ZooShare's Toronto Zoo biogas project hits $1 million milestone

By Katie Fletcher | October 21, 2014

Toronto Zoo visitors are expected to have the chance to goggle at more than just zoo animals towards the end of next year. ZooShare Biogas Cooperative Inc.’s 500-kW biogas plant recently gained traction with the help of 150 investors purchasing bonds, totaling over $1 million in financing for the project.  

Daniel Bida, executive director of ZooShare, said that this year bond sales and project permits have been the primary focus. The cooperative launched a new website to sell the bonds more effectively, and submitted the building permit application earlier this year. The cooperative has also been negotiating with commercial lenders. 

ZooShare bonds pay a return of 7 percent each year for seven years. Investors also gain the added benefit of an environmental return, including waste diversion from landfills and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by over 10,000 tons each year. Further, Biomass Magazine reported in June 2012, the cooperative will sell fertilizer as a coproduct, returning valuable nutrients to the soil. The contract ZooShare has with the zoo also allows it to build a greenhouse to accept the excess heat and CO2 from the plant’s engines free of charge to aid with plant growth. Bida said, this venture is still not for sure, but “we’ll definitely be looking at that in the future.”

“Each of these investors is going to earn a 7 percent return, but then they also get the comfort and pride in knowing that they’ve contributed positively to the local environment,” Bida said.

Last year ZooShare secured the needed contracts to move forward with the project. “That gave us everything we needed to know, so that we were officially going ahead with the project—our power contract with the Ontario Power Authority and our feedstock contract with Canada’s largest grocery chain,” Bida said.

The feed-in tariff contract offer secured last year from the Ontario Power Authority is a 20-year contract. “We can’t really ask for more when it comes to structuring the project and securing financing—it’s the key piece that the lenders are looking to leverage,” Bida said.

The project will generate 4.1 million kW hours in renewable power each year for the Ontario grid from a total of 17,000 tons of waste, a combination of biobased waste from the grocery chain and zoo manure.

ZooShare is aiming to have the plant generating power by December 2015. Prior to operation, the cooperative needs to sell an additional $980,000 worth of community bonds, secure a long-term debt lender from one of the commercial sources who have stepped forward, and obtain the required environmental permits the cooperative has been working on over the past year.

Additionally, the cooperative is in the process of selecting a specific technology and technology provider. ZooShare is working with an engineering, procurement and construction firm, and just last month sent out bid packages to different technology providers, which they are now in the process of evaluating. 

Visitors are encouraged to get a better understanding of the project with the added component of a classroom area. ZooShare hopes a good number of the more than 1 million people who visit the zoo each year will stop by and get a tour of the plant and learn about biogas. “I remember when I learned about it—it kind of blew my mind—and then I got to go see a biogas plant, and it was really powerful to see all the waste being mixed around inside the digester,” Bida said. “I think our underlying goal is to get people to really appreciate the true value of this stuff, so it’s not just viewed as waste anymore.”