Written by Andrew Seale

frances-1Frances Darwin doesn’t go anywhere without a jar of giraffe poop. Well, anywhere that she’ll be talking about ZooShare.

“They kind of look like chocolate truffles, they're pretty delicious looking actually,” says ZooShare’s sales and marketing manager with a laugh. “Until you know what it actually is and once people find out what it is and see what we're doing – turning waste into electricity – people are like: what? How is that possible?”

Once operational in December 2016, ZooShare’s biogas plant will take animal excrement and organic waste from nearby Toronto Zoo and local grocery stores, stuff it in silo-esque containers, capture the methane and convert it into electricity for the Ontario power grid. The leftover nutrient-rich bits will be used as fertilizer.

“The process will be reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 10,000 tonnes of CO2 each year and generate 4.1 million hours of electricity,” explains Frances.

Daniel Bida founded the project in 2011 after abandoning his gig as a chartered financial analyst on Bay Street in order to pursue the development of biogas projects. But his vision wasn’t just to build any ol’ biogas plant; he wanted it to be a community-owned project. With ZooShare, Torontonians can buy bonds for $500 and up to support the project.

“There’s no maximum investment but contributions average around $5,000,” says Frances. She calls it an opportunity for Torontonians to have a direct impact on offsetting climate change.

“There's many people out there who regardless of their background, have had a very sudden interest in renewable energy and the environment,” says Frances.

So far, ZooShare has sold out of $2.2M worth of bonds, and now are selling another series that earns a return of 5 per cent each year for 5 years. The project has 500 members, 258 of which have invested.

“It took us 75 weeks to raise all the funding for our first bond offer of $2.2 million: Once we raised $1 million it only took us 21 weeks to raise the rest,” she says. “Any profits we do make down the line will eventually be put towards developing other community owned gas plants.”

Thus far, the majority of backers are baby boomers.

“I think they've really witnessed a change in the climate and they’re very concerned for their grandchildren and children,” she says. “And this is one way that they can actually get involved directly and put their money where their mouth is by helping support local renewable energy in the GTA.”

Once it’s up and operational, ZooShare will be the first community-funded zoo-based biogas plant of its kind in North America.

“Every new person that discovers ZooShare is really excited by the project – biogas is something new and exciting,” she says. “I’m sure it’ll roll into an industry of its own but it does maintain that novelty… and we can leverage that cute factor of animals.”