshire and plans are already in the works to expand into a network throughout the U.K.
Flintshire is a small county known as the Gateway to Wales. It might not be the first location that comes to mind as ground zero in the fight against urban dog pollution, but Flintshireans have been up in arms over the problem, particularly in the Village of Broughton (pop. about 5,000 when lumped in with a neighboring village), where Streetkleen was founded. Multiply that by a few digits and you have the dog waste problem on an American scale -- which could translate into some new opportunities for enterprising dog waste firms.
Dog waste to biogas, art to life
It has been said that art imitates life, but in the case of dog waste biogas it seems that life is imitating art. The Streetkleen model appears to be partly based on a modest art project that consists of a small methane digester located in the dog run at Pacific Street Park in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Installed in the fall of 2010, the “Park Spark” project enlisted dog owners to use biodegradable bags to scoop the waste, drop it into a closed container, and give it a stir with a few twists of a large handle.
Waste inside the bin is broken down through the natural digestion of microorganisms, which produce methane gas as they feed. The gas is fed directly into a traditionally styled gas-fired street lamp at the park, hence “park spark.”
Streetkleen and biogas awareness
Park Spark was designed as a public awareness art project, and Streetkleen’s business model is also based partly on raising public awareness through a network of digester gas-to-lamp stations in local parks.
The first one was constructed in Flintshire in March under the auspices of the Streetkleen BIO Project, and the company is already looking into another six locations in the U.K. this summer. The purpose of the BIO stations is to demonstrate the viability of existing waste-to-biogas technology directly to the public, or at least to the dog-walking public.
A business model for dog waste-to-biogas
The waste-to-lamplight stations are ideal in terms of public awareness and they could raise some opportunities for revenue from corporate sponsorships, but the real meat of Streetkleen's business plan will be a network of Streetkleen waste disposal receptacles that come complete with biodegradable waste bags.
Under contracts with local governments, the waste would be picked up regularly and taken to a commercial scale digester facility.
Assuming that dog owners tune into the new system and use the special dog waste receptacles instead of putting the waste in with mixed trash, that could add up to quite a bundle. In the U.K., an estimated 1 million dogs generate about 1,000 British tons (tonnes) of waste every day.
In the U.S. the economy of scale could really kick in. According to an ASPCA estimate, there are more than 1.5 million dogs in New York City alone.
For that matter, dog waste removal is already starting to turn into a business opportunity, in the form of pet waste removal companies that serve homes and private companies, so it's not a stretch to apply a similar model to municipal pet waste removal.
Local governments would pay for the service, but at least some of that cost would be offset by diverting tons of heavy, soggy waste out of the general stream that would otherwise go to incinerators or landfills.
We are closer than you think to dog waste-to-biogas
Compared to other biogas sources like cow manure, dog waste is a drop in the bucket. However, dog waste recovery could still prove cost-effective in the context of a broader biogas system, and researchers in the U.S. are already investigating the possibility that dog waste could be blended with cow manure.
Meanwhile, the biogas industry has been getting a big push through the U.S. EPA's AgStar program for dairy farms and other livestock operations, and the cutting-edge companies Google and Apple are exploring manure-to-biogas, too.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.