An innovative electrified hybrid powered by fuel that’s most definitely renewable and sustainable is being developed not by an automotive company, but by the Denver Zoo.

The three-wheeled, 20-year-old rickshaw uses animal feces and human trash to generate electricity, and is itself recycled from its former days as a petrol-powered people mover in Thailand.

Now better known as “tuk tuk,” the vehicle is a running prototype for a larger energy generation system to make power for the zoo – due for completion this fall, and if successful, the system could change the future of waste management, says the Denver Post.


Equally true – within qualified terms – is that if this energy generation technology proves out, it could be used for a number of applications.

"This is not just a zoo thing," said the zoo's sustainability manager, Jennifer Hale. "It can be applied on campuses, in communities and many other environments."

Of course the Denver Zoo intends to apply it as well, and Hale said the technology engineers working for it have developed will fuel the Toyota Elephant Passage exhibit, due to open June 1.

"[The tuk tuk] can be a place for us to interact with guests about this great technology," Hale said. "It was a good theme with the elephants."

Plans are to convert about 1.5 million pounds of waste to energy. Said waste will be comprised of animal droppings plus 90 percent of the solid waste (trash) produced by visitors and employees.

The zoo estimates its annual energy consumption will be offset by 20 percent from gasified pellets made from its collected refuse.

The technology is said to be “unique and revolutionary” in that it uses diverse on-site waste, instead of wood chips, for example, which have been similarly used to create fuel.

The zoo figures it will save around $150,000 per year in hauling costs and it all got started eight years ago after some enlightened dumpster diving.

"These guys spent a lot of time in dumpsters figuring out what kind of trash we produce," said zoo spokeswoman Tiffany Barnhart of engineers looking to analyze consumption and waste patterns.

The zoo intends to catalog all its waste that can be gasified, ranging from office products, concessions packaging, and a consistent supply of animal dung – a model of sustainability and renewable energy at its finest!


About the only thing they can’t convert to fuel are metal, glass and plastic stuff, but those items are often recyclable anyway, and they are thinking this plan just might work.

Tuk tuk, the recycled trash and dung-burning rickshaw was not actually the first creation the zoo's engineers made to run on gasified pellets. Their first prototype was a blender used to mix margaritas for a zoo event.

Before the elephant wing’s grand opening, tuk tuk will be taken to other zoos in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico before being shown also at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' midyear meeting in Palm Desert, Calif.

Denver Post