What does money smell like at the Toronto Zoo?

In the future, it could smell conspicuously like a steaming pile of animal poo.

A bio-energy company is partnering with the zoo to build a biogas power plant that will transform animal manure and food waste into eco-friendly, renewable energy that can be sold back to the province.

ZooShare is currently awaiting a government stamp of approval to build its 500-kilowatt biogas facility on the current site of the zoo’s composting grounds. Once built, the biogas facility is expected to recycle 3,000 tonnes of animal manure and 14,000 tonnes of food waste per year, using waste food from a grocery store chain in the area. It will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 10,000 tonnes per year, ZooShare says.

The Toronto Zoo says it expects construction to start this summer, with power production slated to begin in March, 2016. The zoo says it will make at least $50,000 annually from the project, while ZooShare’s approximately 300 investors will earn seven per cent interest on their investment bonds over the first seven years of production.

ZooShare executive director Daniel Bida says he raised $2.2 million for the project over 18 months by opening it up to the Ontario public as an environment-friendly investment opportunity.

“We were really trying to do this project as a community-owned health project,” Bida told CTVNews.ca by phone on Friday.

Bida says his eco-friendly investors are excited to see the “fun things we’re doing with poo at the zoo.”

The Toronto Zoo currently disposes of its manure at a composting site on the east side of its Scarborough property, where the manure is left to decompose into fertilizer.

Bida says the biogas facility will put that manure to more efficient use.

“The zoo is really excited about the project,” Bida said. “They’re very much looking forward to our start so they can start turning their manure management costs into a revenue source.”

The biogas facility produces electricity by harvesting methane from decaying organic matter trapped in a heated, oxygen-free chamber. Bida described the chamber as a “concrete stomach” where bacteria break down manure and food waste into methane gas and fertilizer. The gas is then harvested and burned to drive generators that produce electricity for sale to the province, while the fertilizer is used for agricultural purposes.

Bida says the zoo started looking into the viability of a biogas plant back in 2003, but the technology wasn’t advanced enough at the time to make it financially worthwhile.

That changed over the years as technology improved and the Ontario government introduced its biogas-friendly Green Energy Act.

“I really believe in biomass and the impact it can make if we use our organic waste as a resource, instead of chucking it in a landfill like it’s a problem,” Bida said.