Spokane Journal of Business

Establishing an eco district in Spokane

Group explores industrial symbiosis idea for large chunk of land on the West Plains

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-Natasha Nellis
Ben Stuckart and Catherine Olsen are among those wanting to establish an eco district near the Waste To Energy Plant, background.

Several public agencies are working together to establish a sustainable industrial park on the West Plains, pioneering here a concept that goes by many names elsewhere, including industrial symbiosis, business ecosystem, or ecodistrict.

The city of Spokane, the county, and the West Plains-Airport Area Public Development Authority are collaborating to establish such a park that would enable businesses and resources to create a sustainable business ecosystem. 

“(Industrial symbiosis) is where you co-locate businesses and resources together where what comes out of one business is the input for the manufacturing stream for the next one down the line,” says Catherine Olsen, sustainability director for the city. “So, it’s like a natural ecosystem, but it’s a business ecosystem that moves materials and products around like an ecosystem.”

For example, some waste flowing into the Spokane Waste to Energy plant could be used to create renewable biogas to power the city’s garbage trucks, says Olsen, which carry the materials to the Waste to Energy and recycling plants to be processed. The materials produced by the recycling plant, such as glass and plastic, could be used as input material in the manufacturing of products. 

Then heat that is produced from the plant could theoretically be used to create a central heating system able to heat all the structures in the park, eliminating the need for individual boilers, she says. Such a dynamic would create a sustainable ecosystem where all the different parts are dependent on one another. 

Todd Coleman, executive director of the PDA, says the industrial park is expected to be located on roughly 200 acres owned by the Spokane International Airport near the Waste to Energy plant at 2900 S. Geiger Blvd., that already has the necessary infrastructure in place to accommodate this idea.

Coleman says the PDA is working with the Seattle-based Center for Sustainable Infrastructure to establish a master planning contract that would help focus and narrow the vision for the park. The contract would create an evaluation that would examine what products are available through the plant and recycling center that could be used in manufacturing and what companies should be targeted that would best benefit from the partnership.

The first draft was expected to be available last Friday, June 14, and Coleman says he expects the final document will be ready by fall.

Coleman says he hopes to have the first tenant in the park this year but says members of the airport board are still hesitant to pursue the idea without an established vision for the project, which could hold that timeline back.

As for the types of tenants the park is looking to attract, Coleman says companies using solar, wind, glass, plastic, those developing robotics, aerospace technology, or other technology likely would be able to use a resource from either the recycling center or the Waste to Energy plant.

“With our huge asset of having higher education in our region, it’d be a great opportunity for us to couple an innovation park with businesses wanting to do (research and development),” says Coleman. The area already has company’s like Caterpillar, Amazon, Triumph Composites, and Exotic Metals that could partner with teachers and students on research and development at the park. 

The idea, he says, is to use the park as a catalyst to inspire innovation and collaboration between students and companies. 

Coleman says the PDA had been in discussion with Spokane Valley-based Ag Energy, a clean technology company that converts agricultural waste into natural soil amendment products, to potentially be the anchor tenant for the facility.

The concept for the West Plains development shares some similarities with the plans for the Catalyst Building and the Hub Building underway at the southern edge of the University District, in Spokane, where the Hub will act as the central energy plant for both buildings.

Coleman says the PDA already has a few incentives in place for businesses to locate or expand within the designated 9,250 acres of land designated as the PDA, which includes having shovel-ready property available with the necessary infrastructure and the waiver of a general facilities charge by the city and the county.

Industrial symbiosis is by no means a new idea. The idea was first introduced in Kalundborg, Denmark in 1961 and is commonly practiced, says Olsen. A Spokane contingency was introduced to the idea when it visited Denmark in September of 2018, she says. 

Olsen says more than 20 city officials, representatives of nonprofits, and business members from the Spokane community participated in a grant program through the Seattle-based Scan|Design Foundation that allowed them to travel abroad in late 2018 to explore bringing the idea to Spokane. 

In Olympia, the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure is working with state lawmakers to introduce legislation to embrace an industrial symbiosis model established in Denmark.

The proposed bill, SB 5936, was unanimously passed in the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee, the Senate Ways and Means Committee, the full Senate, and the House Committee on Environment and Energy. The legislative session ended before the bill could be presented to the House Appropriations Committee, so the bill will need to be reintroduced at the start of the next session. 

If SB 5936 is passed, it will require the Department of Commerce to set up an industrial waste coordination program and will allow the department to provide grants or loans to help fund projects that use industrial symbiosis practices. 

Rhys Roth, president of the center, says, “There’s going to need to be the public sector and the private sector coming together. I think the public sector has an important role to play … but private-sector investment and innovation is really key. The industrial symbiosis in Denmark was led a lot of the way by industry.”

Roth travelled with six legislators in September of 2017 to Kalundborg, Denmark, to tour the city, which is credited with establishing the idea of industrial symbiosis. Roth visited the city again in September of 2018 as part of the group that included Spokane city leaders and companies.

“Spokane is really leaning forward in terms of thinking about how to leverage the technology transitions going on in clean technology to put our economy on the map in terms of the green economy and generate innovation and dynamic companies,” Roth says. “I think this West Plains zone seems like a really good spot to explore the symbiosis and the industrial resource innovation opportunities as Spokane grows its green economy.”

Natasha Nellis
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Reporter Natasha Nellis joined the Journal in May 2018 and covers real estate and construction. Natasha is an avid reader and loves taking photos, traveling, and learning new languages.

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