The Crestone Eagle, January 2008:

Wastes to profits, problems to solutions
Sustainable business park planned for the San Luis Valley

by Nicholas Chambers

One year exactly from a landmark symposium on Renewable Energy in the SLV, the San Luis Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council (SLVRC&D) sponsored a stakeholder’s meeting for the development of a Sustainable Environmental and Economic Development Park (SEED Park). The well-orchestrated meeting of 150 people was conducted by Global Scientific, Inc. out of Lubbock, TX and was held in the Carson Auditorium at Adam’s State College in December.

The origins for the SEED Park model came out of over 20 years of work conducted by Dr. Nick Parker and Dr. Cliff Fedler, both of Global Scientific, as they were treating cattle feedlot water through the use of hydroponic plants. After this treatment the water was suitable for growing fish in aquaculture systems. Eventually, this successive treatment of waste streams into value streams was applied to business models where the byproduct of one business could be the input for another business.

The design would be much like a shopping mall where there are a couple of anchor businesses, such as Sears or JC Penney, clustered with the smaller supporting business such as the jewelers and the food court. Except in a SEED Park there would be no waste products leaving the site, so the byproducts of the anchor businesses, whether a form of energy, water, nutrients, or gas, would have to be the feedstock for the supporting businesses.

As our “throw away” economy was becoming increasingly less acceptable, Parker and Fedler coined the term “SEED Park” to refer to a business park where several different businesses could be co-located with each existing synergistically of one another.

“While we know it is difficult to all of a sudden become one hundred percent sustainable, a SEED Park is a whole lot better than we are doing today,” said Dr. Parker. “If we can restructure our production, manufacturing, wastewater treatment, disposal of municipal solid waste, energy production and energy consumption, then we can improve our world both environmentally and economically.”

Elements of a SEED Park do exist in various forms around the world, in fact much of indigenous sustenance is usually based on closed loop models of recirculation. Nature, however, is the prime example of the sequential treatment of wastes from one form to another, involving several kingdoms of life (animals, plants, algae, bacteria, fungi). As a community-driven holistic effort in America, this SEED Park effort may be a first.

Other examples of the business principles exist in the Insley Operation in Conner, OK. At first this is a wood-heated tilapia production operation selling about 1,200 pounds of fish at a yearly income of $3,600. Then, one-tenth of the nutrient-rich fish water is sent to a 30 x100 foot greenhouse where they are raising hydroponic chives with an annual income of $75,000. The chives require no further inputs and are cleaning the water to be returned to the tilapia culture.

Another larger, integrated operation in Mead, NE produces ethanol, feeds the distillers’ grain to cattle, and produces methane from the cattle manure for power and nutrients. The nutrient-rich water is then applied to the grain fields, which provide the stock for ethanol fermentation and the cycle could be theoretically continued longer than with agribusiness-as-usual.

We also have in the Valley the geothermally-heated Colorado Gators. Here, a tilapia and hydroponic plant production facility spawned the successful new industries of alligators and tourism. Other new projects are on the horizon as well, including the Cochetopa Biomass Energy and Enterprise Development project in Saguache where a biomass gasifier will be turning forest by-products and lumber mill wood chips into syngas for electric and thermal energy generation. Integrated biogas digesters have also received funding for a feasibility study in Saguache County.

The opportunities to develop a SEED Park are only limited to the resources of the region it is to be located in and the experience and drive of the community members that will run it. What will work for one region and community may not work for another.

The SLVRC&D has been in consultation with Global Scientific, Inc. for over two years concerning how the Valley could create its own SEED Park off its abundant natural resources and interests in sustainable economic development. The RC&D eventually was awarded a grant from the USDA Rural Development to help conduct preliminary feasibilities and business plans for an SLV SEED Park. The stakeholders’ meeting held December 1 was a pivotal threshold where input from the community at large was received about which businesses could go into a SEED Park, what skills and experience our Valley’s people possess, and where people would like to contribute.

The present report from the meeting has the community’s input distilled down to the 10 top businesses (out of 73) that are most likely to succeed in a SEED Park. Currently these are: 1) Greenhouses and aquaculture, 2) Treatment of municipal solid waste, 3) Treatment of sewage at wastewater treatment plants, 4) Hydrogen fuel development, 5) Carbon recycling (gaseous & solid) 6) Biomass energy, 7) K-12 & college outreach, 8) Small wind turbine manufacturing, 9) Hydrogen conversion retrofits, and lastly, 10) Photovoltaic supply, installation, and service.

The RC&D will make the final list when all voices have been heard and options considered, and then Global Scientific will conduct business plans with co-generative designs for each business. The project is seen as developing over the next 20-50 years. The land is not chosen yet, but will obviously have to be in a place of maximum resource flow-through to tap into current waste streams and avoid transportation costs.

As the end of industrial era of cheap fossil fuels is approaching us day by day, the time to redesign how we conduct the mechanics of civilization is now. Fortunately, there are many replacements and alternatives to fossil fuels, but there is one thing of which there is no replacement: water. The development of a SEED Park is not only very likely, as judged by the response of the stakeholders at the December meeting, but may also prove to be very essential. As Dr. Parker quoted Ben Franklin, “When the well runs dry, we know the worth of water.”