You’ve got to do something with the tonnes of animal waste the Toronto Zoo. Daniel Bida is helping turn it into green energy
If you’ve ever been to Yorkshire, you may be familiar with the expression “where there’s muck, there’s brass.” It’s another way of saying that if you want to make a few bucks, look for a dirty job. In the case of Daniel Bida, you could expand on that concept. As a founder and executive director of the newly formed ZooShare Biogas Co-operative, he’s helping turn the messy business of manure disposal at the Toronto Zoo into an emission-reducing energy project.
The concept is simple. Animals at the zoo produce about 3,000 tonnes of manure each year, wastes that traditionally were composted, with some of that material being used to fertilize flowerbeds on the zoo’s grounds. Bida and his team are now proposing to use the manure, along with about 12,000 tonnes of organic waste from a nearby grocery retailer, to power a 500-kilowatt electricity generating station to be located next to the zoo. The energy produced will be enough to power between 300 and 500 homes. More interesting yet, the plan calls for community ownership of the plant through membership in the non-profit ZooShare co-op.
“To my knowledge, this is first co-operatively owned biogas project in Canada. It’s also the first zoo project in North America and likely one of the first in the world,” says Bida, a certified financial analyst who specialized in renewable energy before forming his own development firm, ReGenerate Biogas Inc.
Biogas generation — in which methane from the decomposing organic waste is captured and burned to generate electricity — is not a new idea for the Toronto Zoo. It first explored the possibilities several years ago as part of an overall program to showcase renewable energy in zoo operations. At the time, however, biogas technology was relatively new, so the zoo focused instead on more traditional projects, such as solar and geothermal installations. It returned to biogas in the spring of 2010, issuing a request for proposals for a three- to five-megawatt plant. Bida did not respond to that request. But in October, he and a team of experts — including Koenig and Consultants, Riepma Consultants and Angus Power — pitched the zoo on a smaller project with community-based co-op ownership as a differentiating factor.
The Toronto Zoo accepted the proposal in November 2010, and the ZooShare group has since been at work to put it in place. The co-op was incorporated this past April and it is now focused on selling bonds to finance construction of the plant, including an upcoming community bond issue open to the public. Once the plant is operational — the target launch date is set for the fall of 2012 — the co-op will generate income from the sale of electricity to the Ontario power grid under the province’s feed-in tariff program for green energy projects. Additional revenue will come from tipping fees paid by the grocery retailer and the sale of liquid and sold fertilizer from the leftovers of the biogas extraction process. (The liquid fertilizer is going to a local farmer but the solid fertilizer will be sold in garden centres under the Zoo Poo brand.)
Looking ahead, Bida is also interested supplying the modest volumes of carbon dioxide leftover from the breakdown of wastes to a potential greenhouse project nearby. That would reduce emissions from the animal and vegetable wastes even further. For now, however, the focus is on bringing the first phase of the ZooShare project to fruition and then looking for opportunities to grow. “The idea,” Bida says, “is to expand and replicate.”