Did you know that an elephant produces as much as 100 pounds of poop per day? But that’s not all in one sitting. Typically, an elephant evacuates 20 pounds at a time, during up to half a dozen satisfying sessions. Thus, with four elephants in residence, the Denver Zoo ends up dealing mountains of dung on a daily basis – and that doesn’t count the excrement produced by its 3,500 other wildlife tenants.
Too much information? This kind of data has created “fuel for thought” in Denver, where zoologists are using animal excrement and human trash to generate power for an on-site vehicle. The zoo’s groundbreaking working gasification prototype is a motorized three-wheeled rickshaw called a Tuk Tuk.
The Tuk Tuk was created from scratch at the zoo, in order to test the poop-to-power gasification technology planned for use in its new 10-acre exhibit, the Toyota Elephant Passage, due to open in June. Furthering the zoo's efforts to be a national leader in sustainability, the gasification system will convert more than 90 percent of the zoo's waste into usable energy, eliminating 1.5 million pounds of trash currently going to landfills annually.
“We wanted an innovative energy solution that would help us eliminate our landfill waste. We immediately considered ways to create energy from animal poop and human trash. The result is astounding – an energy solution that can create clean energy from trash,” says Vice President for Planning and Capital Projects George Pond.This unique technology developed by the zoo – designed and built by three full-time staff members – is under provisional patent protection and will be the first to use a diverse on-site waste stream, a breakthrough that could change how the world manages waste and creates energy.
During the early phases of design development, the zoo worked with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which funded a workshop to explore energy options. Numerous partners have worked together to financially support this new technology, including Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc., The Boettcher Foundation, Anabel C. and Jerome P. McHugh, The Governor's Energy Office (Colorado), Pioneer Resources, Mesa Energy Partners, LLC, and Western Energy Alliance.
The Denver Zoo recently took the Tuk Tuk on tour to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Mid-Year Meeting in Palm Desert, California – stopping at several other zoos along the way. “Sharing our knowledge among accredited zoos and aquariums is critical to our continued success [in] saving animals through environmental stewardship,” says Denver Zoo President and CEO Craig Piper. “We are so fortunate to work in such a collaborative field, where innovative ideas are shared.”
“AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are leaders in connecting their communities to nature,” said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. “Together, they reach 175 million, with science-based messages on the value of sustainability.”
Edited by Jennifer Russell