West Michigan Alternative Fuel Capital

February 21, 2003
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West Michigan is on its way to becoming the alternative fuel capital of the world.

While that’s a bold statement, it’s only a tad optimistic.

The exciting collaboration between Grand Valley State University and Muskegon on the hydrogen fuel cell plant in the lakeshore technology park, Edison Landing, may be the ignitor needed to fuel more important work in West Michigan.

Need further proof? Check out the city of Grand Rapids’ project that involves production of biodiesel fuel from used commercial fryer oil. Today’s cover story in the Focus section shows that alternative fuel production is ripe with possibilities.

Grand Rapids soon will become the first city in the state to try out biodiesel, at least in a limited capacity, in its fleet of vehicles.

The initial results are promising.

What’s even more promising, however, is the amount of collaboration and teamwork going into the project. Sierra Environmental Consultants, which owns the conversion equipment, Sustainable Research Group, Crystal Flash, GVSU’s Annis Water Resource Institute, the Center for Environmental Study and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality all are on board as partners in the endeavor. That’s a lot of expertise in a field that has a limited history.

Even more telling is the funding for the project, which came from a $20,000 grant from the Michigan Biomass Energy Program. In these tight economic times, nonprofits don’t just throw their money at pie-in-the-sky plans. There has to be substance to the proposal.

Now, there is an entrepreneurial opportunity right here in West Michigan. At the end of the grant program, the project team hopes to find an entrepreneur in West Michigan to take the equipment and all the market research the group has done and start a biodiesel business.

“We’d be willing to work with them in trying to set them up in business,” said Dave Ver Sluis, president of Sierra Environmental Consultants. “We would help them get loans or whatever they needed to do to keep the project going.”

There probably is room for only one such business in the Grand Rapids area, at least for now.

But with much of the legwork — and crucial trial-and-error testing — already done, a substantial part of the risk has been removed.

Hopefully, a West Michigan entity will step forward to continue this important project, keeping the region on track toward becoming the alternative fuel capital of the world. 

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