Dog poo won’t just ruin a good shoe; it’s bad for public health. Studies have shown that dog poo spreads bacteria to both our air and water. So in dense cities, tons of dog poo have to be scraped from sidewalks and streets each night while municipalities debate whether dog poo should be treated as garbage, sewage, or as compost material.
Océane Izard, a masters student at the Geneva School of Art and Design, has proposed an intriguing, if somewhat whimsical, solution. She calls it Poo-Poo Power: a waste receptacle for dog poo. A dog owner drops the poo up top, and over the course of 48 hours, it’s digested into a sort of gasoline for four microbial fuel cells sitting at the bottom. These fuel cells can then be removed and used to provide electricity as the city or public sees fit. The industrial design looks sort of like a PVC clean-out pipe crossed with a trash can, with a large cylinder in the middle that processes the poo before dropping concentrated power to the fuel cells below.
Izard calls her prototype “a fiction that leads the public to something possible,” but there is precedent. Almost a decade ago, San Francisco looked into converting dog poop into methane to heat homes and generate electricity. In Cambridge, dog poop powers a streetlight. And Britain’s Bio-Bus runs off of human waste.
Izard researched the topic intensively for a few months to confirm her project’s validity. “I studied with veterinarians and breeders the differences in weight of excrement by breed and weight of the dog. Depending on the excrement, there will be different energy stored in the battery,” she explains over email. “For example, for a Great Dane, the amount of poo is different from that of a beagle.” A beagle, she elaborates, can generate between 250 and 340 grams of feces a day, which produces enough fuel to power a fan for two hours. A Great Dane can produce twice that much. “It could almost run your fridge!” she writes.
Scaling the idea out, Izard calculated that if we had six to seven dogs per person, it would be enough to use dog poo to take us off the grid–“which is a totally absurd, counter-productive paradox” she admits, no doubt considering that there are more efficient ways to produce that much electricity (though none would come with so many face licks).
The more important role of Poo-Poo Power may be about less its potential contribution to our energy grid, and more about, as she puts it, “making visible what people do not want to see or know.”
“To me, it should not be taboo,” Izard writes. “Dog owners pick up their dog’s turds every day. This is certainly an ordeal. That’s why there are so many in the streets. But with this machine, people will want to bring this precious gift that their dogs do one to two times a day!”