top of page

Industrial Symbiosis Experts Weigh in During CSI's First Whistle Stop Tour Event

Raymond, WA was the focus of CSI's First Whistle Stop Tour event, When More Industry is Also Pro-Environment: How Industrial Symbiosis Can Multiply Jobs and Environmental Benefits.

Raymond/South Bend is a resilient community that has been growing its adaptive muscles to pro-actively respond to economic disruption. In 2017 the Washington State legislature appropriated $1.5 million for the state’s Department of Natural Resources to help the Port of Willapa Harbor replace a shuttered sawmill with a new business venture that could grow back the good natural resource jobs that had been lost. The funding included $100,000 for CSI to help the community conceptualize an “Energy Innovation District” (EID) built around a new anchor business processing a sustainable forest resource.

The EID would harness the principles of industrial symbiosis to build shared infrastructure to harness waste heat, renewable resources, and organic materials to supply affordable and reliable inputs for a cluster of producer businesses generating value-add products, multiplying the economic and environmental benefits from the project.

To learn more about this project and how it's evolving, you can watch the video from CSI's recent Virtual Whistle Stop Tour Event or you can read the whole story here.

Our fantastic engaged audience asked many questions about industrial symbiosis during the event. Since we didn't have enough time to answer all of them during the live event, we figured we'd continue the conversation here:

From Peter Moulton: Q: Modern pellet mills can be designed to efficiently use nearly all excess heat on site while providing power to the local electrical grid. Distributed generation could be particularly valuable in rural areas concerned about their energy resiliency. Is electrical generation part of the pellet mill plan?

A:  For Raymond, our original thinking was to provide energy to the grid for base load, to help cope with increased use by marijuana growers. The widespread adoption of LED lights by that industry quickly helped reduce those new loads. Local power resiliency remains a concern. At the same time, we realized that once you have a pellet mill, you could have base load, peak load, or heat/steam—in a heat or steam district. Also, biochar. Now we know that this one new industry, a pellet mill, could be operated in such a way to benefit other local businesses. While Raymond gains one new business in the pellet mill, it also gains future flexibility.

- KATHLEEN SAYCE, Ecological Consultant and Botanist

A: Hi Peter. The future build-out for the Energy Innovation District includes heating/cooling energy, micro-grid electrical capability, and fiber for smart systems. We’re starting with thermal.  As you know, Peter, these complementary systems allow for blending of renewable and conventional sources of electrical and thermal energy.  If the pellet plant becomes more efficient by reusing thermal waste, it would be fantastic to bring in a fuel cell and run it using renewable hydrogen (once Grant PUD gets their pilot underway).  These systems could then provide renewable electricity and heating/cooling that could be used by existing and new tenants. - STEVE MODDEMEYER, Principal at CollinsWoerman

A: Without energy we could not process a thing so thus, we import hydro, LPG, CNG, gas, oil, etc.  We need to see these as energy bridges into the future in which other energies take hold in ways we can’t implement at the current level. Solid state thermocouples, battery storage, dispersed wind, solar, etc. all will play some part. - JIM SAYCE, Director at the Port of Willapa Harbor

From Troy Vassos: Q: Thank you Per.  I appreciate the morphing nature of your explanation.  However, for the whistle-stop example it appears that the concept is to develop new industries around the waste sawdust problem - essentially an eco-industrial park development concept in selecting or attracting the industries.  Or am I misunderstanding the proposal there?

A: Yes, this is close to a “greenfield” project, given that the anchor business (pellet mill) does not yet exist.  However, as Jim pointed out, they plan to use existing machinery for pellet production, so it’s not entirely new infrastructure.  Based on opportunities to capture waste energy and materials from that enterprise, new opportunities like mushroom and algae production, and area septage treatment emerged, which sets the Port up to attract new businesses that could fit into the larger symbiosis. - TED STURDEVANT, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure

A: Hi Troy: the waste sawdust is just one of the possible sources for the Energy Innovation District at the Port.  By looking at the broad range of inputs and byproducts from whatever business locates there, we will discover more opportunities beyond sawdust.  By co-locating users like algae or mushroom production, we end up creating full use of the “waste” thermal energy from the pellet mill, even though it is using existing equipment that may not be as efficient.  The diversity of uses and users, inputs and byproducts also make the area more resilient to changes beyond the port.  If for some reason sawdust is no longer available, then having a diverse user base allows for this timber town of Raymond to have a more resilient economy. - STEVE MODDEMEYER

From Jayson Antonoff: Q: Can you talk some more about the comparative viability of creating energy exchange streams vs. material streams?  Per noted that you may need more expertise when working with specific materials, but Steve's diagram for Raymond showed that even in a "small town" environment like that the emphasis appears to be on symbiotic repurposing of materials.

A: Best not to limit your thinking to energy OR materials, but to think about both in all locales. - KATHLEEN SAYCE

A: Hi Jayson. By looking at the inputs and the byproducts of a preferred process (making pellets in this case), we end up looking at both energy exchange and material stream opportunities. Inputs for the pellet mill include thermal energy, capital, electricity, trained or trainable employees, and raw feed stock. Byproducts include waste heat, CO2 emissions from any conventional heating sources, and a few others. What can we do with waste heat and CO2? Well, algae consume CO2 and need heat. Mushrooms need less heat and emit CO2 themselves. All three types of systems need trained or trainable employees. Each type of input or byproduct opportunity will require specialized expertise in that system, but the overall concept is energy and material stream neutral (although it ought to be focused on equitable, renewable, and non-polluting solutions). - STEVE MODDEMEYER

A: Material waste is fascinating.  Imagine getting a call to assist in the export by barge of 1000+ yards of oyster shell. We should be processing it here. - JIM SAYCE

From Steve Sundquist: Q: In addition to requiring some new thinking and better questions, do you perceive there is capital available (public and private) when these opportunities are identified?

A: The short answer is we hope to create a new “business as usual” where financial, social and policy considerations drive affordable capital toward these triple-bottom-line, higher value investments, over conventional, single-challenge/single-solution investments.  We have work to do to get there; currently project proponents must navigate these unconventional projects through what we call the “conventional thicket.”  Integrated, multi-value design is the first crucial step, but we have a lot of work ahead to bend siloed regulatory and financial systems toward rewarding, rather than rejecting, integrated, multi-value solutions that defy siloed definition. CSI is currently in discussion with potential finance partners to explore ways to connect great projects to affordable capital, and we have longer-term designs on supporting regulatory and funding agencies in their evolution toward supporting innovative, integrated and more complex projects. - TED STURDEVANT

From Fidelma McGinn: Q: for you think that the Danish culture and values enables the IS concepts to take root, versus the US where there might be more resistance to a collaborative approach?

A: Hi Fedelma.  I can’t speak for Denmark, but as an American there are many examples of collaboration that are All American: team sports, religious groups, community service organizations and more come to mind. Creating opportunities at each scale for Americans to excel and collaborate should be an easy lift. If two companies can become more profitable by collaborating or co-locating at a facility that provides resources they need, it should be a slam dunk. There will always be iconoclasts, which is good. The outliers in any species provide additional capacity for innovation and adaptation when conditions change. And as conditions are surely changing now, the ability for Americans to get through these tough times will surely include adapting and collaborating. - STEVE MODDEMEYER

From Kimberly Larson: Q: Industrial symbiosis is so much about sharing, yet our economies mostly reward based on one biz having a competitive advantage over others and not sharing (ideas, trade secrets, data, hardware, etc.).   What do you all see as the biggest barriers (or the best paths not explored) here to entice more to embrace collaboration vs. fear and still succeed economically?

A: In IS, there is not direct competition from the same kinds of businesses, side by side, rather there are beneficial associations of different businesses in one locale. As Steve and Per both showed in their graphics, waste from one business becomes raw material for another. Shared use of energy networks and water networks (potable, cold, or hot) can form due to proximity. Industrial secrets are not an issue where adjacent businesses differ. Methodical thinking about how a waste material can be reused, several waste streams recombined, who can share a power network, share a heating or cooling network, all lead to better shared awareness of optimal paths. The biggest barrier to success is not thinking about alternatives for a specific site/port/community. - KATHLEEN SAYCE

A: As Kathleen points out, some of the issues you raise are fortunately sidestepped when co-located businesses are complementary rather than competitive.  But the model can also apply when competition is present; the Global Institute for Innovation Districts speaks to the value of “collaborating to compete.”  But you raise a great question about the human barriers to this new level of collaboration and resource sharing, which are real.  Kathleen’s anecdote about the fruit processor who was resistant to new approaches is illustrative of the very common, all too human tendency to do what we’ve always known and to stay within the space over which you have control, rather than sharing control and trying new approaches.  But the bottom-line numbers speak for themselves, and as we see more of these projects spring up, the economic case for collaboration should only grow stronger. - TED STURDEVANT

From Carol Steinfeld: Q: In California, one group tried to launch the “EcoCloud” —a database of enterprises’ outputs—so matches could be made. (This was based on the water-oriented Industrial Watershed hub.) But this didn’t last, partly due to declining manufacturing in northern Calif. Have the presenters worked with any central hubs for cataloging resource outputs this way so matches can be made? Thanks.

A: Hi Carol.  Early in the Port of Willapa process we looked at an existing database of resource outputs. The challenge had been keeping it up to date as yesterday’s availability of X tons of this or that could be gone by 2:00 o'clock tomorrow. A cloud-based approach that could be somehow continuously updated seems reasonable - kind of an eBay for materials with some artificial intelligence to sniff out available resources could be useful, but insufficient. It seems to me that starting with place is an extremely important first step. Where, exactly are we located and what are the resources (natural and human) and feedstocks around us? The image of spinning on your heel in a place and just looking at what you see is a start. Then consider the possible inputs, outputs, and byproducts linked to a specific existing industry or new proposal starts opening the possibilities. - STEVE MODDEMEYER

From Nina Carter: Q: For those of us in Olympia, is anything like this happening with the Brewery Industrial site in Tumwater?

A: We aren’t aware of any such efforts locally, but we’re hearing about brewery-related wastewater challenges in various communities.  Our bottom line is about showing the world what works when it comes to advancing sustainable, multi-value solutions, and we’re always on the lookout for opportunities to leverage specific projects, like our brewery-related project in Stevenson, to solve larger regional challenges.  We’re paying attention to communities like Astoria, OR where they are facing such challenges with the growth of their (excellent) local brewing industry. - TED STURDEVANT

From Nina Carter:

Q: Has anyone thought about how to add this concept to local land use planning efforts or the statewide Growth Management Act?

A: Hi Nina.  Well, sorta, maybe. In Seattle, the Office of Planning and Community Development is currently looking at the possibility to create a new industrial land use category based on a “makers’ district” concept. The idea is that all industry is not “heavy” industry and many currently zoned industrial areas might be able to host a range of uses including workforce housing and makers spaces. Industrial symbiosis concepts are included as well. Seattle’s Stadium District and working waterfront are considering blending a decarbonization electrification strategy for Port operations with a thermal district for the Stadiums. But within that larger symbiotic relationship are smaller, more site-specific opportunities. For example, could a co-located commercial bakery, pottery kiln, and glass blowing facility share thermal pre-heat and waste heat energy with a rooftop greenhouse that grows salad greens that supply the restaurant next door that serves the fresh bread and salad on the pottery that the kiln fired under the lights that the glass blowers created? It seems that other cities in the State of Washington and beyond could create their own examples to encourage and inspire these sorts of integrated approaches into their land use and capital spending planning. - STEVE MODDEMEYER

From Will Fantle: Q: Do you happen to have any books or other resources you would recommend for learning more about industrial symbiosis?

A: Here are a few links to get you started.  You’ll find that Dr. Marian Chertow, Director of the Industrial Environmental Management Program at Yale University, has done seminal work on IS in the United States. Interestingly, the bottom link describes more recent thinking that updates and broadens working definitions of IS, which shows that our conception of IS is evolving.  You’ll also find that most roads lead back to Kalundborg for inspiration, which makes it even more terrific that Per Möller was able to join us from Kalundborg! - TED STURDEVANT

bottom of page