If you’re reading this, then the world didn’t end. Huh. I’m imagining an in-progress design out there somewhere with the design cooling day listed as December 21.



When AHR/ASHRAE festivities roll around, I always think of Chicago, since it hosts the week more often than anywhere else. I also think of the industry’s longer-term ambitions that we hear about each year, like net-zero buildings. So I thought I’d poke around and see how things are developing on both fronts.

I already had something in my inbox about The Plant, coincidentally. Built in a 93,500-sq-ft old meatpacking facility on Chicago’s West Side, this project is focused on sustainability in multiple ways, from the work to be done there to how its energy is managed. It describes itself (www.plantchicago.com/about) as a “net-zero energy vertical farm and food business operation.” In terms of what The Plant produces, its targets include tilapia (yes, fish farming), mushrooms, beer, and kombucha tea. None of those choices is haphazard; each plays into the chemistry literally fueling the efficiency strategy in some fashion. Chicken and bees may also enter into the equation.

On the energy side, things get interesting when you have a look at the handy diagram at the URL above, illustrating the relationships between the facility’s energy, waste, and various products. You’ve got a turbine generator fueling light to grow the plants that both provide oxygen for the kombucha brewery and cleaned water to the fish, for example, and a CHP system.

The spent barley from the brewery also goes to the fish, while the brewery’s spent grain heads to the building’s anaerobic digester, which is as close to a heart of the system as things get. That’s just a couple of slices of this cleverly interconnected plan, which also includes taking in food waste from neighboring businesses and selling fertilizer (a couple of steps removed from the anaerobic digester) to outside soil blender concerns. It really is worth a look, if for no other reason than to show each of us we can probably be a little more creative than we have been in what we do.

(Hey, I just noticed there’s another link on that page to a succinct video helping to bring this diagram to life, hosted by Jim Parks of “This Green Minute.” I’ll see if we can post the video on our site, but for now, you’ll definitely find it by going to YouTube and searching for “my beer feeds your fish.”)



The Plant isn’t the only project making net-zero strides in Chicago. Readers of a certain age who used to read the comics every morning will chuckle at the URL for consulting firm Farr Associates (www.farrside.com). They worked on an unusual project themselves — designing a new home for Harmony House, an organization caring for the area’s injured, abandoned, or needy cats in a variety of ways.

Harmony House had outgrown its original space after a few decades. Farr designed what was set to be both LEED® Platinum and net-zero as of last July’s opening, while doubling the space of the previous facility. This design, as you might expect and hope for a cageless space hosting dozens of cats, relies on an advanced air quality monitoring systems using both CO2 and air quality sensors. Farr’s page reports that “solar thermal panels, photovoltaics, and geothermal wells provide hot water, electricity, and heating and cooling for the 7,000 sq ft facility.”

No word on how fast they go through filters over there. Will report back. ES