The Plant is a project of Bubbly Dynamics, LLC. Founded on a model of closing waste, resource, and energy loops, The Plant is working to show what truly sustainable food production and economic development looks like by growing and producing food inside an repurposed industrial building.
Copyright by Matt Bergstrom
What is The Plant?
From its beginnings as a 93,500 s.f. meatpacking facility, The Plant is being converted into a net-zero energy food business incubator. A complex and highly interrelated system, The Plant will hold indoor demonstration farms and educational facilities operated by Plant Chicago, NFP and will incubate sustainable food businesses by offering permanent tenant spaces at low rent and low energy costs through Bubbly Dynamics, LLC.
The Plant will create 125 jobs in Chicago’s economically distressed Back of the Yards neighborhood – but, remarkably, these jobs will require no fossil fuel use. Instead, The Plant will install a renewable energy system that will eventually divert over 10,000 tons of food waste from landfills each year to meet all of its heat and power needs.
Social Enterprise Model
The Plant functions under a what’s known as a social enterprise model. This means there is a non-profit business, Plant Chicago, NFP, and for-profit business, Bubbly Dynamics, who work together to operate The Plant, and both are aimed at socially and environmentally responsible goals.
The building itself (The Plant) is owned and operated by Bubbly Dynamics, LLC. Plant Chicago, NFP is dedicated to promoting the closed loop model of The Plant through research, education, and development. As a permanent tenant of The Plant, Plant Chicago, NFP will own and operate demonstration farms on site and offer educational programming.
Incubating Sustainable Businesses
The Plant’s business incubator consists of permanent tenant spaces maintained by Bubbly Dynamics. These permanent tenant spaces are occupied by various food producing businesses and a non-profit education and research center, including demonstration farms, operated by Plant Chicago, NFP. All food waste generated by these businesses will be composted in the anaerobic digester to create power for The Plant’s renewable energy system. This self-sustaining, interconnected system helps the businesses housed in The Plant grow and prosper together, while creating new, green jobs in the community.
A Net-Zero Energy System
Funded in part by $1.5 million in grant money from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, The Plant will install an anaerobic digester and a combined heat and power system to operate completely off the grid. Once completed, the completely enclosed, odorless anaerobic digester will consume 27 tons of food waste a day (nearly 11,000 tons annually), including all of the waste produced in the facility and by food producing businesses all over Chicago. The digester will capture all of the methane from that waste, and the methane will be burned in a combined heat and power system to produce electricity, plus all the process heat needed for an future onsite craft beer brewery. Excess heat will be used to regulate the building’s temperature.
Growing Vegetables with Fish
The Plant’s aquaponics system is operated by Plant Chicago, NFP as a demonstration farm. Aquaponics is a closed-loop growing system that creates a symbiotic relationship between aquaculture – raising fish, and hydroponics – growing plants in water instead of soil. The fish produce ammonia-based waste that is sent through a biofilter where solids settle out and the rest is broken down into nitrates. Those nitrates are then fed to plants growing in hydroponic beds. By absorbing the nitrates, the plants clean the water, which is returned to the fish. Plant Chicago’s system was also custom-built and incorporates recycled materials into it’s construction. Visit our Non-Profit’s Farms page for more information.
Adaptation and Replication through Education
Truly sustainable business requires not only closing resource loops, but also creating a replicable and adaptable model. Plant Chicago, NFP will provide educational programming and research on behalf of The Plant. A complete, free business case study will be published following The Plant’s completion, including detailed financial and technical information. (We will provide updates as this case study progresses; in the meantime, see our FAQ and Press pages for more details.)
Plant Chicago, NFP will provide educational opportunities for sustainability professionals, college students, schoolchildren, and the public to learn about a wide range of topics, from energy and efficiency in buildings to growing techniques. Plant Chicago, NFP aims to educate as many people as possible about The Plant’s model of closing waste and resource loops.