GREENWICH VILLAGE — Growing up in Ethiopia, Melody Kelemu always had dogs, a lawn where they could walk around by themselves and gardeners who took care of any mess man’s best friend left behind.
When she moved to the city to start college at New York University, the Neuroscience and Environmental Studies major watched as residents cleaned up after their dogs every day, and began to wonder how the waste could be put to better use.
Now the 21-year-old junior is applying for an NYU grant to put machines into dog parks that would turn waste into energy to power lamps — including in Washington Square Park.
“It gives people a greater sense of satisfaction to know that you are doing something great while at the same time using something from your dog,” said Kelemu, who lives on the Lower East Side.
Under Kelemu’s plan, dog owners would collect dog waste in a specially made biodegradable bag and toss it into a methane digester — a hermetically sealed tank where the dog feces are broken down by anaerobic bacteria. Methane gas is released in the process, fueling a gas-burning lamppost in the park.
The digester has no smell and can accommodate waste from as many as 200 dogs per day. It takes waste from approximately 10 dogs to fuel a lamp for one hour, she said.
The device consists of two tanks, the second of which will be used to hold overflow waste. Kelemu said she would like to get other NYU students on board to maintain the machines.
Kelemu is applying for a $20,000 Green Grant from NYU’s Sustainability Task Force to cover the initial costs of the project. She said she plans to build the digesters herself, at a cost of $2,000 each, and the rest of the money will pay for maintenance and the production of biodegradable bags.
She said she’ll build the machine out of a water storage tank and scrap metal.
Kelemu would like to place a digester in the dog run on the south side of Washington Square Park and in the Mercer-Houston dog park, at the northwestern corner of Mercer and Houston streets.
She hopes to install the machines inside area dog runs by the summer.