Gilbert’s Cosmo Dog Park canine waste would fuel street lamp in project

Srianthi Perera The Arizona Republic Jul. 7, 2011 12:00 AM

The high volume of dog waste at Cosmo Dog Park in Gilbert has spurred a project that could put it to a productive use.

The project, scheduled to go to the Town Council next month for approval, would use the dog waste to light a street lamp at the park as a pilot project for a possible broader application later.

Students from Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa hope to design and create the “dog waste digester,” which will convert the waste to methane gas that in turn generates energy. The town is seeking a corporate sponsor for the project, estimated to cost $25,000.

Award-winning Cosmo Park, which opened in 2006, draws more than 600,000 visitors annually from Gilbert alone. It has been honored twice by Dog Fancy magazine and lately by as one of the nation’s best dog parks.

Former Gilbert Councilwoman Linda Abbott has been pushing the project after learning of a similar machine that was installed last year as a public-art project in a Cambridge, Mass., park. The Cambridge machine is no longer in operation because it had always been viewed as a temporary project.

Gilbert officials have held three meetings with ASU on the plan to design the machine when school resumes in the fall and to build the repository tank and digester in the spring.

Professor Kiril D. Hristovski, who will supervise the project, said the students would be challenged to design a machine suited to Arizona’s climate, taking advantage of the state’s abundant solar power.

“The principals of anaerobic digestion are the same,” he said. “We’re going to challenge the students to come up with innovative solutions that are unique.”

The digester would require a little more effort from dog owners, too.

Instead of throwing waste into the garbage, owners would collect it in supplied biodegradable bags, drop them into the digester and turn a hand crank to stir the mixture so the methane rises to the top, where it is burned constantly in the lamp.

Methane is a colorless and odorless gas that forms the major component of “natural gas” used for cooking and heating.

Abbott said the digester would be “a first” for Arizona.

“We really would be setting the template for other communities in terms of mirroring this sustainable idea,” she said.

Jennifer Kostic, the project coordinator from the university, said it was an opportunity for students to solve a problem in the “real world.”

“We like to bring in industry folks and different people in the community who are professionals dealing with real-world problems and integrate that into our educational program,” she said.

Hristovski added, “Through solving this specific problem, they learn different aspects: They learn engineering skills, management skills, economic skills and see how everything fits together.”

Assistant Town Manager Tami Ryall said town officials were “really excited at the opportunity to have the students design it.”

The college and town would enter into an intergovernmental agreement so that Gilbert gets some of the intellectual-property rights so it could duplicate the finished project in the future.