Producing clean energy using cat poop? Idea to reality

While taking the long-course for FMS, we were required to imagine our dream social enterprise and use this dream to foster questions and discussion during one of the modules.  For several of the students, imagining their dream social enterprise was easy, because they already had something in mind.  Perhaps, that is what drew them to take the course, because they want to be social entrepreneurs themselves.  For me, it was a bit harder.  To come up with my dream company, I imagined something that made my life more difficult, and how fixing that problem, I might be able to also perform a social good.

My problem?  Cleaning my cat’s litter box.  So, I imagined a company that produced energy using animal feces.  Sounds kinda gross, but then I started researching it, and using bio-mass waste for energy is not a new concept in the least.  In fact, during a separate module for FMS, we studied a social enterprise based in India called Husk Power.  Husk Power uses the bio waste from rice husk to generate electricity to rural villages.  Not only are people receiving electricity that currently would not, but they are also receiving it at a lower price than those “on the grid.”  And, the power is clean.  Husk Power has even developed a payment system that works for the company and for its customers.  It is “pay-as-you-go,” much like cell phones in developing countries.

So, we know a company is successfully turning agricultural bio waste into energy, but would it be possible with feces?  Turns out it is.  A company in Kenya has developed the technology to turn human waste from port-o-potties into energy that is sold cheaply to impoverished communities.  The company is called Sanergy.  For Kenyans, this would help alleviate both the lack of affordable electricity and the availability of private toilets.  Turns out, a lot of poor people are willing to pay for privacy when they need to alleviate themselves.  There is a third benefit to society as a whole, which is the fact that this again is clean energy.  No coal is extracted, no fossil fuels burned to create the electricity.

Learning about alternative energy through social ventures is fascinating, and has inspired me to try to create a bio-mass generator of my own when I get back to California.  I looked up instructions on how to produce one on a small scale; you just need two large barrels, a cork and some tubing.  The hard part is harnessing the energy that is created with a generator of some sort, but that will be my next research project.