Chicago business incubator to use brewery waste in AD system

By Matt Soberg | October 18, 2011

The Plant, a Chicago-based vertical farm and food business incubator, is now armed with the funds necessary to turn brewery waste into energy, having received a $1.5 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).  The funds will support a renewable energy system that will accept nearly 12,000 tons of spent grains annually from the onsite craft brewery, New Chicago Brewing Company, and other local brewers, according to John Edel, The Plant’s director.   

The Plant will install an anaerobic digester and combined-heat-and-power (CHP) system capable of producing 380 kilowatts of electricity and 2.1 million Btu of thermal energy.  The process will meet the energy needs of the 93,500-square-foot facility, allowing energy independence through brewery waste that would otherwise be landfilled. Vertical farming is a concept that uses vertically-inclined surfaces or skyscrapers in cultivation, instead of traditional land.

“This really could become a regional model for sustainability as well as a route to building out this part of the economy,” said Warren Ribley, DCEO director.  “People are seeking more local foods and the state is requiring at least 20 percent of its food purchases come from local sources by 2020. Agriculture is still innovating and will continue to be a source of new jobs if we can help local farmers and agriculture entrepreneurs ramp up to meet the demand.”

The $3 million project should be completed by June 2013, supported in part by the DCEO funds.

“These grants will help us create 125 new green-collar jobs in an economically distressed community and test a new economic model that relies on recapturing lost resources to improve food production,” Edel said. “Further, we’ll save over 3,000 tons per year in carbon dioxide output by using a completely renewable energy source.”

The Plant, originally a meatpacking facility, also has plans for aquaponics growing systems and a bakery.