Provincial red tape has delayed work on a biogas plant at the Toronto Zoo, but its organics digester may still be up and running by late next year, zoo officials heard recently.
ZooShare has raised $1.8 million to build and operate the first facility of its kind at a North American zoo, generating power by breaking down zoo animal manure and unwanted grocery store waste.
But though the Toronto non-profit signed an agreement with the zoo in August 2012 to start operations in 2014, key dates had to be delayed last May, and were adjusted again by the zoo management board last Wednesday, Feb. 25.
“We’re getting very close,” said Paul Ungerman, a ZooShare board member and a former Ontario civil servant.
He said the company and its 300 community investors want to break ground this summer and have the plant running in 2016, but it may not happen until 2017.
In addition to handling its manure for free, ZooShare will pay the zoo 10 per cent of its profits or $50,000 a year for 20 years.
Besides producing wet and dry fertilizer that can be sold - the former for farm fields, and the latter as a “zoo poo” for gardens - the plant will remove 10,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases from the air and generate 500 kilowatts of power, enough for the needs of 250 homes.
Securing a feed-in tariff contract for that electricity from the Ontario Power Authority took 29 months, much longer than expected, and a technical review by Ontario’s environment ministry is continuing, said Daniel Bida, ZooShare’s executive director.
“It’s the things we can’t control that are causing us headaches,” said Bida.
The management board accepted that explanation and remains committed to the project, though some members questioned Bida about potential odours resulting from mishaps on the site, and wondered whether an accident at ZooShare could harm the zoo’s image.
Bida said the plant will get 80 per cent of its raw materials from a grocery chain, and they will be delivered to the digester without exposure to the air.
ZooShare, Bida pledged, will produce less odour than the zoo’s current manure compost operation, a four-acre field near its main parking lot where material is piled in windrows and turned.
Residents from area homes coming to hear about the project several years ago at public meetings voiced no concerns, Bida added. “We didn’t have anybody standing up and trying to stop us.”