San Francisco Converts Pet Feces into Methane Gases for Renewable Energy

Americans have always expended energy on their dogs—we love them, we feed them, and of course, we clean up after them. Finally, the dogs of San Francisco are going to return the favor. The city will be the first in the nation to convert pet feces into methane gases for renewable energy.

Animal feces currently make up nearly four percent of San Francisco's residential waste. Rather than view this waste as a problem, San Francisco and its waste management contractor, Norcal Waste, saw this as an opportunity for the city. Since January 2006, Norcal has been collecting dog feces from doggie day care centers throughout the city; the company hopes to further expand the program this summer by setting up dog-waste collection carts with biodegradable bags in Duboce Park, one of city's most popular dog parks.

Despite the obvious humor behind this initiative, the project will provide a real benefit to San Francisco—helping the city reach its goal of diverting 75 percent of its waste from landfills by 2010 while providing a valuable and renewable energy source. The city piloted another innovative bio-recycling program in 1996 collecting food scraps from houses and restaurants and turning them into fertilizer for local vineyards and organic farms that still continues today.

Once collected, the waste is put into an anaerobic digester, which uses bacteria to convert organic waste into methane gas. The methane is then captured and used to power equipment that normally runs on natural gas, such as a kitchen stove or a heater. The "digesting" process, which takes about two weeks, also produces valuable compost for agricultural purposes.

"There has been an overwhelming number of people from all over the country that want to support the program," said Norcal Spokesperson Adam Alberti. "Local [San Franciscans] have offered all kinds of 'help' to get the program off the ground."

The San Francisco pet waste project exemplifies the types of initiatives encouraged by the Resource Conservation Challenge within the national priority area of Reusing and Recycling Industrial Materials.

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