The Plant wins $1.5 million in grant funds

John Edel

John Edel, director of Chicago’s vertical farm and food business incubator, The Plant, has been awarded a total of $1.5 million in grant funds from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). DCEO awarded 2 grants to support a comprehensive renewable energy system that will accept up to 12,000 tons of food scraps annually. Most of that material will be spent grain from an onsite craft brewery, New Chicago Brewing Company, and from other breweries around Chicago – material that is currently sent to landfills.

“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. Further, we’ll save over 3,000 tons per year in carbon dioxide output by using a completely renewable energy source,” Edel said.

By installing an anaerobic digester and combined heat and power system, The Plant will create about 380 kilowatts of electricity and 2.1 million BTU of heat – enough to meet the full energy needs of the 93,500 sq.-ft. facility. The digester will allow The Plant to become independent from the grid and produce power and heat at between one-quarter and one-third of current utility costs to its tenants. In addition to the craft brewery, The Plant has plans for a bakery and aquaponics growing systems.

“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, director of DCEO. “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 total project costs are approximately $3 million and will be completed by June 2013. About 45 percent of the grant funds are from DCEO’s Large Customer Energy Efficiency grant that was supported with funds from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The rest of the grant funds were awarded through DCEO’s Food Scrap Composting Revitalization and Advancement Program (F-SCRAP). Edel’s company, Bubbly Dynamics, LLC, will be providing matching funds and expects to qualify for about $700,000 in tax credits authorized under ARRA.