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Dana Kirk, specialist, Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, and project manager, Improving Access to Clean Energy in Rural Central America Using On-site Solar-Biopower Generation

Dana Kirk

Dana Kirk has been a Spartan his entire adult life, earning four degrees from MSU and now holding a faculty position. In 2011, he was selected to be the project manager for the project in Costa Rica—partnering with the University of Costa Rica to build an anaerobic digester that turns food and animal waste into energy.

The project has a lot of benefits. It gets rid of waste, produces energy, and serves as a learning tool to see how well the system works and if it makes sense to use similar facilities in other places.

“What I like about this project is the technology and the ability to reuse the waste in a way that’s better,” says Kirk. “It makes sense that if we can do this and have it be affordable, then we should do it.”

As the name implies, an anaerobic digester is an airtight tank with no oxygen. Organic waste (manure, food scraps, and other organic material) are put into the tank and heated to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 30 days. Microorganisms in the manure break down the organic material, creating methane gas that can be burned for heat, as well as partially decomposed organic matter, water, and nutrients that can be applied to crop fields as fertilizer.

Kirk likes the creativity that this project demands.

“I like that this project allows us to think outside the box—outside East Lansing,” he says. “I know that I am wiser for it.”

The project is supposed to end in September, but Kirk and others are hoping to extend it.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of success,” he says. “We’re going to work with policy makers, educators, and others to make sure we can continue. Something like this takes time and leaves us wanting to do more.”

The collaboration between campuses is another aspect that Kirk finds beneficial for all involved.

“I like the synergy between the MSU campus and the University of Costa Rica,” he says. “The shared experience and shared knowledge from two completely different places, that’s a neat piece of it, too.”

While the end date of the project might be in question, Kirk is clear about his hope for a large-scale outcome.

“I want the end result to be that people in the industry in Costa Rica think about better ways to use waste,” Kirk says. “I want this to drive policy change, to challenge people to think creatively, and to put these systems into use.”