Dog Poo Power
Credit: Cleaner Croydon via Flickr

I know, I know... it sounds like a bad joke. The digested waste of canines (or "dog poop," as I will refer to it henceforth) is generally perceived as nothing more than a nuisance. Those of us who own dogs have to follow our pups around and humble ourselves by placing our dog's poop into an appropriate bag and disposing of it. Those of us who own dogs who do not follow this protocol provide the rest of the local population with ample opportunity to scrape their shoes and curse our very existence. And so it goes. However, the ever-increasing power of technology has turned dog poop into an energy source capable of providing heat for homes and generating electricity. Yes, really.

I can hear many readers now asking the question made famous by Socrates: "So what?" And it's a fair question, at that. Aside from being kind of neat, the environmental implications of doggy doo-doo (and other animals) as an energy source are quite significant. This is for at least two major reasons: 1) fuel is often expensive, as is put on display by our gas bills, light bills, and the dollars dumped into the gas tanks of our vehicles on a daily basis; and 2) animal waste, in its current state, releases methane gas which is harmful for the environment (methane gas traps heat at a rate of over twenty times that of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere).

So, dog poop can be used as an energy source. Cool, but how does it work? The same methane gas that can do such a number on our atmosphere can also be converted into a beneficial energy source. The dog poop can be processed through a mechanism known as a "methane digester" (pleasant, right?) which converts the waste into a usable biofuel, which in turn can be used the same way that any natural gas can be used.

From doggy waste to cow manure, the utilization of poop power is catching on. In Europe, hundreds of farms have been converting poop into energy for years, but the trend has only began to reach anything resembling popularity in the United States in recent years. In 2006, San Francisco began collecting dog waste to use it for heating homes and other purposes. As recently as 2010, new large American dairy farms were catching wind of the trend (pun fully intended) and began using the waste from cows. In fact, the energy harnessed from the cow poop on some of the larger farms is enough to generate power to literally hundreds of homes.

While the value of dog poop is certainly on the rise, I would not advise you to begin stockpiling it in any significant way as of yet. While a number of cities and farms have began making use of animal waste, and researchers are continually seeking ways to improve the technology and make it available for mass consumption, no such technology currently exists. Perhaps one day we will live in a world where we can power our homes with our own personal methane digester. Until then, we can only dream.