Dave Borins, Director of Community Renewable Energy Projects at Bullfrog Power, Councillor Jennifer McKelvie and MP Gary Anandasangaree at the ZooShare announcement on March 11.

By Kathryn Stocks

An innovative project at the Toronto Zoo that takes animal manure and turns it into renewable power and fertilizer received a boost of up to $2.7 million from the federal government last month. The funding from the Low Carbon Economy Fund was announced by MP Gary Anandasangaree at an event at the zoo’s rhinoceros pavilion on March 11.

Daniel Bida, executive director of the ZooShare Biogas Co-operative, explained that the project began in 2010 when the zoo was looking for a way to turn its regular supply of manure into some revenue. “The zoo accepted our proposal to build a community-owned biogas project at its turned compost site,” he said, and with that the biogas co-operative was born.

“There were two primary goals at the outset that are still in place at this time,” Bida said. “One, build a biogas plant to convert the zoo manure and commercial food waste into renewable power and fertilizer. Two, leverage this high-profile project to inform people about the true value of organic waste and the benefits of biogas. Over the years we have made progress on both fronts.”

Construction was started on the biogas facility last summer and it is expected to be finished this year. The plant will begin operating next spring.
Once operational, Bida said, “it will divert 15,000 tons of organic waste per year away from landfills, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 20,000 tons per year and create enough power for 250 homes, all while enabling the reuse of valuable nutrients that can be used for more food.”

The funding from the federal government will help pay for an expansion of the plant’s processing capacity so it can divert even more organic material from landfills. It will also help ZooShare install new digester technology that separates organic material and contaminants like plastics, which will mean an even higher quality end product for local farms. Another benefit is that it will reduce carbon pollution.

“We can no longer choose between growing the economy and protecting our environment,” Gary Anandasangaree said. “Make no mistake, there will be no free ride.“ He said the plant will help Canada meet its climate change goals and he called ZooShare an example of innovation at its best. “Using local food waste and recycled manure from the Toronto Zoo and creating renewable power for the area grid is an absolute gamechanger. It’s a perfect combination of innovation and ingenuity and environmental protection.”

Toronto Zoo CEO Dolf DeJong said, “We think it’s amazing to have it here and be able to have a new place to send the fuel to power it.” He pointed out that the two rhinos in the exhibit behind him were major contributors. “The manure has been composted to keep it out of the waste stream, but thanks to this new program it will be closer to home and actually helping fuel the lights that help people connect with nature right here.” A portion of the revenues generated will come back to the zoo.