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Friday, August 22, 2014

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Making connections

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Have you ever been in a conversation with a person and discovered a connection unrelated to your current situation? I recently had such an experience at the ClimateSpark Accelerate workshop, which took place in early December.

Ten teams that emerged from an online crowdsourcing competition that sought initiatives leading to significant local reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, which I described in my September column, were invited to participate in a session co-sponsored by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and the Center for Social Innovation.

One of the 10 competition finalists came from the Robbins Hebrew Academy and the Leo Baeck Day School. Their entry focused on an inter-school effort to collaborate on ways to reduce energy consumption and quantify the amount of energy saved.

Another entry, ZooShare, was being championed by Daniel Bida, president of ReGenerate Biogas Inc., a dedicated developer of community-owned biogas plants. ZooShare Biogas Co-operative Inc. is a non-profit renewable energy co-operative that’s developing a 500-kilowatt community-owned biogas plant on the grounds of the Toronto Zoo. It turns the zoo’s annual manure output and food waste from GTA-based grocery stores into electricity, heat, fertilizer and cash for the zoo. (http://bit.ly/cjntsj-zooshare)

I had heard of another biogas project from Shai Spetgang, a graduate of USDS, now the Robbins Hebrew Academy. Spetgang completed his environmental studies degree at York University’s faculty of environmental sciences. He subsequently spent time at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Ben-Gurion University, and he and his family made aliyah in 2009.

I met Spetgang in Israel early in 2011, when I was presenting at the fourth annual Renewable Energy Conference in Eilat. After that conference, Spetgang shared with me a link to a biogas project he had worked on.

In Susya, in the Southern Hebron hills, local families have to spend about $15 per 1,000 litres of water, and up to $20 for cooking gas. Alumni of the Arava Institute installed a biogas system that provides cooking fuel, fertilizes agricultural projects and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Another system installed by that team filters grey water – from the shower, kitchen or bath –then mixes it with sheep manure. It’s allowed to ferment for a while in a sack where anaerobic fermentation takes place, producing combustible methane. (http://bit.ly/cjntsj-sheepgas)

Liquid compost is created when bacteria break down the organic matter. It is then used to irrigate and fertilize vegetables and olives trees. At the same time, the gas is diverted to a pressurized storage mechanism, which powers a stove.

Previously, families in the area cooked on wood fires that produced a lot of smoke, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. When they use the manure for cooking, much less methane is released.

When I shared this story with Bida, he immediately saw the value of using elements of the ZooShare biogas proposal to address certain social needs of people in some native communities in Canada.

This social angle, added to the existing commercial angle of the ZooShare team’s proposal, may help them win the ClimateSpark competition. Interesting connections can lead to interesting results.

winegust@gmail.com

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