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Denver Zoo's poop-and-trash-powered rickshaw on display at 1700 Broadway

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We first told you about the Denver Zoo's plan to turn a shitload of shit into electricity and heat back in 2009. The key is a scientific process called gasification. Basically, it works like this: Poop and trash and other waste goes in, science happens, and then voila! The end product is a useful combustible gas. But before the zoo unveils the full system this summer, it's built a prototype ... on the back of a motorized rickshaw.

The rickshaw, which is also called a tuk tuk, is now on display in the lobby of 1700 Broadway in Denver, thanks to a zoo partnership with Western Energy Alliance, a nonprofit trade association for oil and natural gas companies headquartered nearby.

The zoo bought the tuk tuk in Thailand two years ago for use as a thematic artifact in its new elephant exhibit, now called Toyota Elephant Passage in honor of a $5.4 million donation. But what was to be a very cool prop soon turned into a science experiment, says George Pond, the Denver Zoo's vice president for planning and capital projects, when zoo staff decided to try to build a prototype gasification system that would power the tuk tuk.

The experiment was a success -- though zoo staff admit the tuk tuk moves very, very slowly. But the point wasn't to create a Lamborghini powered by poop. Instead, the zoo hopes to use the tuk tuk as a way to educate visitors about the gasification system. The system will be housed out of sight, clandestinely turning 90 percent of the zoo's waste into energy to heat several buildings in Toyota Elephant Passage as well as the water in the exhibit's three outdoor pools, which will essentially be like hot tubs for the animals.

Zoo staff estimate the gasification system will reduce the zoo's contributions to a landfill by 1.5 million pounds of waste a year -- making it even greener than it already is.

Flip the page to see more photos of the tuk tuk.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Meet Bodhi, the Denver Zoo's first male elephant: Bring on the green weenie!"

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