Dropping Science

Hot shit
By SCOTT FAYNER  |  September 22, 2010

1009_poop_main
Matthew Mazotta

Mankind has been in search of a creative use for dog poop ever since high-school shootings overtook the "flaming shit bag on the doorstep" as preferred disturbed-teenager cry for help. With roughly 77 million dogs in the United States, on average dropping two deuces a day, there's now a shitload of extra crap that has to be dealt with.

A new venture called the Park Spark Project could bring an end to our poop problem. By introducing a methane digester to doggie toilets, a/k/a public parks, organizers aim to turn Fido's fudge into fuel that can light up the park at night.

The Park Spark Project is the brainchild of smart guy Matthew Mazotta, a graduate of MIT (of course). With assistance from a bunch of other smart guys and girls, Mazotta took an $8000 grant from his alma mater and constructed the first methane digester for the sole use of turning canine droppings into energy for on-site park illumination or heat. Mazotta's endeavor not only gives dog owners the opportunity to both be involved in the process and see the finished product — a bright-shining, dookie-powered streetlamp — but it raises questions about why there aren't more of these shit-heated lampposts all over the world.

Cambridge is the first city to give Mazotta's feces-into-flame project a shot. This past summer saw locals in Cambridgeport's Pacific Park neighborhood getting their first peek into the process. First, of course, your dog takes a dump. Pick it up with a biodegradable bag made of corn, but don't tie a knot in it. Stick the bag in the digester and turn the giant wheel that stirs the contents inside to create methane (CH4). (Yes, you are stirring up some shit.)

The science behind this is simple: any organic substance — in this case doggie doo — will produce methane as it decays, and with the help of a hose and control valve, that methane can be used as gas for heating, lighting, and cooking. Harvesting CH4 for power also reduces the amount of methane — a far more toxic greenhouse gas than CO2 — that is released into the atmosphere when left to its own devices (i.e., it's better for the environment, too).

Mazotta doesn't appear to mind being known as the dog-shit-energy guy, and is constantly soliciting ideas from the public for new ways to exploit methane gas —which include a popcorn machine, shadow projection boxes, and a tea cart. Yum.

The Park Spark Project runs through September 25 at Pacific Park in Cambridge. For more information, visit parksparkproject.com.

  Topics: News Features , public art, science, dog poop
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