Finley / Zoo Faces Heat

Denver Post reporter Bruce Finley knocks it out of the (City) park with his article “Denver Zoo faces heat but pushes on with elephant poop-to-power plant.” From the Post article:

Zoo officials — aiming to fire up the plant by the year’s end — insist there will be no problem.

“I am not as comfortable as they are that this technology is proven and belongs in that location,” councilman Paul Kashmann said. “I don’t think anybody would be particularly concerned if this was in an industrial area. … Since it has never been tested and it is a proprietary technology, it makes sense that it be as objectively reviewed as possible.”

Zoo crews have installed hoppers, shredders, pellet-making machines and a “gasifier” — measuring 6 feet in height and 2 feet in diameter — in a long-empty building behind the elephant house and within 150 yards of City Park lakes, paths and the boathouse jazz pavilion. Waste processing would be done in low-oxygen chambers at temperatures up to about 1,470 degrees.

The idea is to cut reliance on coal-fired grid electricity by using waste to light buildings, melt snow on walkways and warm a pool where elephants soak during winter.

A construction permit granted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sets limits for plant air emissions covering particulates, sulfur dioxide, dioxins, cadmium and carbon monoxide. Zoo officials said they’ll comply, but because the plant isn’t tested, they cannot specify what it will put out.

In the article, Councilman Kashmann raises a significant point about the Zoo’s proposed machine as “proprietary technology.”  Elements of the patent are considered confidential business information (CBI), and as such, not available for public review. It not certain that regulators, such as the Denver Environmental Health Department, had an opportunity to review all relevant documents, including  those containing CBI. In addition to CBI, the Zoo as a foundation is not subject to the Colorado Records Act (CORA).

Quotes made by Zoo official George Pond, Vice President for Design and Campus Management and one of the inventors of the waste to energy machine, however, are troubling:

We have no interest in making something bad. … Look, there’s an elephant right there,” Pond said, noting one near the new machinery. “We care about that elephant. And there are zoo guests. We care about them. And here is a park. We don’t want anything bad for any of this. Is this going to ruin our park? We would never allow that.

We can break down the above comments as follows:

“We have no interest in making something bad.”

The concerned public might respond, especially after reading the Engineering Design and Operations Plan (EDOP ) with questions regarding the toxicity of the waste stream (e.g., chlorinated paper products, PLA plastics designed for composting) and stability of the syngas process.

The concerned public might also question the need for this machine in light of potential, sustainable gains from utilizing solar and wind energy, expanded composting of dung (the  Zoo sends out about 20 yards of manure twice a week for composting), possible redevelopment of manure products such as Zoop (formerly manufactured by A1 Organics with the Zoo), net zero building, and zero waste. The concerned public might also ask their Denver City Council members how the machine was zoned in a residential neighborhood.

“Look, there’s an elephant right there,” Pond said, noting one near the new machinery. “We care about that elephant.”

Holding up one elephant as a shining example of the Zoo’s “caring” and consideration towards elephants – or all critters that reside in the Zoo  – is endearing. But it is also flawed. These magnificent mammals will be exposed to approximately the same pollutants as their human neighbors offsite. Why do we say an approximately? Because at this time there is no air modeling and characterization of pollutants that tells the public (or regulators) what levels of pollutants that will be released. As Finley points out in his article,

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sets limits for plant air emissions covering particulates, sulfur dioxide, dioxins, cadmium and carbon monoxide. Zoo officials said they’ll comply, but because the plant isn’t tested, they cannot specify what it will put out.

The EDOP  has an approximation and description of chemicals that may be potentially be released.  We suggest the public read the EDOP (that also substitutes as a partial partial waste management plan, but to date, is incomplete), alongside other official documents such as the Permit application to construct the DZF waste to energy system and Revised air permit emission notice and application to construct the DZF waste to energy system, and ask their own questions of the Zoo, City Council, and regulators, including why they must accept any pollution from this machine.

Read the rest of the article.