Michigan State University Converts Detroit Zoo Waste to Energy

July 25, 2018

The anaerobic digester is the first at a zoo in North America

Michigan State University has teamed up with the Detroit Zoo in order to convert the facility’s waste into energy. The research team will implement an aerobic digester at the zoo, marking the first time such technology will be implemented at such a facility in all of North America.

The Michigan State University research team was led by Dana Kirk, who saw an opportunity to utilize the significant amount of animal and food waste produced by the zoo in order to produce methane gas that could be captured and repurposed to power different parts of the facility. The Detroit Zoo’s digester powers its animal hospital, which uses anywhere from 100 to 150 kw of power per hour.

Beyond the benefits of reduced electrical costs, implementing such technology at the zoo will allow for the repurposing of animal and food waste, as well as the reduction of greenhouse gases produced by the facility.

As an assistant professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering, and manager for the university’s Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center, Kirk is no stranger to installing such technology at facilities where it could be useful, having served as the technical lead on a digester installed in Costa Rica, even on Michigan State University’s own campus.

“Over the span of more than eight years, we have worked with hundreds of clients around the United States to understand how much energy can be produced from organic wastes,” said Kirk. “We also have helped stakeholders evaluate technologies, troubleshoot underperforming systems, design and construct pilot digester platforms, and conduct feasibility studies.”

Approximately 40 to 60 million anaerobic digesters are currently utilized worldwide, while only roughly 1,500 of such digesters are located within the United States.