Brothers Jesse and Samuel Evans are bringing their New Chicago Beer Co. to the city, and along with it, some new ideas about how to run an energy-sustainable business.
The Evans brothers are building a completely sustainable production brewery in the Whiskey Point section of the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago in collaboration with The Plant Chicago, a 93,500 square foot former meatpacking facility that has been converted into a net-zero energy vertical farm.
“We were at a Whole Foods in Evanston having brunch and there wasn’t much to read. But there was this magazine called Mindful Metropolis, which is a conscious community magazine with a lot of yoga and that kind of thing. They had this story about The Plant in the very early days,” Jesse Evans said. “On the caption of the story we saw that they were planning on having breweries. So, we decided to contact them, partially to see who these guys were and partially to try and see if we could be one of the breweries.”
The Evans brothers contacted Executive Director John Edel and took a tour of The Plant.
“When we got to the end of the tour we ended up at this four or five thousand square-foot hall with 18-foot ceilings and he goes ‘this is the brewery.’ We had kind of realized by that point that there wasn’t a brewery in there yet. So we were asking about it and found out that he was looking for the right brewery to move in. So we were like ‘we’re the right brewery’, and that’s really kind of how it started.“
The Plant is still in the process of being built, however, some parts of the structure, such as the vertical farm, are already operational. When complete, one-third of the space 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 plans to create 125 jobs in Chicago’s economically distressed Back of the Yards neighborhood. The new jobs will require no fossil fuel and neither will the building itself. 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.
“I realized that this is going to be at net carbon zero brewery and that was really exciting to us,” Evans said.
Funded in part by $1.5 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, The Plant will install an anaerobic digestion and a combined heat and power system to operate completely off the grid. Anaerobic digestion is a recycling system that uses bacteria to break down food waste to generate methane gas which, in turn, powers a turbine that generates electricity.
By 2015, the enclosed, odorless anaerobic digester will consume 27 tons of food waste a day including all of the waste produced in the facility and by neighboring food manufacturers.
The New Chicago Beer Co. will be doing their part to keep The Plant running. The brewing kettles used by the Evans brothers will depend on steam instead of burning non-renewable natural gas from the grid. The carbon dioxide from the fermentation process will be captured and transmitted to hydroponic operations. Thanks to this system, the brewery will be able to churn out strong ales, their specialty, with a virtually net-zero cost to the environment.
“We already had a tendency to do things the right way, but we had no idea that the whole system could be this fantastic,” said Evans who was already conscious of sustainability thanks to a spell starting a much smaller professional brewery, Lucky Hand, with his brother in northern California before moving back home to Chicago to be closer to family.
According to Evans, New Chicago will be releasing its first beers over the next couple months. They specialize in what they call strong ales, meaning that the brews contain a slightly higher than usual alcohol content, and will be using local and seasonal ingredients from around the Chicago area. They will also source some ingredients from inside The Plant itself.
New Chicago has recently signed a distribution deal that will make their beers available on draft and in bottles across the city in the coming year.
“Having that alternative energy aspect to our brewery is really kind of something we like to say is to put on the back label,” Evans said. “We don’t want to make it a big deal because if we can do things this way then it’s probably a good idea. It’s the right thing to do.”
The city’s coal-fired power plants have been the center of controversy for years. From Environmental Protection Agency standards, to the Clean Air Act, to being called out as the city’s largest causes of pollution, where have the last 10 years of Fisk and Crawford taken Chicago? What’s next?
We’ve all heard about the electric car craze, but as city-livin’ folk, we haven’t been too convinced of their magic environment-saving powers. However, as increasing gas prices continue to clear out our wallets, we had to wonder: Are electric cars really the next big thing in the auto industry, and is it feasible to own an electric car here in Chicago?
Survey says yes, if you can afford them.
Our conventional gasoline automobiles do emit air pollutants and greenhouse gases, unfortunately. And aside from contributing to smog, gasoline costs are consistently on the rise.
“When you go to the gas pump and put a bunch of money in it, wouldn’t you rather not do that? Wouldn’t you rather have a more efficient product than a less efficient product?” said Ted Lowe, director of the Chicago chapter of the Fox Valley Electric Auto Association, a non-profit organization that promotes the technology and use of electric-powered vehicles.
The Fox Valley Electric Auto Association actually converts gasoline cars into electric ones. Pretty cool, right? Lowe hasn’t filled up at a conventional gas station in years.
But our Honda Accords and Ford Explorers get us where we need to go in a convenient way. Some electric cars have a limit on how far you can go before they needed recharging. You can use an electric car to run errands, drive to and from work or go shopping, for example, but long-distance travel might be out of the question without a charging station. Gasoline vehicles have been the go-to option for longer trips. Stop at a gas station, fill up and go along your merry way.
That is changing, apparently.
“There’s a merging technology that will extend the range of electric cars, basically getting the advantage of both cars, both technologies,” Lowe said. “That’s called a hybrid.”
Meet the Chevrolet Volt ($40,000), the latest electric car. It’s different from other hybrid vehicles, like the Toyota Prius.
The Prius is actually a gasoline car with an electric motor assist, whereas the Volt uses only an electric motor. The Volt uses gasoline only to recharge the batteries when they get low. It only takes 10 hours for a complete charge, according to the Chevrolet website.
“It’s genius as far as I’m concerned,” Lowe said. “I think it will be the model for many future cars. It’s clean, efficient, quiet, low pollution.”
The advantage of electric propulsion over gasoline propulsion is that it’s twice as efficient. The disadvantage? You pay a steeper price up front to buy an electric vehicle, though you probably save on gas costs over time.
Hopefully, that will change. This year, 12 electric car models from different manufacturers are coming out for sale. The all-electric Nissan Leaf ($35,200 as of December 2011) is also gaining in popularity, as are a few others. The Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi i MiEV will both be featured among others at the 2012 Chicago Auto Show Feb. 10 through Feb. 19.
By the end of 2012, there will be 200 to 300 electric car charging stations scattered throughout Chicago at convenient locations like Walgreen’s Pharmacy and Whole Foods Market, Lowe said.
Already own an electric car? Awesome! Find a charging station near you using this map.
The FarmVille Effect. It’s what they’re calling it these days.
“It’s the ‘everyone’s a winner’ kind of thinking. That psychology incentivizes people to do things that they wouldn’t normally do, to talk to each other and compare each other’s progress,” said Hafiz Huda, who has worked in the sphere of gaming techniques for almost ten years.
And now apps are actually getting people to look at their energy usage. Which makes sense for a topic that can sometimes sail right over our heads.
“Game mechanics are being applied to things that aren’t usually as fun,” said Huda, vice president and executive creative director at Infuz, a digital creative agency. “If you can make homework more fun and it’s a game, then you usually perform better.”
It’s the reasoning behind many new apps on energy efficiency. With a greater focus on a more engaging consumer experience, companies, including Facebook, are rolling out gamified energy apps this year. The social media juggernaut’s energy app will encourage Facebook users to compare their home’s energy input with friends, neighbors and against the national average.
Apps can help break down complicated information into bite-sized pieces and focus on a very niche area, whether that means you’re interested in starting a green business, where to find the closest electric car charging station or simply ways to lower your energy bill every month. There’s app for all of those. Of course there is.
In need of your own energy app? Take a look at the Chicago-based apps below. The following three were among the finalists in this year’s Apps for Metro Chicago Illinois competition facilitated by the Metro Chicago Information Center.
Light Bulb Finder
An extra $120 in your pocket every year? Yes, please. The developers of the Light Bulb Finder app claim that making the simple switch from incandescent to CFL or LED light bulbs can shave that much money off your energy bills each year. The app’s goal is to make the switch as seamless as possible.
Don’t know what is what when it comes to our light-emitting friends? You can input the fixture and current light bulb you’re trying to replace, and the app will tell you what you need to buy with a picture and everything. Check out the app’s demo video below:
Parking. The word seems to have a groan ingrained in it. It just seems to be an eternal problem in urban centers like Chicago. From an energy standpoint, it’s pretty obvious that it would be more efficient to drive immediately to an open parking spot (even if it’s three blocks away) than to circle around the block a number of times with all those lovely exhaust fumes trailing behind you.
FasPark is an app just for Chicagoans looking for a parking spot. Enter in your desired address, and it will tell you where you can find an open spot. Then it will do double duty and serve as a GPS to tell you how to get there. It’s easy to use, and the app’s developers said that in their experiments, the app saves between 20 and 50 percent of drivers’ search time.
See how it works in the app’s demo video below:
Both a social network and online gaming app, Ghabit addresses energy in the larger context of everything green. The app allows you to easily connect with other people and track and compare your green habits with theirs. Members are told what the forward-reaching impacts of their green habits will be and earn rewards when they reach certain green goals.
A sort of green version of Facebook, Ghabit encourages ongoing continuous use but can also serve as a bit of green inspiration through its Gidea section that cultivates innovative and creative green solutions. To learn more, click on the app’s demo video below:
So where exactly does the City of Chicago’s power come from?
The majority is from coal and nuclear energy. According to the 2011 ComEd Environmental disclosure statement, which measures energy consumption in the city from Oct.1, 2010 to Sept.30, 2011: 44 percent came from coal, 40 percent from nuclear, 12 percent form natural gas and the remain four percent came from sustainable sources such as solar, wind, biomass and hydro power. ComEd provides power for 3.8 million customers in northern Illinois, roughly 70 percent of the state’s population.
This may change in the relatively near future however. In recent years, an increasing amount of pressure has been put on the city to close the Crawford and Fisk coal plants.
“Recently grass roots efforts and legislation have been focused on trying to close coal plants within the city limits, and a lot of attention has been drawn to the negative health effects that can result from having a carbon emitting power station near population centers,” Villano said.
According to Cindy Klein-Banai, Associate Chancellor for Sustainability at University of Illinois at Chicago, the city is moving in a renewable direction.
“I think that its making strides toward being more sustainable,” Klein-Banai said. “There are some concerns though with some resources, like the coal fire power plants and the pollution that they generate and the carbon emissions in particular. Nuclear is clean in terms of carbon but comes with different concerns.”
“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” She said.
Offshore wind energy from Lake Michigan has been under consideration by Evanston and the City of Chicago, but that is still a long way off in regards to actual implementation, Villano said.
He also pointed out that solar companies, such as SoCore Energy, are making solar cost competitive with our traditional fuel sources in the city.
Sustainability may have its supporters, but without government assistance and the proper legislation the city’s small steps to sustainability may remain just that.
“In regards to our overall energy mix, the city doesn’t have much to say about it. The state and the federal government have most of the leverage in regards to increasing support for renewables. In general, some easy things for the city to do to make it easier on (for example) solar installers is to pass bills to streamline the solar installation permitting process.”
Villano said that while sustainable energy is important to the city’s future, financial factors that will play a major role in years to come.
“Cost. Our electricity is generally very cheap, so to see renewable energy implemented here we will need to see legislation passed to support this mix,” He said.