Detroit Zoo looks to turn animal waste into energy with biodigester crowdfunding campaign

Nate Pilon

Monday, April 20, 2015

$55,000 goal to secure matching grant through MEDC’s Public Spaces Community Places initiative

Lansing, Mich. – The Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) today announced a new crowdfunding campaign through Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity. The campaign will support an energy-producing biodigester that will harness the power of animal waste at the Detroit Zoo.

If the Detroit Zoo attains its crowdfunding goal of $55,000 by June 15, MEDC will provide a $55,000 matching grant. For project details and to donate, please visit: 

“We are pleased to partner with the Detroit Zoo and support this eco-friendly, energy-saving project,” said MEDC Community Development Director Katharine Czarnecki. “This campaign will allow residents, businesses, and everyone who appreciates the zoo and the positive impact it has on Metro Detroit to be a part of this innovative undertaking.”

The biodigester will turn the 400 tons of animal manure generated annually at the Detroit Zoo, as well as other organic waste, into a methane-rich gas. This biogas will be used to help power the 18,000-square-foot Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex, saving the Zoo $70-80,000 a year in energy costs. The system will also convert manure into compost that will be used to fertilize animal habitats, gardens and public spaces throughout the 125-acre Zoo.

Construction on the anaerobic biodigester will begin in the spring in the administrative area of the Detroit Zoo. Upon completion later this year, it will be the first zoo-based system of its kind in the country.

“The biodigester will turn one of our most abundant resources – manure – into energy, and represents a significant step on our green journey,” said Ron Kagan, DZS Executive Director and CEO. “The crowdfunding campaign gives the community an engaging opportunity to help us make it happen.”

Anaerobic digestion is a natural process where plant and animal materials – called biomass – are broken down by micro-organisms in the absence of air. The process begins when biomass is put inside a sealed tank or digester. Naturally occurring micro-organisms digest the biomass, which releases a methane-rich gas that can be used to generate renewable heat and power – helping to cut fossil fuel use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The remaining material is rich in nutrients, so it can be used as fertilizer.

The biodigester is just one of the many sustainability initiatives of the DZS Greenprint, a strategic plan to refine and improve daily practices and facilities, develop new policies and programs and improve green literacy in the community. In recognition of these continuous efforts in sustainability, the DZS was honored with the Green Award in 2014 by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The Detroit Zoological Society – a nonprofit organization that operates the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Zoo – is recognized as a leader in conservation, animal welfare and sustainability as well as providing sanctuary for animals in need of rescue. With an annual regional economic impact of more than $100 million, the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak is one of Michigan’s largest paid family attractions, hosting more than 1.3 million visitors annually. Its 125 acres of award-winning naturalistic habitats are home to more than 2,500 animals representing 280 species. The Belle Isle Nature Zoo sits on a 5-acre site surrounded by undisturbed forested wetlands on Belle Isle State Park in Detroit and provides year-round educational, recreational and environmental conservation opportunities for the community. For hours, prices, directions and other information, call 248-541-5717 or visit

Public Spaces Community Places is a collaborative effort of the MEDC, the Michigan Municipal League, and Patronicity where local residents can use crowdfunding to be part of the development of strategic projects in their communities and be backed with a matching grant from MEDC. Communities, non-profits and other business entities can apply at

Pure Michigan is a brand representing business, talent and tourism initiatives across Michigan. These efforts are driven by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, which serves as the state’s marketing arm and lead advocate for business growth, jobs and opportunity with a focus on helping grow Michigan’s economy.

About Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is the state’s marketing arm and lead advocate for business development, job awareness and community development with the focus on growing Michigan’s economy. For more information on the MEDC and our initiatives, visit For Pure Michigan® tourism information, your trip begins at Join the conversation on: Facebook Instagram LinkedIn, and Twitter.