Venture Puts Sustainability To Work

August 30, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — In teaming up to build and operate a new center dedicated to sustainable business practices and education, Metropolitan Hospital and Aquinas College want to further push emerging energy technologies that they believe are good for both environment and business.

Backed with a $2.75 million federal grant to a Novi firm that develops and manages eco-friendly energy systems, MetroHospital and Aquinas want to demonstrate and teach sustainable business practices that reduce energy consumption and promote increased operating efficiency.

The Center for Sustainable Energy will include a power plant producing thermal and electric power that, according to one Metro executive, will generate savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in operating the new $150 million suburban hospital campus that Metro is developing.

To MetroHospital, the joint venture with Aquinas will help push sustainable business practices at the new hospital.

“It really allows us to make perfect sense of our future,” said Mike Faas, Metro’s president and CEO.

“Partnering with Aquinas will allow us to show leadership in considering how our decisions have an impact on the environment and the communities in which we live.”

The 45,000-square-foot energy center will house Aquinas’ new undergraduate program in sustainable business programs.

Likewise, the center will be the site of the hospital’s high-tech energy-producing system and management functions, while serving as a “real-life learning lab” for students.

Aquinas President Harry Knopke said he envisions the center becoming a showcase for new sustainable energy technologies and “a model of sustainability.”

“It builds on unique capabilities and unique facilities,” Knopke said.

The first phase of the center, featuring a thermal and electric power plant that will power the hospital site, is targeted for completion in late 2005.

The second phase will consist of amenities to house AquinasCollege’s undergraduate Sustainable Business Program.

Novi Energy Inc., Metro’s energy manager on the hospital project, will manage the plant. The consulting firm has received $2.75 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to help develop and operate the facility.

Novi Energy specializes in industrial energy systems and MetroHospital is the firm’s first non-industrial project. Novi’s president, Anand Gangadharan, said it also is a new opportunity to further prove sustainable energy systems in a commercial development.

“We’re putting in tried, tested and true technology that will deliver performance,” Gangadharan said. “This is really on the edge of something that is ready to go up.”

A combination of factors led the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to award the demonstration grant to Novi Energy for the Metro/Aquinas project.

The hospital campus will have around-the-clock activity and is a multi-use, both of which will represent a good test to the energy technologies planned, said Jan Berry, a research and development manager at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The partnership with AquinasCollege also adds a vital education and outreach component that’s needed to generate exposure for the sustainable energy technologies, Berry said. The goal is to prove the effectiveness of the technologies and use the Metro/Aquinas project, which she described as “very creative,” as a model for others around the nation to replicate.

“All of that is real important in trying to get the word out on these technologies that are a well-kept secret, that we’d like not to be a secret,” Berry said.

The Metro/Aquinas venture is exactly the kind of partnership that U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids and a long-time environmental advocate, wants to see occur more often.

Ehlers likens ventures such as the center to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension program that quickly takes innovations and new technologies in agriculture from the laboratory into commercial application.

“Over 30 years, a great deal has been said about it, but very little has been done about it,” Ehlers said during a press conference last week to announce the sustainable energy venture in which he noted the sizable engineering challenges to overcome in developing the new technologies.

“I can tell you, you’re going to have a tough road ahead, but please, stick with it. And make it work,” he said.    

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