Friday, September 24, 2010

C'mon baby light my fire

When you were in college, you may have discovered that a meal of burritos and beans, when combined with a few beers, a couple of drinking buddies, and a lighter, could lead to some spectacular visual effects.

Even if your college days were a little more reserved, you’ll be happy to know that your knowledge of the combustible qualities of methane gas can have some practical applications, even in Evanston.

An enterprising young man named Matthew Mazzotta recently set up a “Park Spark” poop converter in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The "Park Spark” poop converter is actually two steel 500 gallon tanks painted bright yellow and connected by black piping to an old style gas lantern at Pacific Street Park.

After the dogs do their business, signs on the tanks instruct owners to use biodegradable bags supplied on site to pick up the poop and deposit it into the left tank. People then turn a wheel to stir its insides, which contain waste and water. Microbes in the waste give off methane, an odorless gas that is fed through the tanks to the lamp and burned off. The park is small but has proven busy enough to ensure a steady supply of fuel.

I frequently walk through the park along the lake that ends on Dempster Avenue. At the northern end of that park is a sign that reads “ Eliminate Dogs (no apostrophe) Litter. Although the sign could be interpreted a couple of different ways, I believe the intent is to eliminate, um, dog poop.

Since Evanston is an environmentally friendly city, it may make sense to recreate Matthew Mazzotta’s “Park Spark” along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Gas street lights were first introduced to the United States in 1816, and were first used in Baltimore. After Thomas Edison pioneered the use of electricity for lighting, electric street lights gradually replaced most (but not all) of the gas street lights used in America. Gas street lights are still used in many neighborhoods in Cincinnati, Ohio, several towns in New Jersey, and Riverside, Illinois.

In 2007, there were 75,000,000 dogs registered in America. Since the population of the United States is currently slightly more than 300,000,000, there is one dog for every 4 people in the country. Exact numbers on the number of dogs in Evanston are difficult to obtain, but with a population of 70,000, it would be safe to assume that there are roughly 17,000 dogs that live in Evanston, who could provide more than enough “fuel” to power a string of gas lantern in the parks lining Lake Michigan.

Like all flammable gases, methane needs to be handled carefully.

On October 12, 2009,a shepherd in Jordan watched his entire flock of sheep catch fire and explode. Eventually, the cause of the catastrophe turned out to be a nearby waste treatment plant that had saturated the soil with methane gas and other organic materials. When nearby residents set fire to some dried grass in the area, things got ugly.

When your sheep start exploding during your first few hours on the job, you know that the rest of the day isn’t going to be pretty.

Dog powered street lights in Evanston.

Now, wouldn’t that be a gas?

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