Refinery being built in Walker

April 3, 2011
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But it won’t be there long — and this one isn’t your grandfather’s stinky old oil refinery. It’s an experimental biorefinery that will turn corn leaves and stalks (“corn stover”) into ethanol, a project funded by a $20.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Andy J. Egan Co., a mechanical contractor well-known on construction sites around West Michigan for generations, is about to start building the modular “corn-to-cellulosic pilot biorefinery plant” at the Egan manufacturing facility on Waldorf Street in Walker. After the biorefinery tests out, the tanks, pipes and other pieces will be taken apart and shipped via 16 truckloads to Visalia, Calif., where it will be put back together “like an erector set,” according to Jorri Smith of Egan.

Egan received the contract to build the biorefinery from EdeniQ Inc. of Visalia. In December 2009, DOE awarded the $20.5 million grant to Logos Technologies Inc. of Arlington, Va., and EdeniQ for the “Corn-to-Cellulosic Migration Project.”

According to an EdeniQ news release, the goal of DOE’s Corn-to-Cellulosic Migration Project is to “focus the migration of billions of dollars of capital” already invested in the corn ethanol industry “toward cost-effective production of greener ethanol from corn stover, switch grass and woodchips.”

“This project is part of the ongoing effort to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, spur the creation of the domestic biorefining industry, and provide new clean-tech jobs throughout the country,” said the DOE project officer, Gene Petersen.

“A project of this size has a huge impact on our company,” said Pat Heffron, the Egan project manager.

Tom Jasper, president of Egan, wouldn’t divulge how much the biorefinery will cost to make, but said that contract is a “substantial portion” of the overall DOE grant.

Founded in Grand Rapids in 1919 and owned by the Jasper family since 1932, Egan expanded its fabrication service from only in-house projects to outside customers in 2001.

Egan has about 200 to 220 employees; slightly more than 50 work in the company’s 56,000-square-foot fabrication plant.

Smith, Egan’s marketing coordinator, said the firm began working in the ethanol industry when ethanol refining began to boom about eight years ago, and has been involved with about 40 or more plants across the country. She said the CCM project is its largest modular biorefinery job to date.

Downtown Hudsonville

It’s no cinch to put your finger precisely on downtown Hudsonville, but the proposed new Downtown Zoning Ordinance might change that someday.

So where exactly is downtown Hudsonville?

“That’s a very good question. A lot of people ask that question — ‘Is there a corner’ that marks the spot?’” said Paul E. Sachs, assistant director of the Ottawa County Planning & Performance Improvement Department.

“Probably not at this point,” he said.

A public hearing on the new ordinance will be held April 20.

Over the last two years, Ottawa County and Hudsonville officials have been developing a first-of-its-kind Downtown Zoning Ordinance, described by the County Planning & Performance Improvement Department as “an intuitive planning document that will enhance the ability of community leaders to manage new growth and development.”

Hudsonville Mayor Don Van Doeselaar said that “the quality and practicality of the new Downtown Ordinance is a testament to the extensive collaboration and effort that went into developing the document.”

The ordinance is heavy on images — more than 600, both photography and artists’ renderings — that convey the new zoning standards with respect to architecture, setbacks and parking, as well as signage, landscaping and lighting. The ordinance also incorporates incentives for developers to construct LEED-certified buildings, expand public open space and use green technology (e.g. wind, solar, geothermal energy).

Sachs said the ordinance will make planning easier for local officials. It makes zoning standards more understandable to developers, architects, business owners and residents, “and it ensures that new development projects in Hudsonville exhibit the highest standards of urban design.”

Signs of change

Gentex Vice President of Human Resources Bruce Los spoke to the Rotary Club of Grand Rapids last week and rather significantly remarked that, as a company, Gentex has always been deliberate about keeping a low profile, as have many West Michigan companies.

“That’s changed,” he said, noting that a low profile has been a hindrance in hiring the several hundred high-tech and specialized engineering employees for whom it is desperately searching.

Los also commented on the company’s appreciation for the Business Journal’s 2010 Newsmaker of the Year designation (reported in February), and noted it has helped in the company recruitment efforts.

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