GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A roughly $350 million plan to transform West Michigan’s waste into a new industry is one step closer to reality.
Last month, the Kent County Board of Public Works approved negotiating a project development agreement with two companies interested in manufacturing coverboard for roofs, renewable energy and fertilizer from cast-off materials in Kent County.
Continuus Materials and Anaergia would anchor a new 250-acre sustainable business park just south of the South Kent Landfill, along Clyde Park Avenue near 108th Street in Kent County’s Byron Township to 146th Street in Allegan County’s Dorr Township.
The sustainable business park would also sort out recycling material, baling it for sale and reuse in the market.
“It’s unprecedented because… we’re bringing that all together in one location, which is very unique. And I think will show us not only as a leader in the Midwest, but nationally,” said Dar Baas, director of the Kent County Department of Public Works.
“This is going to be a unique opportunity for West Michigan to actually create a green sustainable industry in West Michigan,” said Tim Mroz from The Right Place economic development agency. “This is the first stone in the pond for us and where does it ripple out from there?”
WHAT WEST MICHIGAN WASTE COULD CREATE
Proposals by Continuus Materials and Anaergia were picked from a group of nine companies. They’re tasked with meeting Kent County’s goal of diverting more than 50% of the waste stream from the landfill, with a path to repurpose 90% of incoming material in the future.
“And today with our combined technologies, we will do that,” said James Condela, CEO Continuus Materials.
Continuus Materials expects to churn out 150 million square feet of Everboard each year, diverting 300 million pounds of waste from the landfill.
The company uses low-value paper fiber along with grocery bags, produce wrap and other plastic films that are difficult to recycle to create Everboard — a coverboard that has been used on more than 200 commercial roofs from Amazon to Target. Continuus Materials separates, shreds, dehydrates, blends and then uses heated pressure to compress the material.
Condela says Everboard offsets greenhouse gas emissions and can be reprocessed by Continuus Materials at the end of a roof’s life, “making it a truly circular building product.”
“That’s significant. It’s high value, it’s manufactured, it has acceptance in the marketplace and companies want more of it,” Baas said.
Anaergia plans to transform organic waste into methane that can be converted into electricity or renewable natural gas that is then injected into the energy grid. Anaergia’s process for food waste also creates digestate, a nutrient-rich material that can be used to create fertilizer.
The company uses a machine it likens to “a giant garlic press.” Sorted waste goes into a chamber where it’s squeezed at nearly 7,000 pounds per square inch. The wet fraction from food waste goes into an anaerobic digester to be converted into methane. The dry applicable material is used for coverboard.
Anaergia COO Dr. Yaniv Scherson says the company also has an optional method from eliminating PFAS chemicals from the digestate using pyrolysis.
‘A MODEL FOR THE COUNTRY’
The price tag for the entire project is hefty. Baas estimates building a Class A business park site will cost about $18 million and plant construction would cost upwards of $340 million. Kent County would likely seek bonds for its $70 million portion of the project; Continuus Materials and Anaergia would cover the rest of the cost. The state also announced in September that it has allocated $4 million for the project.
Baas says the project is the largest public-private investment of its kind for the Kent County DPW.
“This is a flagship opportunity. If this can be done in Michigan, it can be done anywhere. And this is a facility that’s truly a material and property facility of the future, a world flagship. A lot of eyes in the industry are on this. It’s really a model for Michigan and a model for the country,” Scherson said.
Stakeholders in Kent and Allegan counties have been shaping the vision for a sustainable business park for several years. Baas is optimistic the development will attract ancillary companies, bringing high-tech, good-paying jobs to the area.
Mroz says The Right Place is already getting calls from interested businesses. He expects skilled workers will follow.
“We have seen over the last five to seven years, at least, a concerted effort that future talent that wants to relocate… wants to be part of communities that understand what it’s like to care for the environment, wants to work for companies … that have environmental commitments beyond just profitability. And so as we look to attract talent, it’s initiatives like this sustainable business park that are going to make this thing happen,” Mroz told the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum last month.
“We just see it as a real catalyst. We see it as a real opportunity for supporting companies, and to meet the sustainability goals of a lot of local companies and companies that may want to move here because of what we have here,” Baas said.
COUNTDOWN TO LANDFILL CAPACITY
Time is ticking. Crews just finished creating the last waste storage cells in the South Kent landfill. The landfill is expected to reach capacity by 2030.
Baas says construction and design on the sustainable business park would need to start by 2024 so the county can begin diverting trash.
“We see landfill as an old technology. A necessary one, but there’s so much value being thrown away. A mixed waste processing facility like this can really be a game changer and we think we’ll attract businesses here, retain businesses here,” Baas said. “Residents will really appreciate that what they’re putting at the curb or what businesses are putting in their dumpster will be used again, and won’t be thrown away for disposal in a landfill where we lose that value forever.”
If all goes well with negotiations, the companies and county will move into the final design phase and start building out the infrastructure needed for the business park next year.