This month’s Classes without Quizzes featured UTM alumnus Fahaq Tariq’s talk titled “Turning Poo into Power to Save the World.” Tariq is the founder and CEO of Shift, a non-profit aimed at converting animal waste, in particular cow waste, into clean energy to perpetuate positive change in developing countries. Shift’s aim is to solve two global problems: climate change and energy insecurity, unsafe forms of energy through the collection and burning of firewood. There are as many as ten projects underway providing over hundreds of individuals in developing countries with safe cooking gas all while protecting the environment.
Tariq’s personal motivation to start Shift stemmed from a variety of experiences throughout his childhood and into his pursuit of an M.BA. At the age of eight years old, Tariq had grown up in a variety of countries until his family settled in Canada.
“That experience gave me a global experience,” Tariq remarks. “I saw that Canada was so different than other parts of the world that I had seen where there wasn’t even electricity. So, I was always grateful that I was in Canada but I also recognized that there was this great inequality in where I was and where I had been. This gave me a global perspective, in that I wanted to have an impact not on a local level but globally.”
Shift’s aim to repurpose waste into sustainable energy is built on the foundation of viewing the world as a circle. “As you look out into the world and you see all the resources we have, whether it is fresh water, land, oil, it’s all becoming increasingly scarce,” Tariq explains. “I think that in order for us to tackle the problems of tomorrow, we are going to have to start thinking more carefully about how we can repurpose things that already exist and create new outputs from existing inputs.”
Shift’s cyclical view of the world, of using existing inputs to create new outputs, relies on looking out into nature. According to Tariq, “Nature has this elegant efficiency, if you can call it that. There’s a certain way that nature produces output that is actually elegant and beautiful. So, the technical term of this is ‘biomimicry.’ It just means copying nature.”
In order to repurpose waste, Shift employs the idea of biomimicry by copying the stomach of a cow. Tariq says, “What we are copying is this biological process of breaking down, in the case of a cow’s stomach, the food material and extracting energy from it. And this same biological process we are replicating outside of the cow’s stomach.” Cow waste is stored inside underground domes that, while the waste remains on the bottom, as the gas rises to the top are piped to houses. Even the remaining cow waste is used as fertilizer.
The process by which Shift goes about repurposing waste is not one they created: “What we are doing is something different. What we are doing is popularizing this technology. I don’t know how many people know about being able to turn waste into energy. And I feel as though many people still don’t know about this effective way of turning waste into energy even though it can work very well to provide individuals in developing countries with energy. We are also working on improving the conversion technology as well as making it scalable so that it can be applied to farming communities all around the world.”
As of now, the ten projects that shift has on the ground is capturing 500,000 kg of cow waste a year, saving 1,500 hours a year of people not having to go out, and collect wood to burn—providing clean, free, cooking gas to 500 people, and adding life expectancy to people’s lives as they now have less likelihood of developing respiratory problems.
“Shift’s pitch is this,” Tariq remarks, “to be the first organization in the world to build scalable energy domes that can convert animal waste into clean energy to solve two of the most pressing issues facing humanity: climate change and energy insecurity.”