Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Plant

The Plant is a new kind of organization in a very old building. It’s part vertical farm, part food-business incubator, part research and education space – and it will be entirely off the grid. Read on to learn more about what we’re doing – and welcome!

What is The Plant? A Farm for the Future.

From its beginnings as a 93,500 s.f. meatpacking facility, The Plant is being repurposed into a net-zero energy vertical farm and food business operation. A complex and highly interrelated system, one-third of The Plant will hold aquaponic growing systems and the other two-thirds will incubate sustainable food businesses by offering low rent, low energy costs, and a licensed shared kitchen. The Plant will create 125 jobs in Chicago’s economically distressed Back of the Yards neighborhood – but, remarkably, these jobs will require no fossil fuel use. Instead, The Plant will eventually divert over 10,000 tons of food waste from landfills each year to meet all of its heat and power needs.

A Net-Zero Energy System

Funded in part by $1.5 million in grant money from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, The Plant will install an anaerobic digester and a combined heat and power system to operate completely off the grid. By 2015, the completely enclosed, odorless anaerobic digester will consume 27 tons of food waste a day (~10,000 tons annually), including all of the waste produced in the facility and by neighboring food manufacturers. The digester will capture all of the methane from that waste, and the methane will be burned in a combined heat and power system to produce 400 kWh of electricity, plus all the process heat needed for New Chicago Beer Company’s 12,000 sq. ft. brewery. Excess heat will be used in an absorption chiller to regulate the building’s temperature. The Plant will also be energy efficient: while the building is already heavily insulated, we are improving the efficiency of existing mechanicals using recycled and locally manufactured materials.

Growing Vegetables with Fish

Recycling will also take place in the aquaponic farm systems. Aquaponics is a closed-loop growing system that creates a symbiotic relationship between tilapia and vegetables. The tilapia produce ammonia-based waste that is sent through a biofilter where solids settle out and the rest is broken down into nitrates. Those nitrates are then fed to plants growing in hydroponic beds. By absorbing the nitrates, the plants clean the water, which is returned to the fish. The Plant will sell both the fish and the vegetables to local food markets and restaurants, and will do so at a profit.

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